REVIEW: Janelle Monae’s Truly ‘Electric’ Show

JanelleMonae_PUB2_credit_Marc_Baptiste (1280x955).jpg“Tonight you will dance or die,” an announcer said at the top of Janelle Monae’s truly electric show this past Monday night, Oct. 14, giving subtle reference to a fun track from Monae’s 2010 set The ArchAndroid. The stop at the Lincoln Theatre was only the second on Monae’s current tour in support of her superior, stunning new album The Electric Lady. And the Electric Tour, which will pause briefly so Monae can make her Saturday Night Live debut as musical guest on Saturday, Oct. 26, proved beyond a doubt that Monae is the genuine article. This pompadoured Prince protégé and Outkast acolyte sounded every bit as good live as on record, a true firecracker of nonstop energy who blew away the Monday night sold-out crowd with her audacious antics, sharp style and sheer talent.

The 90-minute concert launched the same way as the new album, with a dramatic orchestral overture that fed into “Givin’ Em What They Love” — though Prince didn’t sing the song with her live as the legendary artist does on record. Same goes for Erykah Badu, Big Boi and Miguel. But Monae doesn’t need those recorded collaborators to shine. As disparate as they may be, the singles “Q.U.E.E.N.,” “Tightrope” and “PrimeTime” are very much all pieces of the Kansas City, Kan., native’s signature sound puzzle. It’s a winning amalgam of R&B, funk, hip-hop and dance/electro, all wrapped in a veneer of playful scifi imaginings. Monae, who was in top singing form throughout the concert, even confidently and successfully tackled two of her biggest influences, covering the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” and Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” — the latter right before she went crazy theatrically performing an extended version of her early single “Come Alive (War of the Roses).” Monae played dead, then stalked and sauntered into the crowd like a feisty, prowling android during this “Rock Lobster”-esque punk jam, which had everyone in rapt amusement.

It turns out the Lincoln Theatre, even now that I.M.P. Productions has taken over and jazzed up the space and especially its programming, still isn’t the best place in town to see a live concert. That’s certainly true if you’re far from the stage and everyone is standing for most of the show, as was the case with Monae. At the very least you should avoid seats in the upper balcony. (If an upcoming show is unassigned general admission, plan to get there when doors open to ensure snagging seats in the orchestra or lower balcony.)

But even if you could barely see Monae, you no doubt left the venue as enraptured as she seemed to be, praising the boisterous D.C. crowd and asserting that “this has been an amazing night,” before launching into her closing number, the sweet ‘80s-styled ballad appropriately named “What An Experience.” You could really,really feel it.

Photo: Atlantic Records/Marc Baptiste

Remaining dates on Janelle Monae’s The Electric Tour:

OCTOBER                  
18    New York Apollo Theater
22    Minneapolis   Skyway Theater
29    Portland, Ore.   Roseland Theater
30    Seattle   Showbox SoDo
NOVEMBER             
1      San Francisco   Warfield Theatre
2      Los Angeles   Club Nokia @ L.A. Live
5      Anaheim, Calif.   House of Blues
6      San Diego   House of Blues
7      Phoenix   The Crescent Ballroom
9      Dallas   House of Blues
13    Houston   House of Blues
15    Kansas City, Mo.   Uptown Theater
17    Nashville   Ryman Auditorium
19    Raleigh   The Ritz
20    Charlotte   The Fillmore Charlotte
22    Orlando   Hard Rock Live
23    Miami Beach   Fillmore Miami Beach
26    Atlanta   The Tabernacle

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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