Janelle Monae entertains and empowers audience
Soul singer brings freshness and high energy to pop music


 

The stage is stark white and rich black at Tempe’s Marquee Theatre on this balmy Saturday night, Jan. 11. Singer- guitarist, Roman Gianarthur just finishes his set and now we wait patiently for headliner Janelle Monae to appear. The concert begins with the instrumental “Suite lV: Electric Overture,” and the lights go back on and reveal an all-male band dressed in frosty white. One of the band members comes forward to announce the arrival of patient 57821: Janelle Monae and then quickly exits. Two attractive female singers stroll out and stand towards the back of center stage in front of their microphones. The announcer reappears, pushing a shiny white dolly to the front of the stage with Monae on it. The diminutive woman with the black pompadour wears a white and black tuxedo-inspired outfit with a white straightjacket over it. She jumps off the dolly and hastily casts off her straightjacket and starts singing the jazzy sounding “Give ‘Em What They Love.” As soon as Monae begins dancing, I feel the energy immediately rise in the theatre. Many of us cannot help but join in the dance and move along with the rhythm as she launches into her upbeat boogie song, “Dance Apocalyptic.” I can picture this lively number in a 1930s black and white musical. The crowd respects personal space, so we all have enough room to bop to her infectious dance beats.
                 
And the fun continues as she slows it down for the beautiful song with a Latin feel created by a drummer blaying the Congo drums, “Sincerely, Jane.” Then we resume dancing again when she performs her psychedelic soul hit, “Q.U.E.E.N.”. Later she asks us to join in on the chorus when she sings the funk ballad, “Electric Lady,” and most who are familiar with the song oblige her.

Monae is all about celebration, so any moment I expect kaleidoscopic colored confetti to fall from the high dark ceiling. And in keeping with the jovial mood of the show it will fall later to the delight of us all. The performer, who writes most of her song lyrics, captures many different decades as I hear influences of ‘30s dance, ‘40s blues and jazz, ‘60s soul, ‘80s Prince and today’s hip hop. She proves to be a dynamic artist and her highly skilled band keeps up with her nonstop vibrant vibe. As the show continues, her message of personal empowerment is interwoven throughout and the positive momentum only grows. She infuses performance art into her show and is an engaging performer. Monae interacts with the highly diverse crowd and makes us feel we are a part of the celebration. We all cheer when she jumps out into the crowd and body surfs. Everyone is happy to hold up this tiny animated lady and pass her back to the stage. She brings a freshness to a pop world of over the top and over-hyped shows.  
                 
Monae considers the tuxedo her trademark and uniform. Although she changes outfits several times during her show she always wears a variation of the tuxedo whether it is leather or fabric and always in black and white. The fully clothed Monae is an inspiration to me in this age of female pop stars who use their sexuality instead of talent to popularize their music.

1969 comes alive again when Monae covers the Jackson 5, ”I Want You Back,” and renders some fancy footwork. When she comes back for her second encore she sings one of Prince’s most popular songs, the rock song “Let’s Go Crazy.” She throws herself into her rock and roll dancing for this one, captures the feel of the original with stylish energy while her guitarist performs his solo with passion and precision. When she sings “Prime Time,” she asks us to make a heart with our hands and to make the heart every time she says love because she celebrates love tonight. Then we cheer when Monae tells us how beautiful we are.

No one wants to leave after the three song encore and we stand screaming and clapping for more. Monae obliges us by returning for one last song, “What An Experience.” She tells us about how important our experiences are in life and brings out her opening musician, guitarist-singer Roman Gianarthur to accompany her. The lady in the tuxedo made us feel good not just about the concert but about ourselves as well.

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