To an enthusiastically roaring crowd, Janelle Monae re-entered the stratosphere of the Manchester Academy, to perform her signature brand of manic dramatic energy, to promote her latest album ‘The Electric Lady’. Already pumped up by the pre-show Kanye West and Stevie Wonder songs, along with the supporting act of Cody Chesnutt, the crowd and I danced the night away. The devoted but surprisingly mixed crowd of the young and the not-so young were excited from the get go, some even dressing in Monae’s bow-tie and suit combination as homage to her style.
As the support, Cody Chesnutt was a ball of soul and funk and was a great way to begin the night of pure entertainment. Strangely he left the stage before finishing his final song with the band, leaving them to finish on their own. Made even more awkward by recording his final long note on the pedal, to which a crew had to turn off by the end of the song.
As the crew set up the stage for Monae, it occurred to me how thought out her aesthetic is. Every crew, band member and instrument was in white, black or a pattern of the two, even the nails on the guitarist’s hands. I knew a spectacle was about to go down.
Monae is first and foremost an entertainer, in the most classical sense of the form. As the bass and horns created an infectiously heavy party, she made sure to entertain all who witnessed. She leapt across the stage effortlessly and involved the audience from the first note. Paying respect to Michael Jackson and Prince, Monae moonwalked and thrust across the stage, as the band played as ear-splittingly as humanly possibly. The pick of her loudest songs were made to play live and with the band’s synchronised energy not dipping for a second, it felt like anything could happen. So I wasn’t surprised when whilst playing the riff that burrows under your skin from ‘Come Alive’ Monae made the entire audience crouch down so she could wade the marshland and, on the beat, pose. (The irony of a ‘robot’ commanding an audience was not lost on me.) Then, deciding that we deserved it, she crowd surfed and threw feathers everywhere. I’m still picking feathers out of my mouth.
Monae creates a party, in which no member of the audience felt left out. In such a large space it felt intimate and an experience. And what an experience.
Words: Sojourner McKenzie