Saturday 10 May 2014

Janelle Monáe @ O2 Brixton Academy

Is there a performer with as much on-stage energy as Janelle Monáe?

I don't think so.  Set to a classy all-white backdrop, she sings, struts and thrusts her away around the stage as if possessed by her android alter-ego.  Vocally she is flawless and she oozes star quality, sex appeal and sass - she may not be as successful as she deserves to be but she acts like a true superstar.  Her energy and enthusiasm is infectious; this superhuman Electric Lady practically sparks electricity.

The stage is shared with her sizeable band for a gig with a somewhat old-fashioned soul feel.  Her connection with the band is robotically precise, both in terms of her vocals and fancy footwork.  Each member of the band is introduced and given their own solo: particularly impressive is the Prince-esque guitars of Kellindo Parker.  It always remains, however, the Janelle Monáe show.

At times, however, the theatrics of her android conceit get in the way of the music.  She's initially wheeled on to the stage in a strait jacket; frequently she crowd surfs and disappears amongst the fans; later she orders the audience to "get down" before throwing pillows into the audience for a pillow fight that doesn't warrant the extensive build-up.  She also emphasises the feminist message behind her music, at one point throwing banners with #bringbackourgirls into the audience (the campaign for the missing Nigerian schoolgirls).

Important issues aside, Monáe ultimately spends too much time faffing on-stage, with the music repeating in endless refrains.  This is especially disappointing when many songs (taken from both her debut 'The ArchAndroid' and its follow-up 'The Electric Lady') were missing from the setlist, instead replaced by unnecessary covers of The Jackson Five's I Want You Back and Prince's Let's Go Crazy.

Overwhelmingly, however, her talent, passion and high energy turn this gig into a fanatical semi-religious musical experience that make her songs truly come alive.  As she states in her final encore, "what an experience".