Janelle Monae In London, July 1st | Review + Photos

On Thursday 1st July Janelle Monae brought Metropolis to a small venue in East London. Before Thursday night’s show could be officially announced, it was already sold out – and by the end of the show, it was obvious why.

Through the crowd there was a current of energy derived from an unspoken notion that we were about to witness something great. Packed like sardines into East London’s Hoxton Bar & Grill we all knew withstanding unbearable heat in the cramped, over-filled space was a small condition when baring witness to Janelle Monae’s “Emotion Picture”. However, even I wasn’t prepared for exactly what we witnessed.

It was obvious pretty quickly that assuming the moniker ‘gig’ for Janelle’s show would, at very least, grossly misrepresent it. Constructed with the same conceptual viscosity as her debut album, the show effectively brought The ArchAndroid to life. Enhancing Monae’s electrifying performance were video projection images (when the technicians got it right), her dancers and her talented band (including her long-haired, shades-wearing guitarist who quite resembles Andre 3000’s “Hey Ya!” video character Johnny Vulture stylistically).

The attention to recreating a story for the audience was immense, and the show was introduced by a ring-master figure while three hooded figures moved behind him. Monae revealed herself as one of them before tearing into The ArchAndroid’s opening track, “Dance or Die”.

The show was broken into chapters, with Monae leaving the stage intermittently then re-emerging in a manner that built anticipation rather than breaking the vibe. Starting with The ArchAndroid’s fast-tempo and high energy tracks including “Faster” and “Locked Inside”, Monae had people tipping on the “Tightrope” by the middle of the show and she revisited her earlier work during the last chapters.

If I wasn’t before, I soon became convinced that Janelle Monae was indeed beamed down from Metropolis. An interesting ambiguity was added to her performance in that, she never took a water break on stage and never fell out of character. However, Janelle was equally unafraid to let loose on stage, as her perfectly quaffed hair fell out of place while she jived. Giving her all, the audience felt it. Regardless of the sweatbox conditions and confined space, the crowd the most active I’ve seen at an intimate show with a semi-industry audience for a long time.

Throughout the dynamic performance, Ms Monae reminded the audience that the nucleus of her talent is her voice; every note and vocal curve was perfect. This was particularly poignant during her stunning rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”, which rendered the crowd almost utterly silent as we were captivated by her ardent, powerful vocal.

With Janelle’s showmanship coupled with her vocal talent, I think it wouldn’t be over-zealous to regard her as a new-skool icon and I don’t anticipate seeing a stage-show of similar calibre from on artist only on their first album – that is, of course, until Ms Monae is back in town.

Photography by Neil Raja

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