Tag Archives: janelle monae

Janelle Monáe at the Justin Herman Plaza, San Francisco (7/3/2014)

10 Mar

As I have said multiple times before, I really like Janelle Monáe. She’s smart, imaginative and energetic. Her music is rarely short of excellent. Also, her live performances are incredible. So, when salesforce.com sponsored a free show of hers to celebrate their 15th anniversary and accompanying food drive, I jumped at the chance to see her live again.

This may have been a free show, but it was certainly treated like any other. It opened with an overture leading into her entrance onstage in a straightjacket to follow the Palace of the Dogs narrative that she’s spent the better part of the last decade setting up. From there, she jumped straight into a solo “Givin’ Em What They Want” that never seemed to miss Prince at all. Janelle Monáe was clearly able to supply everything anyone could need all by herself.

The show was a mixture of hits from all over her discography. “Dance Apocalyptic” led into “Sincerely, Jane” flawlessly. “Electric Lady” saw her moonwalk across the entire stage, and was followed with covers of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and “ABC”. “Q.U.E.E.N” saw her do both her own and Erykah Badu’s parts of the song, but sadly “Tightrope” did not include a stab at Big Boi’s rap. As ever, the show closed with a very extended “Come Alive” jam.

Janelle Monáe is one of my favorite people to see live. Her sincerity and enthusiasm are absolutely unparalleled. Her shows are meticulously produced and her stage presence is staggering. There are very few performers with her talent working today. She sets quite the high bar for her competition and shows like this one consistently do the impossible. They push that bar higher.

@murthynikhil

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The Top Five Albums of 2013: Nikhil’s List

30 Dec

It’s been a pretty full year for music and now as it comes to an end, it’s time to separate the gods from the frauds. These are the five albums that struck deepest within me.

5. The Electric Lady by Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe is a hard person to describe. Adjectives flow easily; inventive, bold, imaginative, talented, but as she proudly states, she defies every label. The Electric Lady makes parts four and five of her seven part science fiction concept album series and lives up to the high standard of the previous entries. This albums sees her a little more free and a little more comfortable than in her previous work. While The ArchAndroid is still definitely the better album, the soul that fills the second half of The Electric Lady is still wonderful. Janelle Monáe has consistently been one of the most interesting people in music since Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) was released in 2007 and The Electric Lady does nothing but reinforce her already solid status. This is a fun, danceable album and I recommend it to everyone.

You can read the full album review here and our review of her concert here.

4. Without A Net by Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter’s return to Blue Note after 43 years is an astounding piece of modern jazz. This is fiery jazz, the kind that forces you to sit up and take notice of it. Not only is it of unparalleled technical proficiency, but the band members are almost psychic in how well they play off each other. They’ve been working with each other for over a decade now though, so I suppose that is only to be expected. Although this is beautiful jazz, it may be a little too obscure for people new to the genre. For anyone who has heard Wayne Shorter before though, not having this album would be a sin.

For those still on the fence, the full album review is here.

3. Days Are Gone by Haim

Days Are Gone

Each of my final three albums is an emotion and this one is happiness. This is a fun album to listen to and a fun band to watch. There’s none of the pretentiousness that characterizes so much of the indie scene. This is a very varied and consistently excellent album and doesn’t feel the need to shove the fact in your face at every turn (I’m looking at you, Arcade Fire). It’s hard to single out any songs in particular, “Honey & I” feels like Stevie Nicks at her best, “My Song 5” has an incredible bass riff, “Running If You Call My Name” is heartfelt, all of their songs are worth talking about. This is the band that loves making their music as much as I love hearing it.

We’ve already put “Falling” on our album review and “The Wire” on Neeharika’s Top Five Songs of the year, so for this list you get “Don’t Save Me”.

 

2. Silence Yourself by Savages

If you’ve never heard the album, then it’s hard to explain why this album is so important. After all, indie musicians borrowing heavily from past music is nothing new and this is just Joy Division with a female singer. The thing is though that this album is very, very good. Painfully, brokenly good. Each of these last three albums is an emotion, and this is depression.

This album burns with a searing, undecorated intensity. Jehnny Beth screams and taunts throughout while the rest of the band perform their bludgeon-work upon your prone body. This is not a subtle album, an album with whom you can reason and share quiet moments by the fireside. This will shout at you, often just a single word, and you will listen because you know that the rest of the day is just going to be a pale echo of those submissive moments.

1. Yeezus by Kanye West

Yeezus

Yeezus (full review here) is Kanye at his biggest, his most brash, his funniest, his most aggressive. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is still probably his best album, but that did not make the sort of statement that Yeezus did. This album’s emotion is anger. Leaving aside the refusal to release singles until well after the album released, the music is intentionally difficult, the lyrics intentionally off-putting. Discomfort is the aim, but not without reward as well.

“I’m In It” for instance is some of the most menacing music I’ve heard this year, but has no problems juking you with unexpected comparisons and a mention of swag-hili. It is then followed by the exceptional “Blood On The Leaves”, which samples Nina Simone’s cover of “Strange Fruit” beautifully. “New Slaves” is rage coalesced (and fully reviewed here) as “I Am A God” is hubris. Every line in “Black Skinhead” is a call to action. Even “Bound 2” makes for an excellent closer.

You can see the work, the brilliance and the anger behind every line. You can, in fact, see Kanye West.

@murthynikhil

Janelle Monáe at The Warfield (1/11/2013)

4 Nov

I really like Janelle Monáe. She’s really smart, wildly imaginative and makes music that not only defies classification, but is just simply very good. Getting to see her live is something that I have been looking forward to for quite a while, and she did not disappoint.

The opening act was led by a man named Roman GianArthur, whom I had never heard of before. The loss there was entirely mine. He took a crowd impatient for Ms. Monáe and converted them to his cause in a heartbeat. Admittedly, his sound is not that far from that of the parent act, but that is in no way a slight. I wouldn’t have gone to the concert if I didn’t want to hear some funky R&B. Excellent stagecraft, excellent singing and just an excellent show. I will be sure to see him again when he next tours, by which time I’m sure he’ll be headlining. Until then, I’ll just have to be satisfied with the prospect of his upcoming album and his single I-69.

Janelle Monáe’s show started, as it must, with an overture, which was quite nice. The first couple of songs, Givin’ Them What They Want and Dance Apocalyptic were good, but had me a little worried. Albums as immaculately produced as The Electric Lady don’t always translate well to the roughness of a concert hall’s sound system and the rough edges on the first songs threw me at first. However, the energy of a live performance more than made up for an minor issues and the music smoothed itself out rapidly. Also, her stagecraft is to be highly commended here. Small skits did wonders to set the science fiction theme and the entire stage was active every moment of the performance.

Much though I liked her last album, I was very happy that she didn’t limit herself to just the Electric Lady but also treated us to her past hits including a very good Cold War and an intense solo Tightrope. Her solo work during this concert was highly impressive. She tends to be the star of every song she sings, but I’ll admit to being unsure of how well she could carry off some of her collaborations alone. Not only was Q.U.E.E.N. excellent with just her, but a very tender Primetime was probably the strongest moment of the show, although an extended Mushrooms and Roses as psychedelic as anything San Francisco has ever heard did come close.

The concert ended with a cover of Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy and the aforementioned Primetime followed by a very, very extended Come Alive that had Janelle Monáe motion the entire audience down to the ground, and while we were all crouching and craning to see what was going on, she told us that is what it is like to be short. This was a novel experience for me. As expected from Janelle Monáe, this was an imaginative, fun and high quality concert. I enjoyed every moment of it. She has shown us the future, and my God, it’s full of funk.

Janelle Monae: The Electric Lady

26 Sep

Janelle Monae always seems constrained. That feels like a strange word to label someone whose music defies every label applied to it, but it is the only one that seems apt. She has music, she has art and she has videos but none of those mediums seem able to completely hold all that goes on inside her mind. It was inevitable that her seven-part concept series Metropolis would be science fiction based as nothing else would fit the relentless degree of innovation that she pushes. Her latest installment, The Electric Lady, which serves as parts four and five, breaks away from her previous works to give us something personal, something new and something that truly lives up to the name Wondaland.

The first part feels more familiar, with an orchestral overture opening the album as did The Archandroid and the same jazzy pop and solid beats as her masterpiece debut. This time around she has a solid set of supporting artists. The keyword here though is support. Even Prince, who appears on the first song is clearly the guest in what is completely Janelle Monae’s album. Both of her singles, the excellent Q.U.E.E.N. (featuring Erykah Badu) and Dance Apocalyptic come from this half. This is music meant to be danced to, and while I can’t dance anything like her, I can’t sit still with music like this on either.

The world of Metropolis is sketched out by things like the beginning of Q.U.E.E.N. and fragments embedded throughout the album. The picture is still vague and while Cindi Mayweather (the Ziggy Stardust to Janelle Monae’s David Bowie) has definitely progressed along her path of becoming the android messiah, I couldn’t tell you exactly what she has done. This is an album though, not a novel, and the details are unimportant. What is important is the flights of imagination that it inspires and this set provokes creativity as well as anything I have ever experienced. Also, the DJ interludes are incredible.

The second half however is more of a soul album than anything else. This takes me pretty far out of my comfort zone as my foundation is far stronger with Asimov than with Sly, but her music is undeniable. This part showcases her voice, and while it is hard to isolate any single strength of Janelle Monae’s, her voice certainly has a good case for being the strongest of them all. It also gives her a chance to get a little personal than her android alter-ego had previously allowed. Suite V feels not only like Cindi Mayweather singing to her human lover but also a love letter to the classics of soul and funk. She does play with the standard structures and even drops a rap into the stellar Stevie Wonder-esque Ghetto Woman, but this an album from someone who clearly grew up with a love of the R&B greats. This is an intimate, soulful performance and would hold it’s own even if taken alone and not as a part of a larger set of work.

The Electric Lady is not just an album about the future, it is a blueprint for the future of pop, funk, soul and whatever else Janelle Monae decides to touch. While The Archandroid did push harder and better, this is the work of an artist that has moved far enough ahead that she can take a moment to stretch a little and look back on what she has come from. We are lucky that she shares it so well.

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