Gig Review by Kamara Bennett with photography by Bianca Barrett


Janelle Monae

Janelle Monáe and special guest Cody ChesnuTT turn The Institute’s standing area into a dance floor as concertgoers indulge in an evening of genre-defying music, live instrumentation, social commentary and theatrical performance.

Cody ChesnuTT

US soul singer-songwriter Cody ChesnuTT warmed the growing crowd with a 45-minute set. Wearing an army helmet, said to be symbolic of various personal, professional and societal battles, Cody used music to entertain, enthuse and encourage the audience, sharing his story and exploring society’s issues whilst doing so. His faultless on-stage energy, undeniable passion and smooth blend of soul, rock, funk and blues had the crowd clapping, finger snapping and hand waving en masse almost instantly. A dab hand at multitasking and clearly multitalented, Cody’s performance also saw him croon, dance and play instruments, including the guitar and tambourine, all at the same time.

Cody ChesnuTT

Confined within the constraints of a straightjacket, singer, songwriter, performer, producer, artist and self-described part-android Janelle Monáe was wheeled onto stage to the cinematic sounds of Suite IV Electric Overture. Setting herself free in time to add her vocal prowess to Prince-assisted Givin Em What They Love, Janelle moved stringently in-sync to the song’s bluesy guitar riff, ultimately proving that a slower tempo doesn’t necessarily deserve lower energy. Loosened by the vivacity of her on-stage maneuvers, it wasn’t long before Monáe had to pin her signature pompadour back into place. This didn’t for a second interfere with her fancy footwork, though, nor the subsequent skips, slides, shuffles and spins we were treated to before and during the third number of the night Dance Apocalyptic, an upbeat track with an infectious undercurrent of 60’s-sounding pop.

Janelle Monae

After a performance of the atmospheric Sincerely, Jane, a track from Janelle Monáe’s debut studio album ArchAndroid, the multifaceted musician launched straight into Q.U.E.E.N followed Electric Lady, both tracks from her latest release The Electric Lady. Despite the busy-ness of the stage, which managed to hold a nine-piece band, Monáe and her larger-than-life presence radiated regardless. The first cover of the night was a mash-up of I Want You Back and ABC, allowing for some very sharp Jackson 5-esque coordination and plenty of sing-along action from the crowd.

Janelle Monae

Preceded by a short speech giving the audience a clear insight into her consciousness, the evening wouldn’t have been complete without a performance of Cold War, a futuristic-sounding track about finding purpose and responsibility. Monáe’s socially conscious statements were met with plenty of support from the audience, who were told to remember what they’re fighting for – an adaption of a lyric from the song. While still pertinent and socially relevant, Janelle’s performance of crowd favourite Tightrope lifted the already high energy of the audience. Highlighting the inspirational influence of James Brown on Monáe, Tightrope saw a theatrical re-enactment of the legend’s famous cape routine. The stage lights then went out as if it was the end of the show.

Janelle Monae

However, with the concert built like a theatrical production, it just so happened that this was one of a few false finales; there was much more unpredictability to follow! The first encore started with what Monáe introduced as “a song for the lovers” PrimeTime, with the slower tempo having a slightly calming effect on the crowd (well, until the confetti shower and electric guitar solo that followed). With the lengthy, but mesmerising extended introduction to the song allowing for a change of outfit, Janelle continued to show us the many guises of her customary monochrome dress code, which was also reflected in the on-stage décor, from her black and white candy-striped mic stand to the drummer’s black and white bass drum head.

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae

There’s no doubt that Monáe goes above and beyond to interact with her audience and, with this in mind, the level of crowd participation throughout the night was second to none. Following an electrifying performance of Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy, and after being taken away by the man in the white lab coat again, Monáe reappeared for an extended version of the punk rock-sounding Come Alive. During the song’s comical yet oddly captivating theatrical interlude, the audience witnessed Monáe quite literally come alive as she was ‘revived’ by the touches of her backing singers and, of course, the man in the white lab coat. Lying down still, each touch triggered a roar of applause while her jolting movements gradually but quickly transformed into a full-on dance break.

Janelle Monae

Now alive and kicking (quite literally) Janelle Monáe called upon each member of her band, allowing them showcase their musical talents with a quick solo. It was then audience’s time to shine, with the Monáe-led call and response showing the performer’s innate ability to command the audience as well as the stage. Once the audience had perfected the ‘lala lala la la la’ they, through the power of song movement, were instructed to ‘get low’ and, to cut a long story short, within seconds everyone – the band (minus the drummer who was still drumming), Janelle and the standing audience – was on the floor. Almost like a mime of some sort, and with everyone still crouching on the floor, Monáe teasingly danced around the stage, showcasing her famous fancy footwork, and signed autographs. She even sat amongst the audience, much to everyone’s excitement/disbelief. Once everyone had jumped up and ‘come alive’, upon instruction, of course, Janelle then surfed the crowd.

Janelle Monae

After about 90 minutes, the concert, which is probably better described as a production, ended with What An Experience. From the opening through to the final bow at the end, the audience, who also doubled as willing participants, were treated to an unforgettable musical meets theatrical experience. From the men in the white lab coat setting up the stage before the show to the flyers outlining the fictitious ‘Ten Droid Commandments’, long-time fans and new converts alike will no doubt appreciate Monáe’s meticulous attention to detail, in addition to her endearing eccentricity and undeniable talent.

Janelle Monae

Set List:
Suite IV Electric Overture/ Givin Em What They Love/ Dance Apocalyptic/ Sincerely, Jane/ Q.U.E.E.N/ Electric Lady/ I Want You Back/ Cold War/ Tightrope/ PrimeTime/ Let’s Go Crazy/ Come Alive/ What An Experience

Janelle Monae

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