Jannelle Monáe is one of those preternaturally talented musicians that comes along every fifteen years or so. She’s been compared to James Brown, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Outkast and Prince. While she may not yet be worthy of those comparisons, I’m of the opinion that she’s well on her way. Plus, music critics can’t seem to stop writing glowing articles about her. If she had been born in the ’60s and was making her musical debut in the early ’80s, I honestly think she’d be a household name and as big as a Thriller-era Jackson. Don’t believe me? Give “Tightrope,” a song off her first full-length album The ArchAndroid, a listen and just try to keep your toes from tapping. It’s physically impossible.
But due to the peculiarities of fandom and the music industry in 2013, that ain’t the case and Monáe may never hit those stratospheric heights. Maybe she’s just too dang weird for super-stardom (she records concept albums about androids and seems to have an unhealthy obsession with tuxedos), although that hasn’t stopped Lada Gaga. I guess that’s a good thing for her fans though. In any other era, Monáe would be selling out large theaters or arenas. Instead of all that, she still plays much more intimate venues like People’s Place in Amsterdam.
People’s Place doesn’t look like it was built for music. It’s way too small and a gigantic post blocks a good chunk of the stage. Nevertheless, it’s been used for plenty of live gigs over the years. Worse yet, Monáe’s show there last Saturday night was oversold and the temperature inside felt like it was soaring past the 30 C mark by the time she hit the stage.
But any great performer can transcend a shitty venue and Monáe and her crew did that with ease. She had the fussy, sweat-soaked crowd in the palm of her hand by the time she picked up a zebra-colored lightsaber 10 minutes into the show and “slayed” two dudes in Grim Reaper costumes. She stayed in character throughout the night and pretended to break down just like a real android savior from the 28th century might during her 90-minute set. Her back-up dancers carried her backstage for quick repairs every now and then.
The crowd ate all of these sci-fi theatrics up with a spoon and it’s always great to go to a live show and not have to deal with indifferent scenesters talking through the performance. For “Come Alive,” the last song of the night, Monáe ordered everybody in the room to get down on their knees and they obliged. Then she jumped down into the crowd and scat-sang her way towards the back. A stage dive and a few more minutes of mayhem later, the show was over. You can watch all of this go down on the YouTube clip posted above if you’re curious.
On my way out, I overheard a gigantic, 6-foot-5 security guard buzzing about what he had just seen. I’ve gone to a lot of live shows in my time but I’ve never witnessed that.