Her reputation as an outstanding live performer was enhanced greatly in the UK by her much heralded appearance at the Glastonbury Music Festival back in 2011, so there was a heightened anticipation among the audience as the stage was dressed for the arrival of Ms Monae. A white sheet covered the surrounding area, with the band appearing on stage, also dressed all in white, setting the mood perfectly for the monochrome image which has featured heavily in the singer's visual look. Her entrance was both dramatic and effective. To the sounds of 'Electric Overture' (the first track on 'The Electric Lady'), Monae, was wheeled out on a stretcher in a strait jacket, very reminiscence of the movie character Hannibal Lecter ('The Silence Of The Lambs'). The inference being a very dangerous individual is being let loose, this of course being Monae's alter ego, the outlaw android 'Cindi Mayweather' featured on her albums. When released from her shackles, Monae grabs the microphone with a vengeance, to the obvious delight of the crowd and launches straight into the second song from the current album, 'Givin' Em What They Love' (the aforementioned Prince duet). From the get-go she sings and dances as if a caged bird who has suddenly been given its freedom.
Several of the uptempo numbers hit their mark full on with appreciation shown quite loudly from the audience. 'Q.U.E.E.N.' got the groove kicked into overdrive and everybody joined in with the bouncing 'Electric Lady', especially enjoying when Monae displayed her 'shaking booty' talents. Another popular choice was the straight ahead 'Tightrope' (which she had recorded with Outkast's Big Boi). She even dipped into her first EP with a joyous rendering of 'Many Moons'. Among the banging grooves, things were slowed down when Monae performed 'Primetime', a Prince-like slow jam she had recorded on the latest album with Miguel, which she informed the crowd was for 'all the lovers in the house', accompanied by cool, suitable 'blue lights in the basement' which adorned the entire stage. The most moving part of the evening was her introduction to 'Cold War'. With the stage in total darkness Monae walked forward in spotlight revealing in her hands several placards with the slogan which has become the international rally cry for the return of the 200 Nigerian schoolgirls recently kidnapped by terrorists, #BringBackOurGirls. This act immediately brought applause and a moment to reflect on the harsh realities of our current world, after which Monae said a few select words and sang 'Cold War' with such feeling as to give the song a new found deeper meaning.
The influences on Monae are loud and clear and she is not shy in placing them front and centre. From the dancing of James Brown to her obvious love of Prince and Michael Jackson, as shown in her choice of covering the Purple Ones' 'Let's Go Crazy', with the band rocking out with a passion and the funky medley of The Jackson 5's 'I Want You Back/ABC'. The spirit of Jimi Hendrix shone brightly through the lead guitarist, delivering several solos and hey, even the flavour of 30's jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway seemed to be in the building as was observed during Monae's entertaining performance of 'Come Alive', for me the highlight of the entire evening. It was during this number she got to show how much she controlled the whole room. She began by singing 'call and response' musical riffs to the audience. It soon dawned on me that one of the riffs was very similar to the 'Hi-De-Hi' call from Cab Calloway's 1931 hit 'Minnie The Moocher'. However, this was just the beginning. As she sang to the crowd, all of the members of the band, except the drummer who kept the rhythm going, had stopped playing and were lying flat on their backs. Eventually Monae would do the same, while still singing. She then got up, went to the front of the stage, crouched low and told the audience to do the same as she. Incredibly, they all did exactly as she had asked. While in this position she left the stage and walked among them, still singing. From above in the balcony the sight was unbelievable. The atmosphere was simply (pardon the pun) electric! As this went on, big pillows were thrown out to various members of the audience. After making her way back on stage, suddenly she and her band began playfully throwing pillows at each other which in turn acted as a cue for the crowd to do the same thing. Before you knew it, a gigantic 'pillow fight' was in full swing. It was a glorious scene made more special when Monae then threw herself atop the audience and surfed to the joy of the whole building! Fun could not begin to describe the feeling that went throughout the whole auditorium. A great memory to keep from an excellent show from an outstanding talent.
Above is a clip of Janelle Monae performing 'Electric Lady' at O2 Brixton Academy.
Here is Janelle Monae performing 'Dance Apocalyptic at O2 Brixton Academy:
Here is Janelle Monae performing 'I Want You Back/ABC' at O2 Brixton Academy