Can we, as a nation, just put aside our differences for a brief moment and concentrate on what really matters: making sure Janelle Monae gets into the arenas she should be playing instead of the clubs she is? Pretty please? Sunday night's show at The Cannery Ballroom was amazing — jaw-dropping, even — but a 1,000-capacity room is not nearly enough to contain this woman's talent. We don't say this often — in fact we don't think we've ever said this, honestly — but this is an artist that would be better if accompanied Jumbotrons and a stage the size of a small strip mall. Can we please, please, please put Ms. Monae on the fast track to super-stardom, like, stat?
Unlike most of the crowd, we had seen Janelle Monae before — back at Bonnaroo '08, the first set of the entire festival — when the stage show was basically a ribbon tie and a pompadour, so we had an inkling of what was going to go down. But when the intro video started — essentially a tribute to the opening monologue from David Lynch's Dune (swoon) — we knew that all of the unreasonably high expectations we had set for the night were going to be surpassed. Monae was one of our favorite live performers before Sunday, but we haven't had the benefit of seeing her in a dark room with stage lights, video screens and a phalanx of back-up dancers and singers. If this is the direction she's heading, consider us with our thumbs out ready to hitch a ride.
With live band and visual aids in tow, Monae creates a performance space that's almost like a post-apocalyptic The Pirates of Penzance — the sort of monstrous musical spectacle that our grand-Spins are going to be sick of hearing about when we're old and crotchety and want to point out how the kids ain't got no taste. (Well, older and crotchetier. You know what we're trying to say.) Playing almost the entirety of her absolutely stunning debut The ArchAndroid, Monae's live show managed to make us imagine what it would have sounded like if Diana Ross had fronted Texas funk-punks The Big Boys covering songs from The Phantom of the Opera or what might have happened if ESG and Weather Report had ever jammed on some Rodgers & Hammerstein. That's when we were actually thinking — we spent most of the show with our mouths agape, overwhelmed by the awesomeness onstage, brains on stand-by.
You know a show is good when the Cannery/Mercy bar staff — who see more music, good or bad, than 99 percent of people in town, including us — start saying things like “I think I witnessed something magical” and “That's the best set I've ever seen here.” Those folks are fully entitled to be as jaded all get-out, and yet, they weren't. Seriously, those cats talking about being starstruck is about as rare as an asteroid strike (and adorable as a newborn kitten). But that's the thing: This generation has a dearth of actual bona fide stars, people who ooze otherworldly glamor and radiate entertainment. There are few acts in this glo-fi, navel-gazing era that have the songwriting, the singing, the dancing, the pure unadulterated pizzazz that Ms. Monae brings to the stage, and the sooner we can get her performing in the venues her talent warrants, the better off we'll all be.
Also, Of Montreal performed.
It was disappointing to see the venue only about two-thirds full for Monae, but part of the reason could be that Of Montreal was just here in February. Try not to oversaturate, guys. It was also hard not to be let down for the headliners, because Monae had brought it so hard. The live show this time around was more subdued than the outing in February, with a healthy dose of new songs from their most recent record, False Priest. And while it’s always nice to see a bunch of baseball-hatted dude-bros reconsidering their notions of gender and sexuality, the contingent of showgoers throwing around glowsticks and starting dance circles has officially gotten out of hand. Drugs are fun, and music is fun, but come on, if you’re not at a festival, please try to keep that shit to a minimum.
The always-pleasurable of Montreal encore was a Michael Jackson medley, and the band was joined by Monae. We hope next time to see her on a Jumbotron.