Archive for the ‘Bruno Mars’ tag
You know Janelle Monae has a great voice. You can find this out by listening to Metropolis, The ArchAndroid, or any of the individual songs (“Be Still,” “Call the Law”) she’s recorded with other artists. She consistently demonstrates a solid, expressive vocal command in all of her studio tracks. I had the good fortune to attend her recent concert (Saturday, May 7) in Camden, NJ, and perhaps the most astonishing, unexpected aspect of her show – which was excellent in all aspects – was how virtuosic she is vocally when performing live. I mean, Aretha and Mariah level virtuosic. She routinely speckled otherwise already captivating tracks like “Tightrope,” and “Come Alive,” with five-octave flourishes that, simply by virtue of their range and precision, would put the best seasoned rock stars to shame. It didn’t stop there. Her solos, which she worked seamlessly into most songs she presented, embellished tracks with so many different characters, tones, and melismas, you’d swear you were listening to an alien hybrid of all the past few decade’s greatest divas, songwriters, and, yes, musical theatre and opera stars. Her voice and expression are jaw-dropping.
Which brings me to another thing you realize about her music when you listen to it in concert, especially the Metropolis suite (which includes The ArchAndroid): that in a narrative sense, more than anything she has created a space opera. I mean this in the grandest, most Bowiean sense of the term: an extended narrative, complete with dramatic moments, disparate characters, and epic struggle. She plays this for all it’s worth: never does she address you or casually comment on her life or the songwriting process; instead, she immerses the audience in the story she chooses to let her performance tell. I was delighted that she chose to begin her show with the first four tracks to The ArchAndroid, complete with overture. It was a cathartic moment for someone who has listened to that album from beginning to end, uninterrupted, waiting for it to come to life.
And come to life it does. She’s backed by the usual rhythm section, plus an extra percussionist, a four person swing section, two brass players, a fantastic guitarist, backup singers, and, of course, dancers. Everyone, including Janelle herself, is decked out in angled, black-and-white retro-futurist garb that changes from piece to piece. She fleshes out the visuals with a 70′s style video projection in the background and a lighting scheme that usually chooses to flood the hall with a single color scheme or pattern, further highlighting the current mood. She spikes it with dramatic moments: at one instant she was cloaked in black, indistinguishable from her dancers, the next you found her painting on a canvas while singing. From beginning to end, it is captivating.
All of this allows you to see more fully the depth of her songwriting. The more virtuosic elements of the performance, instead of taking your attention away from her songs’ core, only serve to highlight their arc. Songs you think of as grotesque (“Come Alive”) or psychedelic (“Mushrooms and Roses”), are that, but more so. It manages to do what, in my opinion, a good concert should do: bring out an artist’s vision so that it is as alive as it can possibly be.
A side note: while Janelle’s show itself was excellent, I found the pairing with Bruno Mars, and everything that comes with that sort of crowd, to be bewildering and inappropriate. He has a great voice, yes. But everything else about his show, from his eager assumption of the “heartthrob” role (which involved him pelvic thrusting and spouting lines like “Where all my Jersey peeps at?” between every song) to his utterly bland and unadventurous vision of crooner pop-rock, felt out of place next to Janelle. Though there were many Monae devotees, most were there for Bruno, which lowered the potential crowd energy for her set.
I can think of many reasons for why she would choose to tour with him – she’ll make a lot of money (deservedly so), and she’ll almost certainly gain admirers. But the tradeoff was that she wasn’t able to present her vision in as full a sense as it deserved. Because she was the first part of a concert which more prominently featured Bruno Mars, she had to stick to an hour, hour and fifteen minute long set. This necessitated abandoning songs like “Say You’ll Go,” and “57821,” and an encore, which would have been great to hear. I eagerly anticipate the next stage in her career, when she is truly the main attraction of a concert, and can present her creative vision in its purest, fullest form. But this was more than enough for now.
Dance or Die-Janelle Monae ft. Saul Williams by AtothaA