Not all hype is unwarranted: Janelle Monae @ SXSW, 3/21

27 03 2009

So Janelle Monae is pretty sick, right? Right. She only played three songs and still, I was completely blown away by her performance Saturday at the Rockville CA (which is actually a half-decent new Web show from the 1.5 episodes I’ve watched) party at the SXSW East Tent. I think it was mostly because I was half-confused by her. Her image is one concept, her music is another completely different concept. Equestrian-inspired outfits with saddle shoes and sizable bouffant, futuristic alt-R&B operas (titled The Chase Suite, which is set in the future world of Metropolis). As a former Outkast collaborator, Diddy associate and Grammy nominee, Monae is pioneering what’s next in the world of musical fusion — over-the-top concepts executed by ultra-stylized characters.

photo by Jillian Mapes

Monae’s stage production is just that — a production. Her look is just so, and when her perfect bubble of hair and cleanly ironed shirt get fussed up from her energetic dance moves (understatement of the century), she goes backstage between songs to collect herself. This sounds tedious and totally annoying, but it’s actually not — it adds anticipation to the set.

While Monae proved her offbeat vision and persona on her opening song, she reigned in the weirdness on her second song – a soulful cover of the Nat King Cole standard “Smile.” The song showed off Monae’s singing chops, proving that as “weird” as Monae can be, she can also compete with singers like Whitney and Mariah (overstatement, perhaps, but the girl can sing). Monae’s guitar player lightly strummed along, which was the perfect accompaniment for her impressive vocals.

photo by Jillian Mapes

Monae delved right back into her futuristic M.O. after “Smile,” but it was a welcome change to see her musical dimensions on a classic track. She ended her set by crowd-surfing, with her stiffened legs sticking straight into the air. Never did I think I’d see someone crowd-surfing while wearing saddle shoes.

Check Monae’s video for “Many Moons” and be confused in the best way possible. — Jillian Mapes




One response

22 04 2009
Of Montreal debuts new tune at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg « 2009 Festival Season

[…] Janelle Monae, whom we’ve raved about before, joined the group onstage for a who-can-out-charisma-who cover of David Bowie’s […]

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