Janelle Monáe gets her tour going at Electric Factory

Posted: October 17, 2013

If Janelle Monáe is in a hurry, maybe it's because she has so much ground to cover.

Opening her U.S. tour on Sunday in support of her dazzling, diverse new CD, The Electric Lady, at - where else? - the Electric Factory, the 27-year-old Kansas City native took an appreciative audience through a highly personalized survey of the history of genre-blending African American pop.lin

During a nearly two-hour evening  , Monáe tipped her cap to Cab Calloway and covered Michael Jackson and Prince.

She led a sharply dressed, highly capable nine-piece band through original songs that typically mixed in elements of funk, soul, rock, and rap. She playfully developed her trademark science-fiction themes involving android outsiders who represent the ostracized, discriminated-against "other" but can teach the button-down mainstream a thing or two about the soul-freeing benefits of letting your freak flag fly.

A Monáe performance is a highly energetic affair that plays like an athletic event, whether the workout in question is her own "Ghetto Woman" (dedicated to "your mama" and "your grandma") or her takes on the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back" or Prince's "Let's Go Crazy." The diminutive dervish is a polymorphous perpetual-motion machine onstage, displaying dance moves evocative of everyone from Gene Kelly to James Brown, the latter referenced in a winning homage during her funk workout "Tightrope," in which she collapsed on stage before being helped to her feet and wrapped in a cape.

Sometimes, Monáe's high-energy style can be too frenetic. Watching her can feel more like a race to the finish than a walk through the park.  

But Monáe is learning how to ease off the gas pedal and quiet down the cacophony - a good move in a cavernous room like the Factory, where the mix on the louder songs was far from ideal. Her current single, "Primetime," a warmly emotive duet with Miguel on The Electric Lady, unfolded live at a most welcome, languorous pace.

In "Come Alive," band members play-acted at bringing a pretending-to-be-expired leader back to life. The song also involved a hushed, extended segment in which all the music fell away except for a hypnotic bass line, as a by-then-revived Monáe stealthily made her way into the crowd, the entertainer-as-android meeting her human fans in the flesh.





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