I was hoping that Janelle Monae was gonna tear the roof off the sucka, but as it turned out, she just loosened a few shingles.
Yes, she sang great, especially on “Cold War” and the bouncy soul-pop of “Wondaland.” She’s a born entertainer with oodles of charisma, as was evidenced by her shoot-out with zombie nuns during “Sincerely, Jane.” And the gal can dance, too, especially during the show-closer “Tightrope,” where she flashed some fancy James Brown-like, old-school, soul work-out footwork. And she’s fearless, too, even launching a stage dive out into the crowd during the punkish encore of “Come Alive (The War of the Roses).”
Making her Nippertown debut at Skidmore College’s Sports and Recreation Center with a skimpy hour-long show, the 24-year-old sci-fi soul queen never quite pulled it all together. The opening film – which was intended to introduce Monae’s Philip K. Dick-meets-Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” futurist high-concept theme – was screened without sound. The narration might have helped explain the somewhat befuddling events that were about to occur.
The pacing of the show began to break down after the opening blast of “Dance or Die,” “Faster” and “Locked Inside,” when Monae turned the stage over to her three-piece band. She’s a mesmerizing visual focus when she’s in the spotlight, and it was simply too early in the show for her to abandon the stage. The fact that the instrumental interlude concluded with a weird, whiny synth version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” didn’t help either.
When Monae returned, the band split, leaving only guitarist Kellindo to supply the schmaltzy pseudo-jazz chordings for Monae’s strictly cabaret rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” You should have seen the looks on the faces of those oh-so-confused college kids in the crowd. Hey, wasn’t this supposed to be a funky dance-party throwdown? What’s going on here?
“Mushrooms and Roses” was a major wrong-headed move, too, with Monae spending most of the song with her back to the audience painting a 3×5-foot canvas, which she handed out to a crowd-member at the end of the song.
She seemed to be trying too hard to show off the fact that she can do anything she wants. And maybe she can. But first she’s got to reel in the crowd with what she does best – adventurous, visionary funk workouts – and she didn’t quite get that message across on Friday.
After headlining LarkFEST just six days earlier, Boston soulster Eli “Paperboy” Reed and his band the True Loves served up a 45-minute opening set of selections from his “Come and Get It!” album and a Marvin Gaye cover. While Monae’s brand of soul music is decidedly futuristic, Reed takes the retro route, and his vintage soul-revue approach seemed to connect better with the college kids who were just looking to party.
JANELLE MONAE SET LIST
Dance or Die
(instrumental interlude ending with “The Star Spangled Banner”)
Mushrooms & Roses
Come Alive (The War of the Roses)
ELI “PAPERBOY” REED & THE TRUE LOVES SET LIST
Tell Me What I Wanna Hear
Just Like Me
Give Her All the Love I’ve Got (Marvin Gaye)
Come and Get It