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Concert Thu Apr 01 2010

Review: Janelle Monáe 3/29 and 3/30 @ Schubas

Janelle Monáe's video for her single "Tightrope" off her debut album The ArchAndroid

The buzz surrounding Janelle Monáe is steadily growing into a roar, so when a top hat wearing MC announced "by now, you should have already tweeted," to both sold out crowds at Schubas Monday and Tuesday night, its clear the statement was only partially a joke. Monáe and her dapper crew took over Schubas to showcase tracks off her debut album, The ArchAndroid which comes out May 18th.

As the band entered the room, dressed in hooded cloaks, a recording informed the audience that each night would be a different suite from the album, so the only way to hear The ArchAndroid in its entirety, was to attend both nights. The show takes off, energy incredibly high, which suits Monáe's bubbly demeanor perfectly. Her classical voice shines on slower tracks throughout both nights, but they bring down the energy of her live show, which is the main reason you should be there in the first place. She is an entertainer, not just a vocalist, and her mix of uniform, stage antics, and video show that she is very serious about the full spectacle. The show catches it stride when she trots out singles "Cold War" and "Tightrope." "Cold War" is a gospel tinged powerhouse, the crowd of Schubas seeming more like a feverish congregation than a rock concert as Monáe croons the chorus "this is a cold war, you better know what you're fighting for." The song leads perfectly into "Tightrope" which is the perfect juke song and will likely be the soundtrack for many this summer. She ends the night with the two standout tracks off her EP, "Violet Stars Happy Hunting!" and "Many Moons" presenting them as one singular opus. Both songs have that race to the finish urgency that creates the sonic drama of a lot of Monáe's work, and live they create a fever pitch of drama and noise. You know the scene in the movie Blues Brothers where they go to a church, and people are doing back flips and bouncing off the walls because the Holy Spirit possess them? Her encore was a lot like that. The whole crowd seemed to move in tandem with the band, arms high in the air as Monáe spastically shook and gyrated all over the stage. It was a blur of an ending that shook the entire room, and made it evident why so many people are paying attention to what Janelle Monáe is doing with her art.

While the first night was a total bang-up job, the second night sadly brought out some rookie mistakes. The show was still impressive and enjoyable, but out of the two nights, Tuesday clearly lacked some of the kinetic energy of the night before. The first red flag happened to be that the second night was basically the same as the first. Although the recording once again reminded you that each night would be a different suite from the album, there wasn't a change in the set until the third song. In fact the majority of Tuesday night was the exact same as Monday night. This wouldn't have been noticeably annoying if they didn't have the recording at the start of the show promising a new suite each night. If you're not going to do something totally different each night like your intro states, then don't advertise it. Just put on a good show, and no one will mind if the sets are almost identical. Besides the slightly false advertising, another rookie mistake was the sound problems that plagued both nights. The feedback and computer problems are somewhat acceptable the first night, but these things should be fixed for round two. Same goes for the awkward down time between songs. Since Monáe is portraying a character, the lack of stage banter is no surprise, but if this is the case, transitions between songs should be seamless. A room full of people awkwardly waiting in silence for the next piece to begin ruins the whole alternative universe you are trying to create.

The new material that was showcased on night two was a mixture of piano cabaret (Judy Garland pantomiming anyone?), '80s pop (including a pillow flight and glitter being tossed around stage), and heavy glam rock, a clear nod to the Ziggy Stardust era Bowie that Monáe clearly adores. The influences and idols that Monáe imitates in her music are never hidden during her live production. During "Tightrope," images of James Brown flash in the background, and Monáe even exits the stage and reappears with a sequined cape around her shoulders (a classic James Brown performance antics), showing that she isn't afraid to pay respect to the artists that she cops her style from. You can pick out her influences a mile away (James Brown, Prince, David Bowie, Grace Jones, etc), but nothing is really original anymore, so why fake it? Monáe doesn't. She makes it obvious the artists she idolizes and aspires to be, bending and blending all their genres and styles perfectly to create not only a polished and infectious catalog of work, but also an impressive performance art piece. Sure, you've heard a lot of the music, and seen the stylistic touches before, but that doesn't take away from the fact that she is incredibly talented and a captivating performer.

Nothing is completely original in music, it's all been done before, but I'd rather have an artist who lovingly shows respect and adorations for her influences than denies the musical heritage she comes from. And even if she does remind you of a dozen or so influential artists, it doesn't take away from the fact that her music is incredibly catchy, her vocals are beautiful, and her entire act is polished, intriguing, and incredibly fresh, right down to the monochromatic attire of her entire crew. She's not trying to sell sex or be the next falling down drunk party girl pop star. She's the oddly dressed soulful crooner with an affinity for opera, cyborgs, and black and white cinema. A serious musician with an intense flair for drama, and I'd gladly buy into her persona and style over any other top forty starlet of today.

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a.m. / April 4, 2010 8:55 PM

I enjoyed the article and I feel as though Janelle is totally underrated! I saw her perform in Washington, DC and she captivated the audience with her prescence alone. I look forward to hearing more from her. 'ArchAndroid' drops May 18th! :-)

Mia / April 28, 2010 11:51 AM

Janelle Monae is not afraid to be who she is and I respect that most about her. I wish her all the success in the world.

Isabelle / April 28, 2010 12:44 PM

i adore janelle. she is the epitome of charisma and grace. not to mention a set of killer pipes!

Juleeyah / April 28, 2010 1:38 PM

I am convinced that she is the most talented singer in this entire world. That is all...

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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