Something told me that Janelle Monáe and Of Montreal were going to be a hot show. It wasn't like I knew their music really well but I had heard some good word of mouth about them. I recently spoke with friend who told me I would love Janelle Monáe. But being adversarial towards anyone who tells me what I would love, it took me awhile before checking out a live performance video of Monáe on YOUTUBE. As for Of Montreal, I kept seeing there sold out concerts listed on the Bowery Presents calendar - so I checked out a video of them performing on Letterman.
I didn't see Friday nights show, but on Saturday night Janelle Monáe and Of Montreal's tribute made it feel like the spirit of Michael Jackson took over Terminal 5. Before Janelle Monáe's set began, a few of The Jackson 5's hit songs like "ABC," "Stop The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There" played over the sound system. During Monáe's set, she sang “Smile,” which was coincidentally Michael Jackson's favorite song. (Jermaine Jackson sang “Smile” as part of the MJ's televised funeral service). And the entire show ended with Of Montreal, later joined by Monáe and her band, doing did 3 Michael Jackson songs.
At 8PM, a master of ceremony was used to pump up the crowd. He was a gentleman in a top hat and a tuxedo with tails who was dressed much too formal to be referred to as just “MC.” He slowly and eloquently spoke to the crowd and ended his small bit of patter by repeating “when I say Janelle, you say _______." The crowd willing responded with “Monáe.” After 3 rounds of call and response, he finally did the last introduction before the orchestrated overture started. As the music played, three screens showed images of Janelle Monáe as guitarist Kellindo Parker; bass and keyboard player Terrence Brown and Drummer Mike Phillips walked on stage. There were some voice overs by Monáe to match the video images but the dialogue was barely audible over the orchestrated music.
As the band began to play, three people in hooded robes walked on stage looking like the ghost of Christmas past in triplicate. We could all hear Monáe recite the verse to “Dance or Die” but no one could tell where the voice was coming from although we suspected it might be one of the three. Once she got past the first chorus (“these dreams are forever”) Monáe took off her hooded robe. There she was with here signature hairdo and her black and white outfit. It wasn't long before the band flew into the song “Faster” and through it to the next song “Locked Inside.” One of the first things I noticed was Janelle Monáe's vocals were amazing; she seemed to deliver them with such ease.
Janelle Monáe's music transitioned from one song to the next in concert in the very same way it does on her albums. I listened to Janelle Monáe's ArchAndroid Suites and Metropolis CDs, but I didn't study them as closely as one of her hardcore fans might. So to be truthful, I wasn't always sure when the band went from one song to the next. Adding to my confusion, were those moments when there was so much happening on stage, I didn't know where to look.
A really nice moment came when the music stopped and one song was done separately from the others. Plunk in the middle of the set, part of the band walked off leaving only Monáe and guitarist Kellindo on stage for the song “Smile.” It was a special moment because it displayed the fact that when all the fanfare went away, Janelle Monáe could hold an audience with both her voice and her persona. With Sarah Vaughn like inflections and contemporary gospel melismas, the arrangement Monáe performed was more smooth jazz than show tune standard and more triumphant than melancholy.
Monáe eased her way back into her set with the song “Sincerely, Jane.” The songs orchestrated parts, which were either sampled or prerecorded, reminded me of something out of 60's movie soundtrack or better yet, something Kruder & Dorfmeister might remix. Besides singing the song, Monáe did some faux conducting, mimed killing some monsters in crow masks and finished the song off with some break dancing. The song “Wondaland” starts a little different in concert than on the recording. There was a high pitched percussive futuristic phaser gun sound in the beginning of the song that was kind of cool. However, the song still sounds to me like something produced by Nile Rodgers of Chic and I think it's a little more than just it's steady mid-tempo beat. It was around the time of “Wondaland” that I noticed 4 guys in mummy outfits standing in front of the stage behind the audience barricade. I wondered what they were doing there but didn't think much of it.
Monáe and the band did one more song in a slower tempo with a descending base line. The song was “Mushrooms & Roses” but it sounded a little different from the recording because there didn't seem to be any autotune on Monáe's voice. Her voice just seemed like it had a lot of reverb on it complimenting the Prince like leads (solos) that Killindo was playing on his guitar. Monáe also gave a little James Brown affect by wearing a mid-lenght cape on her shoulder.