September 23, 2010

Janelle Monáe / Of Montreal - Terminal 5 - September 18, 2010

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.

Janelle Monáe

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.

Janelle Monáe went straight into following songs with a fierceness that carried her through to the end of her set. The beat got fast and furious starting with “Coldwar” and gaining even more momentum with “Tightrope.” This is when things got crazy. The caped hood dancers were back and so was guy with the top hat. Janelle Monáe jumped off stage and went into the audience with the four mummies surrounding her. Girlfriend has guts!! Even with the guys surrounding her, the audience was packed in like sardines. I was watching from the 1st balcony thinking if there's a stampede - she's fucked!! Luckily, Janelle Monáe and the mummies made it to the middle of the room before heading back to stage as black and white balloons dropped from the ceiling.

Monáe's last song was the rockin' “Come Alive,” sounding very Shirley Bassey morphing into Janis Joplin. The song has a fast ghoulish bass line and thriving back beat that made me bop along. Before ending the song Monáe tagged it with the band starting and stopping as she repeatedly sang “One More Time.” When Janelle Monae and the guys left the stage the applause was so loud, I felt like I was in Madison Square Garden instead of Terminal 5. The audience stayed keyed up especially since Purple Haze was being played at high volume over the sound system. Drummer, Mike Phillips came back out without the WWI aviation glasses he wore over his head through Monáe's entire set. He was helping break down equipment but while he was at it, he threw his drumsticks to fans in the audience.

Janelle Monáe - set list
Suite II Overture
Dance Or Die
Locked Inside
Smile (Charlie Chaplin cover)
Sincerely Jane
Mushrooms & Roses
Cold War
Come Alive

Of Montreal

Visually Kevin Barnes reminds me of David Bowie and vocally he often reminds me of Prince. All three men seem to believe that in order to know how to love women you have to be one every now and then. And all three men put heavy emphasis on sex through their lyrics and theatrics. I find Barnes more like Bowie in some ways because even though he's got “soul power,” his music leans heavily toward indie and/or alternative music. It may not be PC to state but even though he sings like Prince, he still dances like a nerdy white boy.

Of Montreal's set started with an eerie sound as seven musicians, some in white face, walked on stage. Six of the musicians were behind their keyboards and one behind the drum kit. Of the six musicians who were behind keyboards, one played bass and another guitar. Two fish-head monsters with gas masks, pipes for legs and red capes walked out side by side as the song “Coguet Coquette” started. When the two fish-head monsters reached center stage they separated and revealed Kevin Barnes who began his vocal. Barnes outfit can only be described as one big girly hot mess. Oh where do I begin? Barnes had blue teal eye shadow on to match the color of his boots and he wore a pink and red mini skirt over orange leotards. On top he wore a blue print shirt under what looked like a gray hoodie. On his head he wore a pinkish printed scarf as a head band. The outfit was so bad it was better than good it was hot! Tsssss.

Of Montreal, moved from the very glam rock sounding “Coguet Coquette”into the next song which is also off their 2010 CD False Priest. As Barnes sang over just a piano part for “Riotous Defects,” videos of different woman were shown on the 3 screens behind the band. As song pulled into tempo, Barnes pulled the mic out of the stand. Barnes danced around singing the chorus of “You are a crazy girl, you're such a crazy girl...” as the audience sang along. The audience also sang along with “Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider” and yes, so did I. The chorus of “you ain't got no soul pow-a” really can stick in a persons head. During the song, Barnes jumped into the photographers pit and touched hands (some high 5's) with audience members behind the barricade.

Besides the videos, there were people in costumes constantly coming on stage throughout the show. For the song “Godly Intersex,” four dancers came out in head to toe silver outfits with big spade shaped hands. During "Girl Named Hello” there was a percussive interlude. Drummer Mike Phillips from Janelle Monáe's band joined Of Montreal's drummer Clayton Rychlik as one of the other members played bongo's.

Barnes can be a sexy little fucker and left me feeling quite randy by the end of the show. (Barnes might be masquerading as a gay man but I am one.) During “Suffer for Fashion” he danced, he twirled and did lots of hip forward movement (air humping). Maybe it was the tights. Later, Barnes did some more bumping, grinding and humping as he danced with black and white checkered costumed people during the song “Like A Tourist.” Before an African American guy with a barret and sun glasses came out to sing, Barnes felt himself up on the intro to the song “St. Exquisite's Confessions.” I think the guy in the barret was either the drummer or keyboard player from Monáe's  band but I'm not sure. Anyway, the song was vocally and lyrically in the true spirit of Prince. The opening line is “I'm so sick of sucking the dick of this cruel cruel city.” Toward, the end of “St. Exquisite's Confessions” Barnes got emotional and humped the stage floor. I guess Saturday night's are lonely when you're on the road.

Barnes introduced Monáe back to the stage by saying “I would like to introduce to the stage the most important person on earth right now – Janelle Monáe”   As they sang “Enemy Gene” together, we watched Barnes awkwardly dance with Monáe.  I found it funny that Barnes kept his pelvis away from Monáe's while dancing with her (to avoid doing his humping thing).   I guess Barnes is a gentleman after all. He left Monáe on stage to finish out the song. By the way, though Barnes' introduction was hyperbole,  Monáe is being touted in the music industry as this years break through artist.

When Barnes came back he said “We would like to play a love ballade,” which was the song “Hydra Fancies.” Barnes walked off stage for the musical intro and came back in the saddle of a sort of Chinese New Year dog-dragon with four dancers in red custom underneath. What Barnes was riding is kind of hard to describe. Below is a picture I took with my smart-phone but I'm sure you can find a better picture of it by looking around on line. Towards the end of the song, two blonde women came out with metallic fan capes. Barnes had a metallic fan cape also, so all three spread their “wings” and danced.

Barnes jumped up and down for “She's A Rejector” and once again walked off stage leaving the band. K Ishibashi played violin for the first time in the show at end of the song and continued to play as a video screen, made to look like a TV, was rolled on stage. (It may have been the first time I noticed Ishibashi's violin – there were lots of things happening.) Four dancers in customs with giant skull heads sat on the floor in front of the faux TV and looked up at the screen. Kevin Barnes appeared on screen. In black and white video, Barnes performed a cover song titled “Tonight.” I couldn't figure out if Barnes was performing the song live back stage or if the song was prerecorded. Whatever the case was, the song was a highlight in the show. The song by Sibylle Baier is simple yet well crafted and it was performed at what felt like an appropriate moment in the show.

There was a weird interlude after “Tonight.” As the skulls got up off the floor, the TV was moved off stage and Ishibashi's violin playing was captured on the three back videos. The violin solo was followed by the band breaking into music that basically sounded like a dirge which was the song “Casualty of You.” Kevin Barnes walked out in a costume that made me feel like I was watching Peter Gabriel with Genesis circa 1974. It was like a gold metallic sack with a hole cut out for his head and a rope around his neck.

I'm not sure when the gold metallic sack costume came off but I think it happened before Barnes got in the cage. During “Around the Way” dancers in crow costumes came on stage. The birds seemed to be beating up on one bird, who then took off her bird costume to reveal a golden goddess. The goddess danced with Barnes in a cage with a white cloth around it. As the cloth was unveiled, Ishibashi's violin soloed over a synth pad sound. What did it mean? I'm sure the scene referenced something literary – I'll leave it for someone reading this to make a comment.

Barnes' closing outfit revealed a little more of Barnes' masculine side (not too much). It was red, my favorite color – surprise, surprise. He wore a solid red suit with a ruffled neck piece of the same color and fabric. Barnes wore the whole suit for “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” and took the jacket off for “For Our Elegant Caste.” The audience sang along with both songs which have very strong hooks (chorus). Most songwriters would name the songs something like “Chemicals” and “Both Ways.” But not Barnes – that would ruin his reputation as an eccentric. I find Barnes songwriting playful. When I think about it, he's the only writer I know that gets away with putting words like parabola and emasculate in a pop song.

After listening to 19 plus songs, I realized that Barnes has a better voice than I assumed. Actually I think he's got a good voice. His strong falsetto is very apparent but his regular voice seems disguised by a 70's glam rock quasi Ziggy Stardust affectation. I think his vocals work for the material he writes. It will be interesting to see if Barnes does a style change in the future, like David Bowie did in the 70's (Ziggy vs Thin White Dukes).

Barnes said “I love you guys” before going into “A Sentence of Sorts In Kongsvinger” During the song the gold metallic fan caped girls came back and so did the pig faced costumed dancers. I think Barnes and a girl pig fought then kissed and made up. (Don't ask me how I knew it was a girl pig, that's what my notes say!) Oh! And one of the dancers wearing a black and white checkered costume jumped into the audience and body surfed.

I've already written about the big Michael Jackson encore. And was fabulous.

While writing about this show I felt a bit overwhelmed. There was a lot going on - much more than I could keep track of.  I may have missed a few things but I believe I've given a somewhat insightful overview.  Overall, I had a great time. The show kept me amused, energized and singing along which probably makes it the best show I've seen all year.

Of Montreal Touring Band
Kevin Barnes Vocals
 Bryan Poole - guitarist
Davey Pierce - bass
Dottie Alexander - Keyboards
Clayton Rychlik - drums
Thayer Sarrano, - Keyboards
Nicolas Dobbratz – Guitars, keyboards
K Ishibashi -Violin

Of Montreal - set list
Coguet Coquette
Our Riotous Defects
Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider
Godly Intersex
Sex Karma
Girl Named Hello
Suffer for Fashion
St. Exquisite's Confessions
Like A Tourist
Enemy Gene (with Janell Monáe)
Hydra Fancies
She's A Rejector
Tonight (Sibylle Baier Cover)
Casualty of You
Around The Way
Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse
For Our Elegant Caste
A Sentence of Sorts In Kongsvinger
(Encore:Michael Jackson Medley)
You Want To Be Starting Something
PYT (Pretty Young Thing)


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