Arts concert review

Janelle Monáe: electrifying and astonishing

Igniting Boston in a night of funk, rock, and R&B

Janelle Monáe

The Electric Lady Tour

Opening Act: Roman GianArthur

House of Blues, Boston

8.00 p.m.,
Oct. 16, 2013

Upon entering Boston’s House of Blues on October 16th, the attendees were given a short pamphlet entitled “The Ten Droid Commandments”. Besides instructing the audience on how to get the most out of Janelle Monáe’s conceptual concert, the pamphlet also contained Monáe’s special request for the audience — to never reveal the show’s secrets to their friends. Before the Electric Lady appeared on the stage to actually share the mysterious secrets, Roman GianArthur (one of the key figures in the production and arrangement of Monáe’s albums) opened the show with a stellar musical and vocal performance. In addition to performing some of his own songs, he also delivered several fantastic covers, including MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady”. Similarly to Monáe, his continuous communication with the audience and the ability to instill the “jam” factor into each of his songs made his appearance nothing less than mesmerizing.

Following GianArthur’s performance, Monáe entered the stage in the most appropriate and unique way possible – dressed in white and black, and in a state of deep sleep, carried onto the stage by one of her messengers while the theatrical “Suite IV Electric Overture” was playing in the background. When the overture reached the climactic crescendo, Monáe opened her eyes, guitar riffs stepped in, and the show officially started with “Givin ‘Em What They Love”. There was no need for Monáe to slowly and carefully build the communication with the audience — hands were already up in the air and everybody was dancing as Monáe sang “I ain’t never been afraid to die / Look a man in the eye / I come to give you what you love”.

Even though the majority of the songs were from Monáe’s newest album The Electric Lady, the fans of her android tales were treated with an energetic performance of older singles as well. “Sincerely Jane” brought the audience back to the beginnings of android Cindi Mayweather’s story when Monáe released her first EP, while “Tightrope” and “Cold War” renewed the funky tunes that catapulted her to widespread recognition with her debut full-length album The Archandroid. The newest songs were delivered with equally brilliant performances — the rapping sequences in “Q.U.E.E.N”, “Electric Lady” and “Ghetto Woman” were met with long-lasting applause, and the slower jams and ballads like “Primetime” and “Victory” echoed through House of Blues as the audience sang quietly, allowing Monáe’s strong voice to bring everyone into the embrace of her music. What also made Monáe’s concert so fulfilling was the completeness of the musical arrangements that were made possible by her excellent band. From the guitarist and the drummer to the keyboard player and back-up vocalists, everyone put their soul into the concert and turned the entire experience into a sensory adventure.

The grand finale of the concert slowly took over with Monáe’s well-established, fierce performance of “Come Alive (The War of the Roses)” during the first encore. Lasting for almost fifteen minutes, the song (which can be loosely interpreted as Cindi Mayweather’s decision to break free) took a special twist when Monáe requested the audience to get low while she crouched down and sneaked into the crowd, silently singing the melody of the song. After coming back on stage and joining her band in their deep sleep, there was a very short moment of silence and unrelenting anticipation before there was a sign of Monáe coming back to life.

“Everybody,” she said quietly as the band members started to revive the music “come alive!”

The silent murmur of the audience quickly escalated into an ecstatic combination of screaming, singing and dancing as everyone jumped on their feet and joined Monáe’s electrifying choreography of coming alive and breaking free. The exhilarating performance of the song enveloped House of Blues with a pulsating energy that served as a final touch to the show’s fantastic finale.

A surprise awaited Monáe during the second encore of the show. A representative of Boston’s City Council came on stage and shared the council’s acknowledgment of her “tireless efforts to inspire confidence, self-worth and equality in women all over the world, and her courage in speaking against the marginalization of historically oppressed groups”. In the name of the City Council, the representative proclaimed Oct. 16, 2013 as “Janelle Monáe Day.” As the audience applauded and shouted words of approval, Monáe sincerely thanked everyone and celebrated the special occasion by performing the only song that was appropriate for the moment — the final track from The Electric Lady, “What An Experience”.

Seeing Janelle Monáe perform live can only be described one way, and even though The Electric Lady explicitly stated that the secrets of the show must remain concealed, if there is one secret shared with Boston that can be revealed and still leave enough space for surprise and thrill it’s this — that a legend is born.