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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Last Night: Janelle Monáe at Cafe du Nord

Posted By on Tue, Mar 23, 2010 at 9:00 AM

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Janelle Monáe
 
Monday, March 22, 2010

Café du Nord


Better Than: The Wizard of Oz 

Janelle Monáe's voice is huge. Her shoes are tiny. When she performs, she stares into the distance at some far-off revelation, eyelids thrown in alarm, and then she dances like a zombie going through electro-shock treatment. 

Last night at Café du Nord, the "emotion picture known as archandroid," as the show's introduction described it, began with a top-hat-wearing carnival barker poking his head through the velvet curtains. He then declared, "By now you should have already tweeted..." A series of psychedelic projections rounded into the silhouette of Monáe's head in profile, a kind of rockabilly bat-signal, before the curtains opened and four figures shrouded under black druid cloaks quaked anonymously to a pounding hip-hop beat. Then Monáe
 popped out from under one hood, spouting ragtime vocals, and the stagecraft was on for real. 

That jazzy opening arrangement bloomed to a disco-era Stevie Wonder-styled tune with a heavy melodic synthesizer booming alongside the boosted bass funk. But Monáe
's voice remained the largest instrument in the room. It echoed three, four times behind her, turning into howls and hoots and orchestral gospel. She accentuated her projected vocals and visuals with a theatrical, embellished demeanor, telegraphing the staginess of her persona with every pronounced gesture. Monáe
's carefully-tucked pompadour came unpinned just three songs in, and no matter how she stuffed it back, it kept falling loose into kinky fronds like Sideshow Bob's.

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Lars Russell

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