Janelle Monae – An Emotion Picture

Review by Monica Westbrook

Like twin talking heads from a sci-fi motion picture, Cindi Mayweather appears on the two projector screens telling the story of the mythical archandroid. The band begins, and out walk three hooded figures, swaying back and forth with the funk of the tune. Janelle Monae pops out of her hood and starts singing “Dance or Die.” Thus began the “emotion picture” of the ArchAndroid as performed by Janelle Monae this weekend at The Variety Playhouse in Atlanta.

No lip syncing here. Janelle is the real deal, a performance artist – a bold, self-defining brand and trendsetter blazing forth her own path. I first heard her voice on Outkast’s Idlewild soundtrack. Her voice, transitioning from trained vocals to gritty-ness, emanating confidence, grabbed my ear and wouldn’t let go.

Beginning with the release of her EP, Metropolis, she began “Suite I” of the story of the android, Cindi Mayweather. Suites II and III take us deeper into the danger of the society that Cindi lives in. The message transcends the story of the fictional heroine, though. There’s more than one lesson in every song, and she fit most of them into the approximate two-hour performance.

Images from the show still resonating in my mind include the “walking dead” in “Sincerely, Jane.” These hooded figures with white masks and long beaks walked out onto the stage, holding their arms out like zombies. Then during “Locked Inside,” her backup singers danced alongside her, one dressed in the garb of a nun, the other as a Muslim woman. At the end of the song, as they knelt down in prayer, she sang, “I can make a change. I can start a fire.”

So much to write about, so little space. Check out the video to “Many Moons,” below, one of the songs not performed. The show was far more than expected, with her band members, A-Pimp-Named-Slickback on guitar (for you Boondocks fans) and Kanye on keys. From the people of “Wondaland” dancing around on stage to evoking the spirit of James Brown both in dance and on the screen to painting a picture as she sang, the message was clear – Love.

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