Janelle Monáe (Vice)
SXSW Saturday Night, March 21
Ideally at this thing you find someone to champion, whether they’re a relative unknown or already loudly championed by myriad others. Definitely the latter here: Janelle’s been hailed as the future of r&b for what feels like years now; should that come to pass, the future of r&b will apparently be fantastically incoherent.
Playing the exact same set as at Stubb’s a few nights ago — with a way worse soundsystem (her strutting-badass guitarist reduced to amorphous distorted howls) but a far more devoted audience — she vacillates gleefully from Orwellian space-funk to skronking heavyy metal to her pretty incredible torch-song cover of Nat King Cole’s “Smile” to the new “Tightrope,” a fantastic pop-r&b anthem with serious “Umbrella”-of-2009 potential. Throughout, she dabbles in diva howls and operatic lunacy, all while dancing like a robot trying to do the Human. And at the show’s histrionic climax, she leaps into the crowd; 98 percent of the time “crowd surfing” is a misnomer, but she glides from the front of the stage to the back of the room, borne mostly by bewildered, bearded dudes three times her weight who are both fascinated by and deeply afraid of her. We can get by with one Beyoncé, but we need as many Solanges as we can get.