Better Than: Your entire summer is going to be.
Celebrate Brooklyn!’s opening night was one that will be hard to top for the rest of the season. After the chairpersons of the parks and recreation department and Celebrate Brooklyn! committee gave their exclamatory opening remarks and welcomed the audience to the 2014 summer season, Janelle Monae was carried in wearing a straitjacket. The outfit matched the clinical, white set perfectly, but like the bright orange light that drenched the stark white of the costumes and background just before her arrival, Monae brightened up the bandshell the minute she entered.
See also: Janelle Monae Electrifies SNL Stage
There is something truly exciting about Monae as both an artist and a performer. She is, without a doubt, the most exciting of the past few years in both areas. While steeped in the old school traditions of funk, r&b, and pop, Monae makes an effort to become more than a throwback artist. She lets her appreciation for the roots of these genres live merely as such while her aesthetic and style are wholly modern and refreshingly so. There aren’t many artists out there like her.
When you’re seeing her live, you are truly getting a show. The straitjacket entry began a subplot where two men clad in lab coats would repeatedly attempt to put her back in it before finally bestowing upon her the glorious cape she deserves later in the show. The aesthetic of the set did have tinges of mod, especially given the black and white striped dresses of the back-up singers, but Monae is all about the future and a funky dystopian view of it at that. The clinical white translated fairly well to feeling like the stage was a spaceship and Monae was our captain of fun, ensuring that we freak out, just as her song “Dance Apocalyptic” requires.
Monae’s set was rich with selections across her three releases (an EP and two full length albums). Along with her impeccable collection of musicians backing her, the singer was a powerhouse with her captivating voice and infectious personality. She danced like a kid — unhinged and untied from expectations of how a singer, especially a female singer, is supposed to carry herself in front of an audience. She has full ownership of her identity. Her performance style is about empowerment through the audience’s individuality and not about her as the one to aspire to. From one of the men in lab coats requesting that the entire audience yell out their own names at the beginning of the show to Monae inviting up a fan to participate in a fairly even dance-off during the encore, Monae acted more as emcee for the night’s festivities and hype woman for her own fans.
Highlights from the night included her solo performance of the Erykah Badu-assisted “Q.U.E.E.N.” from The Electric Lady, which featured her spitting hot fire during the rap bridge. She dedicated a marvelous and powerful version of “Ghetto Woman” to her mother before sliding into a medley of Jackson 5 songs that got a crowd that had no intentions of staying still any time soon to move even more. The aforementioned cape was presented to her during her solo performance of the Big Boi featuring “Tightrope” at the end of the main set, and she wore it like the Q.U.E.E.N. she is.
For the encore, Monae let her hair down, literally, and dedicated the excellent slow jam “Primetime” to all the lovers in the audience and gave maybe her best vocal performance of the evening. She followed up with “Let’s Go Crazy,” an homage to her hero and collaborator Prince as well as a subtle return to the mental patient subplot of the show. During the following song, “Come Alive,” the men in lab coats would return to revive her after she dramatically lays down in front of the drum set. Like Tinker Bell, it takes the audience’s enthusiasm and cheers to bring her back to life, but really, all along, it was Janelle Monae who had encouraged them to live that night in the first place.
Critical Bias: The Electric Lady has slowly become one of my favorite albums, and seeing her perform the songs live really solidified that.
Overheard: “PRINCE! PRINCE! THAT’S MY BABY!” — the proper reaction to hearing Monae cover the Purple One
Overheard #2: “I guess I should buy her album now!” — patron leaving the park
Random Notebook Dump: I was really hoping Monae would bring up a member of the de Blasio family for the dance-off.
Suite IV Electric Overture
Givin Em What They Love
Jackson 5 Medley: I Want You Back & ABC
Let’s Go Crazy [Prince cover]
What An Experience
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 5, 2014