Wednesday, October 27
Janelle Monae's set opened last night with a pair of video screens on>"/>
Janelle Monae's set opened last night with a pair of video screens on stage projecting a film of her alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather, addressing the crowd. She wore a gold helmet, spoke of her far-off native planet, and announced, "We have only one command: that you dance or die." Monae then appeared on stage flanked by a three-piece band and two hooded backup dancers (they looked like Ewoks, later in the set they reappear in various forms -- wearing bird masks and staggering like zombies, sprinkling rose petals on Monae). Wearing slim cut trousers, a ruffled puff-sleeved white shirt, and her signature hair poof, she whipped through three songs -- "Dance or Die," "Faster," and "Locked Inside" -- without taking a single break in between. When she did take things down a notch, it was to perform her cover of Michael Jackson's version of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile." The song has such heart and empathy, and Monae's voice was so lovely and pleading, it reminded me of nothing more than Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
Things didn't stay tame for that long though -- ArchAndroid met False Priest when Kevin Barnes joined Monae onstage for "Make the Bus" -- they held hands and bounced around like giddy children. An easel was brought out and Monae painted black waves on the canvas while singing, brandishing the paint brush while hitting her most emphatic notes. Monae has an incredible vocal range -- her lows simmer and her highs ripple. When I'm a concert, I like to cheer and give a good "woo!" when a singer hits a great note. My throat was sore by the end of Monae's set. She closed with "Cold War," The ArchAndroid's standout track on a near-perfect album, singing while the video screens behind her projected footage of a boxing match and then Darth Vader with his light saber, and then the ultra-funky "Tightrope." I've never seen anyone move on stage like Monae -- she taps, bounces, shakes, and kicks, all while projecting her stunning voice rhythm and note-perfect. America, meet your new James Brown. She's a woman.
By comparison, of Montreal's headlining set was also thrillingly energetic and involved strangely dressed up backup dancers -- they just took the bizarre elements to an entire new level. Kevin Barnes sprang out from behind two giant chickens wearing gas masks and holding fake machine guns before performing "Coquet Coquette;" he was wearing a white headband, ruffled turquoise blouse, and a lacy knee-length skirt (he later changed into a white hoodie and a bright orange-striped mini-skirt). Dancers in checkered bodysuits formed a ring around him while he sang "Our Riotous Defects," more dancers in nude bodysuits and skull masks held him aloft while he kept singing. It really was more of a dramatic performance than it was a straight set of music. At one point, a dancer clad in a pig mask appeared. "I think you're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," said Barnes, and then the pig began simulating oral sex with him. More moaning. "I like pig tits against my stomach," said Barnes. Then a tuxedo-clad dancer cut and ate pieces of the pig with a fork and knife. Things got maybe a little too strange and unfocused.
The best parts of of Montreal's set was when they actually did play the best songs off Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? -- like "Gronlandic Edit" and "She's a Rejector" -- as well as songs off their excellent most recent album, False Priest. The rest of the band seemed too distant in the back of the stage, and things were much better and livelier when they came out occasionally and joined Barnes in the center. There were some sound defects -- too much bass, not enough vocals -- but Barnes is a brilliant performer when he's on. He's confident in his movements and has a commanding voice. Towards the end of the set, a giant fake TV dropped from the ceiling and projected video of Barnes, backstage, mournfully singing False Priest's "Casualty of You" -- "You've ruined this/ You're a terrorist." It was striking and dramatic, no pig sex or chicken heads required.
BTW: For the encore, Monae joined of Montreal on stage to perform a string of Michael Jackson covers -- "Thriller," "Wanna Be Starting Something," and "PYT." Unexpected, and totally awesome.