Janelle Monae at House of Blues, 11/13/2013
The things that pop into your head sometimes at concerts. Wednesday night, already on my short list for best show of 2013, it was City Slickers. Yes, the 1991 Billy Crystal/Jack Palance comedy.
Crystal and his buddies are on a trail ride, passing the time talking about women, and one of his friends shoots him the hypothesis, "Say a spaceship lands and the most beautiful woman in the world gets out. Would you go with her or would you stay with [wife] Barbara?"
It's about being satisfied with your choices in life (or not), but what is has to do with Janelle Monae's show at House of Blues is simple: I saw a spaceship land Wednesday night.
About to turn 28, Monae comes from Kansas City (the Kansas side), by way of Atlanta, where she caught the attention of OutKast's Big Boi, who put two of her songs on his 2005 mixtape Got Purp. Vol. 2. But based on Wednesday's 80-minute set, her real provenance is somewhere a sight different from either city. She comes from a place far, far removed from the pop charts that are holding her in check due to the public's lack of imagination. You won't see Katy Perry pulling off any of these moves anytime soon, that's for sure.
Also art school. Monae must have taken six different kinds of dance lessons (tap, jazz, and hip-hop, to name just a few) to execute the kind of choreography she did Wednesday, which included zapping her backup singers with a long taser-like wand several times.
The reason this review isn't any longer is that all I kept writing down was some version of "Damn!" Except a couple of choice cuts from previous album The Archandroid toward the end ("Tightrope" and "Cold War"), most of the set came from her brand-new album Electric Lady, which means all kinds of phantasmagoric electric guitar, marching-band drums, keyboards going haywire, and Monae zapping around the various players onstage like the world's lithest pinball. Right before "Cold War," she even stopped some kind of disagreement down front, saying "I'm not gonna finish until y'all hug."
Review continues on the next page.