Janelle Monáe & Big Boi
Better than: Hearing my mother sing in the shower.
A tuxedo-clad man with a top hat approached the stage and started to hype the crowd before Janelle Monáe's set. He got the fans pumped and chanting, and then suggested that folks Instagram him. Little known fact: it's “Social Media Week,” which is even Big Boi of OutKast (the evening's not-so-secret “secret guest”) was talking up the twitterverse. “Certain new artists, you get to discover their music, and I like that.”
Finally the lights dimmed, and Monae's ArchOrchestra walked silently to their positions. Suddenly, Monáe frenetically spewed the words to “Dance or Die,” her Afrofunk-influenced jam. She whipped off her cloak to reveal her familiar black-and-white getup with black suspenders and a chain wrapped around her thigh. Without a pause, she launched into “Faster,” which recalls classic Motown with its horn-driven melody and chunky bassline.
For someone so obviously inspired by Prince, it was a bold move to cover “Take Me With U,” but Monáe and co. pulled it off with aplomb. They stayed true to the original and she bounced, kicked and shimmied around the stage. Another cover fit her vocal range (if not her robot-freak style) even better: the Jackson 5's “I Want You Back.” The string instruments lifted the song and highlighted her vocals.
The hit single “Tightrope” from The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) was a highlight of the evening. Confetti swirled, fans became hysterical, and one kid insisted she “Take off all your clothes and shake it!” Big Boi joined her on stage for part of the track.
“Big Boi gave me my first start, and I am forever indebted to him,” said Monáe. She segued into “Electric Lady,” a funky, beat-driven workout that lasted a bit too long. Her lyrics “Uh shock it, break it baby, electric lady, electric lady,” repeated over and over. She concluded her set with “Come Alive (The War of the Roses),” a jazzy neo-soul tune with angular guitar riffs. It sounded like something right out of a horror flick. By the end of the night, the entire band was on the floor, playing their instruments lying down. Monáe jumped off the stage and surfed the crowd, feet first into the audience. Eventually everyone got back and their feet and finished with a full-band flourish.
Below: Big Boi performs a short set
“How many cool motherfuckers are in the house tonight?” asked rapper BlackOwned C-Bone to the screaming crowd. He's a Dungeon Family member and also featured on OutKast's “Gangsta Shit.”
Big Boi began rapping over OutKast track “So Fresh, So Clean,” which I wasn't a fan of, and by the time he got to “Ms. Jackson” I was missing Andre 3000. C-Bone was consistently trying to get the crowd involved, shouting “Put your hands up!” often. His set was fairly short and, I would say, only semi-sweet.
Personal Bias: I have never seen a great show at Club Nokia in three years of covering music in Southern California.
Random Notebook Dump: Janelle's keyboardist looks like grown-up Steve Urkel.