JANELLE MONAE, Brixton Academy – Evening Standard, 12 May 2014

What is Janelle Monae doing in the Brixton Academy, home of the reasonably popular indie band, when the woman is so plainly a superstar? The talent wattage emanating from the stage was blinding from the moment the Atlanta-based soul singer did her first shimmy. 

A white-coated roadie doubled as a mock doctor, trying to make her leave while she jitterbugged, crowdsurfed and sang with wide-eyed intensity. She donned James Brown’s time-to-go cape, faked her own death and, in a glorious closing flurry, started a giant pillow fight with the audience and her nine-strong band. 

Like Prince, a fan and collaborator, Monae has a tight soul revue thing going on, but he wasn’t the only giant she referenced. Electric Lady recalled Sly and the Family Stone’s relaxed grooving. She did the moonwalk and in case anyone missed that connection the first time, covered The Jackson 5’s I Want You Back and ABC for good measure. 

These links to legends might have highlighted the shortcomings of her own songs. She hasn’t yet had the hit to make her a household name, though why the world hasn’t connected with the urgent silliness of Dance Apocalyptic, a sonic cousin to Outkast’s smash Hey Ya!, is beyond me. Tightrope was another joy, allowing her to do her trick of dancing away from the microphone and sprinting back to it just in time. 

She was a well-drilled performer, almost too much so. It was strangely reassuring to see her struggling to keep a hat on, and coming back after a costume change having forgotten to tie her shoes. A pause to hold up a #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS poster was a rare moment of emotion. 

These things confirmed that she isn’t a robot, as she seems to claim in some of the more indulgent moments of her elaborately conceptual albums. But if she was, she might know which button to press to take her into the arenas where this remarkable performer belongs. 

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