How can a show be a celebration of sex and lust and yet be so damn wholesome? If you hadn’t noticed recently, the queer girls are all singing about sex (baby). You can have it raw and animalistic (Anna Calvi), arch and poised (St Vincent) or swaggering and powerful (Christine and the Queens), but no one appears to be doing it in as warm and friendly a way as Janelle Monáe.
Sure, things were choreographed to perfection, to the point where the only unscheduled moment was when Janelle’s hat fell off unexpectedly in the middle of a silhouetted dance routine. Even then, she expertly scooped it off the floor without breaking her rhythm and we were back to the slick moves. Such utter precision, such careful thought going into everything she did could have been robotic and detached in lesser hands, but not here.
She teased us to begin with, playing the first five tracks off her latest record, Dirty Computer, in order and with expert playing from her band. The dances moves from her dancers, the costume changes, it was plotted almost like a musical.
But it would too obvious to simply play the album as released, even though it was pretty obvious that the crowd would have been very happy with that. Maybe an algorithm might resort to that, but Janelle is far more human than she might seem to the inattentive. Instead of formula, she broke up the flow of Dirty Computer with what was essentially a hits medley from her previous albums and other releases, albeit a hits medley where none of the songs have actually made it on to the UK singles chart. It’s a damning indictment of the state of this country.
A thoroughly planned show needn’t be a cold, mechanical show. And songs about sex needn’t be poe-faced and seedy. Everything Monáe sang about was a celebration of positive qualities. Sex as a fun, cheeky, inclusive activity to share with people you like (‘Pynk’). Resistance as a duty and an honour which will lead to a better future (‘Cold War’). Being flexible as hell in comfortable legwear (‘Yoga’). She bade us sit on the floor of the Academy, which we did even though we all know that the floors of most gig venues are basically biohazards.
It felt inclusive. It felt warm. It was an invitation to her world and we were all welcome. The four lucky audience members who got to show off their dance moves on stage may have been the most obvious invitees, but we all felt it. I was glad to be there and so, I think, was Janelle Monáe. Lucky us.
Image: John Hayhurst SNAPAGIG.COM