Janelle Monae and the Wondaland Crew Live Review

Janelle Monae and the Wondaland Crew

August 17th, 2015

Concord Music Hall, Chicago, IL

credit Marc Baptiste From left to right: Roman GianArthur Alex Belle (St. Beauty) Isis Valentino (St. Beauty) Jidenna Janelle Monáe Nate Wonder (Deep Cotton) Chuck Lightning (Deep Cotton)
credit: Marc Baptiste

There are very few musicians that are the total package quite like Janelle Monae. The Kansas-City born entertainer fuses funk, R&B, psychedelic rock, hip hop, and a dose of theater to make her own blend of timeless pop. On stage, she channels James Brown and Michael Jackson, truly standing as one of the best performers currently on the planet. Monae has even become a White House favorite, playing for the President and his family more than 15 times. On record, she’s released three ambitious and varied concept records about her as an arch-android hero named Cindi Mayweather, exploring not only every corner of the pop spectrum but also themes of discrimination, tolerance, and everything in-between. Monae has even become an important cultural voice, speaking out against gang violence, police brutality, and discrimination of all kinds. Monae is now spreading her influence to a group of artists at her Wondaland label, a diverse group of artistic outcasts making urgent, interesting, and entertaining pop music. This collection of artists put out the Eephus EP, and are putting on a free tour thanks to Toyota. After a near two hour wait to get in, I caught them as they rolled through Chicago last week, and like Monae herself, it was both entertaining and significant.

Upon entering the venue, we received “The Eephus Commandments”, ten instructions from the artists to having a good time. This includes everything from commandment #1: “The Eephus is a state of being; it is an individual, a collective, an idea, an action, an equal and opposite reaction” to commandment #10: “Please be aware that children conceived during the show or within 48 hours thereafter may be born with an excessive desire to eat carrots and play baseball as a one-person team.” These sort of weird commandments well-capture the strangeness of these artists and also their desire to make each and every show an experience: certainly something everyone longs for when they attend a concert.

The Wondaland crew touring together consists of rascal rockers Deep Cotton, soul crooner and guitarist Roman GianArthur, gentle folk duo St. Beauty, the dapper rapper Jidenna, and of course the Electric Lady herself, Janelle Monae. Each artist in one way or another is a Prince disciple, black art school kids who are interested in one facet or another of the pop icon. Purple lighting illuminated the stage for much of the night, and in Purple Rain fashion, the group kicked the show off with “Let’s Go Crazy” and plenty of confetti. The show was structured in a way that each artist would take their turn doing a song or two of their own – sometimes partnering with other members from Wondaland – and were backed by Janelle Monae’s dynamite house band, led by the always-entertaining lead guitar player Kellindo Parker. I was surprised how well this worked, as each artist slipped in and off stage smoothly. While there was the occasional letdown from going from say Janelle Monae blowing the roof off performing “Q.U.E.E.N.” and “Electric Lady” to St. Beauty doing their more downbeat love songs, but for the most part, no artist overstayed their welcome.

While every musician in the Wondaland crew is talented in their own right, Jidenna is the one artist outside Monae with true star power. Jidenna, born in a small town in Wisconsin, is one of the more handsome performers around and owns his look completely. With a full head of ginger, hair, he wears a throwback three-piece suit, including a pocket watch and cane to complete the effect. Jidenna has thrown his way onto the radio this summer, being featured on a guest rap verse on Janelle Monae’s “Yoga” and his own single and manifesto, “Classic Man.” Jidenna dominated both those songs and two others live, with the help of his side man who also sported a three-piece suit and used his handkerchief as a dancing prop. The two combined for a humorous yet authoritative hip hop set.

Janelle Monae only played four of her own songs, but she sure went for the heavy hitters: “Q.U.E.E.N.”, “Electric Lady”, “Tightrope”, and her big summer single “Yoga.” Each Monae performances is like a snowflake, with her busting out new moves and new call-and-responses. While she has now been on the scene for eight years, her energy level certainly hasn’t dropped a bit.

While protest over police brutality is rampant over social media and in a number of hot-button cities, there hasn’t been a song for protesters to rally around. That’s no longer the case with the Wondaland gangs’ “Hell You Talmbout”, a powerful protest song that makes known the names of those that have been killed unjustly in a primal shout. Seeing the Wondaland crew cry out each name and repeat their rally cry is as powerful as it comes. Here’s to hoping “Hell You Talmbout” catches on as the theme for the movement against police brutality, and artists as unique and entertaining as the Wondaland crew keep getting a platform.

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Janelle Monae Show Review: Taste of Chicago

Janelle Monae

July 7th, 2014

Taste of Chicago

Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park

Chicago IL

Janelle Monae Show Review Taste of Chicago

I would argue there isn’t a harder audience to play for than a free (or largely free) audience, as they aren’t necessarily your fans and could have any number of musical backgrounds or tastes. Enter Janelle Monae to save the day. The 28-year old, 5-foot nothing (without the hair that is), Kansas City fireball rocks the festival stage better than anyone around right now, and if anyone is going to conquer the short-attention span, wide-ranging Taste of Chicago crowd, it’s Janelle. Monae appropriately upped her game with the perfect set for a festival crowd, filled with covers, hijinks, and non-stop dance moves.
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Top Ten Acts of Bonnaroo 2014

LxL_TopTenThursdays_900x300bonnaroo 2014
Looking back at my experience at this year’s Bonnaroo, there was a lot more that I could have seen, and wish that I would have seen. Generally I do a lot of bouncing back in forth from stage to stage. This year, I found myself planting at stages for a few acts in a row, staying for a lot of the full length of sets. But when I would bounce, the abundance of scheduling conflicts only allowed me to really see a few songs by some of my more favorite acts. For instance, had I seen the entire Flaming Lips or Nick Cave shows, or ANY of Frank Ocean, CHVRCHES, The Orwells, or Diarrhea Planet in all their glory, I am sure that some of them could have easily made this list. Unfortunately though, there just isn’t enough hours in the day. So instead I decided to include only acts in which I saw the entire set, from opener to closer. So apologies to all the more deserving bands whom I did not see in their entirety, but here is a list my favorite full sets that I saw at Bonnaroo this year.

10. Elton John
elton_john bonnaroo 2014
After playing “Bennie and the Jets”, “Levon”, “Tiny Dancer”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Rocket Man” all within the first 7 songs of his set, it’s hard to care too much about what else you get from the man. I had always heard great things about Elton live, and despite the extremely dated visual show he used on his backdrop, the man still knows how to perform.
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Bonnaroo 2014: The Recap

bonnaroo 2014 recap

Bonnaroo 2014 was my sixth Bonnaroo experience, and one of, if not the best one yet. Everything about Bonnaroo encompasses exactly what a music festival should be. From music, to food, to art, to the camping, and especially the length of set times, this is truly America’s greatest music fest. Traditionally in the past I do a general Bonnaroo Pre-cap, followed by a recap after the festival. Due to laziness, this year I failed to do the former so will attempt to combine it with the latter. Long story short, here is my recap to my favorite weekend of the year.
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Janelle Monáe Review: The Electric Lady

Janelle Monáe

The Electric Lady

 Janelle Monae The Electric Lady album cover art

The abundantly-talented Janelle Monáe burst onto the scene in 2010 with her full-length debut The ArchAndroid, an ambitious sci-fi neo-soul opera that was my favorite album of that year. For those unfamiliar with Monáe, the Kansas-born R&B star in some ways is sort of an ultra-talented female Bruno Mars: what Mars does in doo-wop and soul revue channeling Jackie Wilson and Frankie Valli, Monáe does in a similar fashion but channels Stevie Wonder, Judy Garland, Prince, Lauryn Hill, Outkast, Michael Jackson, James Brown, and even George Lucas. Monáe not only has an insane rock ‘n’ roll vocabulary, but she flips from sounding like Jimi Hendrix to James Brown to Judy Garland as effortlessly as an Olympic gymnast. On her second full-length album and third chapter of her sci-fi adventure, The Electric Lady (which shares a name with Hendrix’s famous New York studio), Monáe recruits R&B’s finest for an album that shows more of her versatility but also more of her heart and attitude.
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Big Boi Review Royale: Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors

Big Boi
Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors

big boi, vicious lies, dangerous rumors, album, cover, art

Todd’s Take:

For many years, Big Boi was the slightly lesser half of one of my favorite hip hop acts, Outkast. It’s not that he wasn’t a crucial part of every Outkast album; he just seemed to be a little more one-sided than Andre 3000. Big Boi focused more on dominating the rap game with a strikingly smooth and original flow, all while incorporating his tack-sharp wit. Andre, on the other hand, covered a lot of the musical bases and focused more on fusing genres by incorporating elements of jazz, funk, and blues into the hip hop world.  This contrast was exemplified on their 2003 double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, in which each album belonged to a different member; Speakerboxxx was Big Boi’s project and Andre’s was The Love Below. Although Speakerboxxx was very enjoyable, Andre’s efforts on The Love Below cast a shadow over Big Boi’s work, essentially leaving Speakerboxx in the dark.

After Andre’s 6 year absence, Big Boi has stepped up his game, continuing on with what he does best but also taking over Andre’s role of fusing additional elements of music into his own brand of hip hop. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors is Big Boi’s third solo album (if you inlcude Speakerboxxx, which you should) and further proves to show us that he can very well hold his own, and not just in the rap game. Big Boi manages to branch out musically, blending multiple genres together in a new way.
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Weak List Wednesday: Best Live Acts of 2011

In continuation of our end year lists, we decided to bust out a short list of our favorite live acts of the year. Obviously, we can only choose from what we have seen, but between the three of us, we have seen many of the seminal acts of today this year.

My Morning Jacket Best Live Band of 2011
Jim James, Rock God in the making

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