I’ll by-pass all the unnecessary details about the snow-related chaos that potentially threatened the arrival of Janelle Monáe and her fans to Tripod on a Wednesday evening when Dublin once again fell to pieces. Despite all these issues, the venue was well-filled when I arrived in during support act Brian Deady. I found his style of music to be like a watered-down, sex-less Justin Timberlake but given that only the bass player from his band could make the journey from Cork, he did his best with tinny laptop beats. My main problem is that I would never listen to an album that uses that font on its cover.
It’s nearly half past nine. Dublin Bus stopped running an hour and a half ago, but the venue is pretty packed and some troopers up the front have hung a Happy Birthday banner over the front barrier. After the usual back-and-forth introduction from the well-dressed MC, the birthday girl herself finally arrives onstage huddled under a cloak amidst a cloud of smoke. The band have started into “Dance or Die” but it’s a few minutes before Monáe casts off her dark cover and starts calculatedly catapulting herself across the stage. Her every movement – and those of her band – are precisely executed as they belt through the trio of tracks that open her first full-length release The ArchAndroid: Suites II & III.
Throughout her performance, Monáe never breaks character. Whether it’s her stunning version of “Smile” accompanied only by her guitarist or the delirious reaction to hits like “Cold War”, she keeps her game face on like a funky cyborg in a poker tournament. The show is carefully choreographed with dancers dressed as angels or with laser pointer-fitted gloves and an exceptionally odd part in which she begins a spontaneous life drawing session, painting on a canvas dropped onstage while her band jam out “Mushrooms and Roses”.
When she finally unleashes “Tightrope” to close the main set, bags full of balloons (black & white, to match the outfits of course) are dropped onto the crowd from above and the party atmosphere seems to be spreading a little. When her dancers and MC dash out to retrieve the balloons that have fallen in grumpy security guard territory in front of the stage, the line between performer and audience seems to blur (moreso than during Monáe’s brief visit to the front of the crowd earlier). Things have been slowly heating up all night and this is the perfectly timed, pristinely presented apex that one would expect from this show.
Monáe returns to the stage after a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday To You, which her band attempt to continue in perpetuity, to blow out the candles on her cake. This, strangely, takes several accurately aimed attempts from a now 25-year-old lady who has spent the last hour blowing a room full of people away with her vocal abilities. The crowd’s appetite for her show does not wane in the slightest during or after her encore (“Come Alive”) and the majority stick around the venue while Jimi Hendrix plays over the PA. Many were probably debating how, or if, they’d get home but plenty of avid fans kept their eye on the untouched stage and eventually, their patience was rewarded as the master of proceedings once again took to the stage to orchestrate more pantomime call-and-response before what seemed to be a genuine, unplanned second encore. A sweeping, swooning version of “Oh, Maker” didn’t set the pulse racing like the last few songs did but it was another reminder of the breath-taking and diverse talent at Monáe’s disposal. Tonight she was impossible to pin down; in turns pop diva, performance artist, soul powerhouse and punk screamer. Like Beyonce and Karen O combined in an all-singing, all-dancing entertainment robot in a slick outfit. If there’s any justice in this world, or whatever world Janelle Monáe comes from, she’ll have nothing but success ahead of her.