For the better part of Friday, the rain was falling, which made it hard to enjoy watching the leaves do the same. In all honesty, it was a miserable day. October wasn’t making a good first impression in Saratoga Springs. Come on, October. Then Janelle Monáe’s tour bus rolled in, and with it came the sun, and seemingly the rest of autumn. Some tuxedo shoes flashed across the walkway to Skidmore College’s athletic facilities, and everything changed for the better.
One word about sums the evening up: Dapper. If it wasn’t Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s vintage suit, tie clip, or cuff links, then it had to be Janelle Monáe and her entourage’s cumber-buns, top hats, and of course, the Missus’ Pompadour (though Eli’s wasn’t bad either). With the help of some truly fresh attire and howling vocal stylings, Friday night went from drab to elegant, soulful, and funky in the blink of an eye. It had to be one of the best college events . . . if not the best Skidmore College concert in recent memory. One thing was for sure, this was an all-star event.
Eli started things off with a truly authentic trip through soul music’s rich past. He was Sam Cooke, he was James Brown, and moreover, he was Eli “Paperboy” Reed. With an “Eli”-clad gibson guitar and a thin tie around his neck, he lectured the crowd about love and passion, both in song and oration. Addressing the women, he preached, “You just can’t make up your damn minds . . . but it don’t matter, because we love you anyways.” With help from a full horn section, a man on the Hammond organ (who also served as his MC), and some slick guitar work, Eli set the perfect scene for what was to come.
Janelle took the stage, but before doing so, she appeared on screen as the ArchAndroid, following an introduction from one of her fine gentlemen. A Prince-esque guitarist, a man on the synths and bass, and a drummer brought forth the space-age funk. But the focus, of course, was on Ms. Monáe, who’s possessed, schizoid, liquid, at times robotic movements ornamented her own full-bodied croon.
Cloaked dancers, a live paint show, and video projections further upped the ante. The experience of watching Monáe perform her songs is just that: An experience. Her live show is clearly a well choreographed, thoughtfully crafted performance, but one that maintains its freshness each night. It is seamless, uniform, and most importantly, a showcase of the 24 year old’s talents and versatility. Her electrifying passion probably accounts for most of this practiced novelty. She even slid to the floor with a screeching howl (as did Eli), before feigning a seizure and clapping out of it.
Like Eli before her, she draws influence from all over the place (as far and wide as James Brown, George Clinton, Outkast, Stevie Wonder, and Prince, among others), but somehow she’s managed to create her own artistic persona. The pompadour probably doesn’t hurt, either.
-Words and Images by Drew Litowitz