Janelle Monáe Channels Prince and MJ With the SF Symphony, 5/16/13
Janelle Monáe and her Androids with the San Francisco Symphony
Moanalani Jeffrey Janelle Monae with the San Francisco Symphony last night. All photos © Moanalani Jeffrey.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Louise M. Davies Hall
Better than: Monáe's last wonderful performance in SF at the 2012 Black and White Ball
Last night at Davies Hall, Janelle Monáe pretty much wore the same thing she always wears on stage. Fortunately, Monáe always wears a black or white suit and tie -- a uniform in tribute to her parents' jobs as janitor and garbage collector -- and this time she was resplendent in a black tux. (So were many of the men in the hall, in deference to the "creative black tie" dress code of the San Francisco Symphony's Spring Gala.) Her patented pompadour hairstyle was given an elegant, sideswept remix, and her eyes sparkled like the diamonds in her ears.
Ushered up by the San Francisco Symphony performing John Barry's "Black Hole Theme," she used her microphone stand as a baton and gun to emphasize the points in the song "Sincerely, Jane," topping off the track with a little moonwalk. She then started singing a languid version of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile." Since this melancholy tune is long known to have been Michael Jackson's favorite, there was a sense that she was building up a tribute to the Gloved One. But it still took everyone by surprise when she asked, "Now are you guys really ready to jam?" -- and began a huge rendition of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back."
* All Shook Down: Janelle Monáe
The people were definitely ready to jam -- the intensity of the sound made it impossible not to feel it -- and what we thought was a staid crowd started to bounce around in their seats throughout the show. Arms started waving during a cover of Prince's "Take Me With You," which she prefaced by saying, "This next piece is by one of my friends and a musical hero, and I hope you know it." Prince is famous for looking unimpressed and bored whenever he's in the audience during a Prince tribute, but Monáe is one of the few he's embraced.
After paying homage to Prince and Michael, a fascination with James Bond then became clear, with a suite dedicated to the film series. First came the main theme song and then a super-animated version of "Goldfinger."
Monáe's own orchestra, called the Androids, were clad in white, while the SF Symphony was in black. Her string and horn players added a loose vibe to the proceedings as they tapped their feet, swung their bows, and couldn't disguise the fact that they were having the time of their lives. She had no trouble admitting as much, telling everyone that it was her dream to be there.
By the time her best known song "Tightrope" emerged, so did the invisible cord that tethered the audience to their seats. Monáe actually came down and out into the aisles to dance during an encore that featured her new song "Q.U.E.E.N." This left ladies scrambling on their heels to get closer, and -- since it is probably a very rare occurrence at the symphony hall -- the well-coiffed hint of chaos was allowed to thrive until the last note.
Personal bias: Throughout her career, I've seen Monáe captivate audiences at small Atlanta clubs, crowd-surf half the room in New York, and charm San Francisco society -- all of which have made me a big fan.
Random detail: Symphony patrons can get looser than one might expect, but it was one couple up in the rafters who signaled to the rest of the audience that it was okay to party.
By the way: Monae expects to release a new album called The Electric Lady this summer.
Black Hole Theme
II. Rising Action
I Want You Back
Dorothy Dandridge Eyes
Take Me With You
James Bond Theme