Review & photos by Micah McLain
Janelle Monáe and the rest of the Wondaland Arts Society took over Smith’s Olde Bar this week in order to preview both halves of her soon-to-be-released album, The Archandroid. As soon as you stepped into the upstairs room at Smith’s for the second half preview on Tuesday night, you could tell that this was not going to be your average small-venue show. Attendees of the sold out event were greeted by a life-size standee of Monae holding a sign informing them that no one would be allowed to enter the room once the performance began (not even the President of the United States or the Queen of England). Local alternative rock four-piece The 54 was a worthy precursor to what was to come, blasting through an intense and hard-rocking opening set of tunes from their upcoming album.
As soon as Monae and the rest of her tuxedoed band took the stage, the crowd began to get a taste of what so many in the music and arts industry already believe: that this small-statured, quirky, bouffant-haired young woman is going to be a star. With a sound that ranges from fast-paced and frenetic hip-hop/rock hybrids (a la Outkast’s “B.O.B”) to soulful, operatic ballads, Monáe can truly do it all. The fact that she can sound so amazing while doing all of this and constantly dancing and jumping around the stage only adds to her appeal. Although most of the members of the crowd had never heard the majority of The Archandroid, each song seemed to instantly connect to the audience. Monáe mesmerized everyone in attendance with her incredible energy, impressive dance moves and crystal-clear vocals.
Tracks from her new album continue to expand on her already diverse sound in seemingly every direction. The standout highlight in a set full of highlights was Big Boi’s appearance on stage for his guest spot on Monáe’s current hit single “Tightrope,” which immediately sent the already frenzied crowd over the top. The encore also killed, as Monáe came back out to perform The Chase Suite‘s up tempo, funked out “Many Moons” amid a shower of balloons that had everyone in the crowd bouncing along with the band. Signed to P. Diddy’s label and with a full-on, well-timed marketing onslaught at the ready, there’s no reason to believe that any venue as small as Smith’s will have the pleasure of hosting this innovative prodigy anytime soon, if ever again.