Janelle Monae as Android Ambassador

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Concert Review by Angus McLinn (Intern, The Liberator Magazine)
Photos by Brandi Pettijohn

The lights go down, the screen goes up, and we are ready.

This is not going to be a spectacle, we are told, this is going to be an interaction. But first, we are to hear a message from the future. Janelle Monae, or rather a projection of her giant disembodied head acting as an android ambassador, had arrived with a message. It was a message of hope, encouraging our acceptance of the android other, and, by extension, one another. After all, if in whatever future our cosmic ambassador hailed from, we had managed to make dogmatic the science-fiction trope of anti-synthetic humanoid prejudice to such a degree they had to send an ambassador to tell us all that android class citizens are people too (kind of), there must be some form of human unity, the likes of which we’ve never seen on the horizon. The mother ship had definitely landed. It was not disappointing.

Janelle Monae and her band, adorned in futuristic black tie garb, brought all the funky, afro-punk, acid-soul futuristic sound Minneapolis could handle a few weeks ago at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. Touring for her recent concept album The ArchAndroid (inspired by Fritz Lang’s Sci-Fi classic, Metropolis), she unleashed a unique sound and the intellectual gymnastics required to try and tackle issues of class and prejudice through a Sci-Fi construct. Backed up by the Punk Prophets a.k.a. Deep Cotton as well as a theatrically clad group of dancers, including a nun and a woman in hijab, Janelle Monae told the story of an android woman in forbidden love turned messiah.

Although the degree of audience participation hinted at in the beginning of the show never came to be, it still can’t be said they were remiss in proclaiming the show to be an interaction. The intense rhythms and cosmic wails of Janelle Monae and her band kept everyone dancing until all they could do was listen; but with a sound like that, you can’t listen without dancing. It was quite the predicament. The wall of afro-Punk soul before us was talking, and we were grooving right back at it. Now that’s a conversation to say the least, no doubt an interaction, and a sure ticket to exhaustion. Thankfully, through the sheer power of her stage presence and her otherworldly vocals, everyone managed to make it out relatively unscathed and, even better, with their thoughts more than a little bit provoked.

There’s room for debate as to whether Janelle Monae will ever actually become the messiah of hypothetical future androids; but after seeing her perform there is one thing I know for certain: Whatever future does come her way, be it the end of the world or the advent of true unity on earth; so long as she’s singing, we’ll be listening.

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