Bayou Music Center
October 10, 2023
Most people probably first became aware of Janelle Monáe from her "Joy of Dance" Pepsi commercial in Super Bowl 50, which went a long way towards propelling her into popular consciousness (while ignoring that she also made a Coca-Cola commercial seven years prior).
Thing is, Monáe has never been that mainstream of an artist. None of her solo tracks have ever charted higher than No. 79, and it was fun.'s 2011 single "We Are Young" that really introduced her to popular terrestrial radio, albeit briefly.
And if we're being honest, she's ... a little weird. Her first three studio albums were all recorded from the "android" perspective of alter egos "Cindi Mayweather" (The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady) and "Jane 57821" (Dirty Computer), having previously self-identified as such in an homage to Fritz Lang's Metropolis and the works of Philip K. Dick.
Last night's tour was both in support of and overwhelmingly dedicated to her latest album, The Age of Pleasure. If Monáe is truly leaving behind the personae of Cindi and Jane, then the pan-African, sex positive Pleasure offers a warm reggae/dancehall counterpoint to her occasionally distant earlier releases.
A Janelle Monáe show is like visiting the house of your cool aunt. Sure, she's the one with poisonous house plants and Mapplethorpe prints on the walls. But she's also the aunt you can tell things you never could say to your parents, and who'd take you in if you were ever kicked out of the house for non-felonious reasons.
That feeling comes in large part from Age of Pleasure's creation process, which involved Monáe spinning potential tracks for partygoers at her house and keeping those that struck the proper chord with her listeners. It's reggae and dancehall influences backstopping the logical humanistic progression.
Monáe opened the show surrounded by smoke, her band, and a badass horn section, ripping through the first five tracks from AoP ("Float" going into "Champagne Shit" and so on), setting the mood that would run the course of the entire set.
What was that mood? A lot of things, honestly. Love, acceptance, acknowledgement, and sex positivity, to name a few. She made us promise not to think about the past — or the future — for the duration of the show, and the audience seemed only too happy to oblige.
The crowd at Bayou Music Center was one of the most diverse I've been a part of in my (*cough*) years of covering live shows. All shapes and stripes of humanity, united by Monáe establishing an atmosphere of inclusivity from the jump.
Because that's the thing now, her show was split into various chapters representing her growing sexual and cultural awakening. There's not a lot of ambiguity as to what "The Age of Pleasure" is referring to, but Monáe makes the experience as much about celebrating "the ancestors" as "letting the vagina have a monologue" during the second chapter, with Monáe and her dancers dressed as ... sexy revolutionaries?
Hell, “Django Jane” specifically brings up “black girl magic" (during Chapter II: Now or Never), while the Afrofuturistic "Q.U.E.E.N." presents a nascent call to arms before we really get down to that Age of Pleasure stuff.
Which is what the third chapter was dedicated to, with cuts including "Lipstick Lover," "Paid in Pleasure," in which select audience members were brought up on stage to prove their dancing bona fides. And truth be told, I was a little hurt I didn’t get called up. The chapter also included a song called "Water Slide." Whatever that’s about.
Janelle Monáe puts on a show where everyone feels safe and included. It's easy for jaded assholes like myself to scoff at her insistence that everyone is deserving of love, but it's an important message, and one not lost on the adoring Bayou Music Center crowd. It's probably lucky that she limited her political endorsements to acceptance and love, because I do believe last night's crowd would have committed crimes on her behalf.
Not violent crimes, though. Sexy crimes, like cat burglary.
Personal Bias: I'm kind of ashamed that my first (musical) exposure to Monáe was in Grimes's "Venus Fly" single. But I was an early fan of her in Moonlight and Hidden Figures.
The Crowd: Free and hopefully fabulous.
Overheard In The Crowd: This was actually the conversation I had getting a beer before the show.
BARTENDER: I'm going to go ahead and assume you're over 21.
ME: What gave me away?
BARTENDER: For starters? The plaid shirt.
ME: What? This is the grooviest thing I own.
Random Notebook Dump: "Pants were a mistake."
Paid in Pleasure
Only Have Eyes 42
I Like That
Make Me Feel