Last Night: Bruno Mars & Janelle Monae At Reliant Arena

Bruno Mars, Janelle Monae Reliant Arena May 18, 2011

See Bruno Mars, Janelle Monae and their fans, just the way they are, in our slideshow.

Somewhere, Michael Jackson is smiling again. At last.

The King of Pop may be gone, but he was very much there in spirit Wednesday at Reliant Arena. Presenting two radically different takes on post-Michael R&B, Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae were united not only by their obvious reverence for the Gloved One but by their mastery of the fundamental pop principle that "musician" and "entertainer" should be inseparable.

Call it the Jacksonian effect. Or just Michael's Law.

Starting off Wednesday's "Hooligans In Wondaland" show, Monae was (to borrow a phrase from her theatrical background) a show-stopper. She can sing like Beyonce, dance like Michael - to prove it, she moonwalked - and, judging by her wardrobe and visual effects, is a big fan of Jameses Bond and Brown.

Emerging in a Harry Potter-ish hooded robe, Monae seamlessly alternated between quick-tongued rapping and gospel testifying on big, brassy openers "Dance or Die" and the aptly named "Faster." Just as quickly, she reversed the flow back into Charlie Chaplin's wistful ballad "Smile"; Monae may not be in Kansas anymore, but there's still a lot of Judy Garland's Dorothy in her.

Though much lighter on the sci-fi imagery than her Verizon show last year - Wednesday was retro, equal parts The Cotton Club and slick '60s black-and-white modernism - she put on some Plastic-Man future shades for the John Barry/Shirley Bassey pizzicato strut of "Sincerely Jane" and then, wouldn't you know it, stepped up to the plate and knocked the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" out of the park. (R.I.P. Harmon Killebrew.)

She wasn't done by a damn sight, either. We thought she was after a tightly wound "Tightrope," when she told her band to "put some voodoo on it." No problem there. But then came "Come Alive," which came with screaming Maggot Brain guitar, a bass line swinging like a 2X4, Monae scatting and wailing as her hair finally broke free of its tightly harnessed pompadour, and climaxing with the entire band prone onstage.

It was either an orgy or a riot, and left Aftermath speechless. "Shit, man," we wrote. "I'd hate to be Bruno Mars."

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray