Coachella 2013: Janelle Monae Took Us On A Neo-Soul Desert Odyssey (PHOTOS)

Carl Williott | April 14, 2013 12:43 pm

Janelle Monae will soon be our Q.U.E.E.N., but after seeing her set at Coachella Saturday night, I have a feeling she might be our Prince. Her show felt like somebody took “Hey Ya!” then laced its drink with amphetamines and made it act out a movie for 50 minutes. There were no lulls; at no point did it feel safe to look down at your phone, lest you miss something wonderful from Janelle and her white-clad ArchOrchestra. There was a James Bond-referencing intro video, there were cloaked druids, there was dancing, there was dance-fighting and at one point she even got the whole crowd to crouch down in silence, “Shout” style.

If that all sounds very ridiculous, that’s because it is! The word “unique” gets tossed around quite a bit when talking about musicians, but Janelle’s whole thing truly cannot be replicated. She pulls off these off-kilter ideas because her songs are rambunctious yet refined, and she’s got this unholy combination of James Brown‘s energy, Justin Timberlake‘s natural charisma and Prince’s seamless eclecticism. When it all coalesces on stage, it accomplishes that rare live feat where you just stand there and you can’t help but smile at what you’re witnessing.

Janelle started on the Gobi stage Saturday night (April 13) by tearing through “Dance or Die,” “Faster” and “Locked Inside,” the opening salvo of her last album, The ArchAndroid. And just as on the album, each song bled into the next one. She took her first pause before song four, “Sincerely, Jane,” and made things even more grandiose. At one point during the noirish neo-soul extravaganza, she acted out a battle with a hooded villain and eventually vanquished it and did a victory moonwalk. (Which was just foreshadowing for later in the set, when she covered Jackson 5‘s “I Want You Back.”) Finishing up with “Cold War” and “Tightrope,” Monae headbanged so hard while crowdsurfing that her trademark front bun came undone. As the band jammed on to end the show, the singer hopped onto a member of her ArchOrchestra and took a piggyback ride off the stage and into the night. You other female singers better watch the throne, Janelle is back.