Dissection Of A Concert: Janelle Monáe Does D.C.

The Black Cat in Washington, D.C. is a grungy, standing-room only spot that is the poor-man's haven for cheap tickets to see acts of all kinds--from uber-stars to up-and-comers--in every genre of music you can imagine. Last night, a Monday evening no less, a crowd at least 500 people deep stood outside in a line for at least one hour to be allowed access for $15 a head to see the tiny quirk-ball of energy we know as Janelle Monáe.

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After the bounce

Monáe is promoting her new album, The ArchAndroid,
which is set for release on May 18th and already has enjoyed great
anticipation due to recent leaks of the two hot singles "Tightrope" and
"Cold War." Last night, Monáe left no doubt in our mind that she wanted
us to buy this CD and love it with every fiber of our being, for it
seemed as if she performed just about every song that could possibly be
on the new disc. While this introduction to her new material would have been
exciting and engaging under normal circumstances, last night's concert
experience was anything but normal, and maybe a bit disappointing for
me, as I had such high expectations.

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One Long Ass Wait

For starters, as mentioned in my opening, we were in line for over
an hour given that our tickets said that the show was to begin in
8:00 pm. For most people, that meant that they were in line since 7:30 pm
or earlier. I knew better, and my experience attending concerts at most
D.C. venues indicates that a start time on a ticket typically indicates
when they will start letting you in the door. So, I arrived at about
8:30pm to find that the line was only then beginning to inch forward
as the doors to The Black Cat were opened. I didn't make it inside
until after 9--and I had a ticket!

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Once inside, the crowd around the stage was already tight and claustrophobic. For those of us long-time Monáe
fans, we anticipated some fierce, high-energy dances from the petite
entertainer and knew that the closer we got the more apt we were going
to be to see those moves in action. Monáe didn't disappoint, either. Her
show was strongly marked by her almost tireless ability to dance as if
pumped up on Speed. However, imagine being in such a crowd for over an
hour before Janelle Monáe even emerged on stage. That's right. She did not even come onto stage until after 10 pm.

No Opening Act

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Ordinarily, you would expect a concert's star act to emerge
two hours later from the anticipated start time if there is an opening
act to hype the crowd and set the stage for the main attraction.
However, last night, there was no opening act. None. Zilch. Nada. I can
safely say that I have NEVER attended a concert in D.C. area to see a
concert where there is no opening act. With the numerous bands, solo
performers and the like emerging in the D.C. scene who would have
performed as Janelle's opener for free--just for the opportunity for
the exposure to her audience. There was absolutely no excuse why there
was no opening act for this concert. Instead, over 500 of her fans were
left to wait in the hot ass Black Cat for about two hours for her to
emerge while a DJ played music that was so varied and uninspired that I
longed to ask him to kindly step away from the turntables.

The wait was so long that as the minutes creeped by the 10 pm hour
and no sight of Janelle, some audience members began to loudly boo. At
that point, one of her black-hooded entourage members came onstage,
masked in a white Phantom of the Opera-like mask to give us the cue the
show was beginning.

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Lack of the Well-Worn

After such a wait, you would think that Janelle Monáe would have
made it up to us to open with the familiar tunes we fell in love with
on her first release to get our blood circulating, right?
Not a chance. She opened the show with an unfamiliar new tune from her
new CD and proceeded to sing at least four songs back-to-back that
those there like me had never heard before in our lives. That was the
major FAIL for me regarding this concert. Rule number one in my
imaginary rulebook of concert-performance etiquette has always been
"Grab Them With the Well-Worn." While fans inevitably are going to buy
your new stuff if they are indeed your fans, you don't have to try so
hard to prove to them how good your new stuff is in a concert venue by
singing every last song off of your new album. That is not how new
music sells. When fans attend concerts, they want to be reminded why
they are your fan in the first place. This usually is achieved by
performing songs they know and love so they can sing along with you and
truly feel part of the experience. I am still in traumatic amazement
that out of the ten or so songs that she belted out last night, she
performed only one song from her previous CD Metropolis-- the popular "Sincerely Jane."

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You read correctly. No "Violet Stars Happy Hunting" or "Many Moons."
My guess is that she replaced them in the line-up with "Tightrope" and
"Cold War," which she dropped her Monáe-esque jitter and jive dance moves on for our viewing pleasure.

Now, I attended the concert with someone who is only familiar with Janelle Monáe
through YouTube sightings and my constant raving of her as an artist,
so he didn't come to the concert with such high expectations as I
did. His exact words were, "She sounded good. She's a little creepy but
the show wasn't half bad." While we were both pissed about the long
wait, by the end of the evening, he probably had a more enjoyable
experience because he didn't have expectations of what he was going to
get walking in. While I had my heart set on seeing "Violet Stars Happy
Hunting" and "Many Moons" performed so I can scream-sing along in
groupie ardor, he was intrigued by the cryptic, grim reaper cyborg
theme and Janelle's crowd surfing experience that marked the end of the

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By the end of the night, I was bone-tired, half-deaf and left a bit
dissatisfied. While I certainly adore almost every recording I've heard
from her and know full well I will be purchasing her new CD when it
drops, I'm not sure I will jump for the next concert unless it is in an
outdoors festival setting and she is part of a line-up of other
artists. After this concert, I felt like the invited guest to a
dinner party where only appetizers are served--still hungry and pissed
that I dressed up.

Check out this clip below from the concert caught on video by Janelle
lover Terence C. Cort (@solotc on Twitter) who was at a perfect vantage
point throughout the concert. I admit, this video actually shows you
more than I was able to see from my spot mired in the crowd ten paces
back, stage left. [Photo: WAPO]

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