CMW 2011: Janelle Monae @ The Royal York by Cody McGraw

SATURDAY - After four days of non-stop shows, beers and partying, it’s always sad to see CMW end. But at least it went out with a bang – actually, more like an explosion. After enduring the excruciating Indie Awards and endless performances by the likes of Desperate Union and Bombay Bicycle Club, as well as short sets by Hannah Georgas, Hollerado and Shad, CMW ended with one of the best live shows I have seen. Yes, ever.

You really have to hand it to a performer like Janelle Monae. Where her contemporaries constantly play it safe and sing about guys, heartbreak and who they aren’t fucking, she takes it to another level. She acts as if she has Motown, soul, funk, psychedelia and rock lodged in her throat and she just has to cough it up and show us what she’s got. Her EP, The Chase Suite, and full-length, The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III), are based around an android named Cindi who risks her life after falling in love with a human and is risking disassembly. OK, sounds a little weird but that just adds to her appeal and inspires her theatric, Broadway-caliber live show.

After an ominous introduction with Bernard Herrmann’s score from Psycho playing, Monae unexpectedly emerged from under a black cloak, slipping right into “Dance or Die”. Her energy and stage presence not being denied, she flailed around stage, dancing up a storm while tightening her cockhold on the audience. To try to describe her live show is no easy feat as it’s something that has to be experienced to believe. Her costumes, dancers and back up musicians add dimensions to each track and compliment her high energy perfectly. They are a well-oiled machine of pure talent and creativity.

Her set, highlighted by such tracks as “Cold War”, “Tightrope” and “Smile”, was an adventure of mythical proportions that will never be forgotten by those who were there.

Speaking of which, during her encore featuring “Come Alive”, Monae leaped into the crowd and surfed her way to the back of the big banquet room and back to the stage. I never want to wash the hand she touched and gave a loving squeeze to.

Janelle Monae is the real deal, people.

Photos: Carmen Cheung

Cody McGraw is many things but the thing you can actually call him to his face is the Managing Editor of The Little Red Umbrella. See more posts from him here or follow him on Twitter (@cody_mcgraw).

Carmen Cheung is a Toronto-based freelance photographer and the former Photo Editor of SoundProof Magazine. You can find more of her work on her website here and follow her on Twitter (@carmencheung).


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