How much excitement did Austin City Limits Music Festival feel for Janelle Monae, you ask? A scream ripped through the crowd 15 minutes before she took the stage as a few of her musicians wandered out from backstage. When the opening theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” announced the arrival of the “Electric Lady” herself, the crowd went wild.
She remained offstage, allowing the big screen to run visuals from the “emotion picture” she created to accompany her 2018 release “Dirty Computer” as a short take of the title track played, then hit the stage full force to the opening notes of “Crazy, Classic, Life.”
Wearing a structured jacket, color blocked in red and white (the first of over a half dozen costume changes) and surrounded by a four-woman dance team, she made it clear from the jump: She came to flex her skills. A petite polymath with explosive talent, she let her voice soar as she rocked her body in a tightly choreographed routine, then spit fire on the rap break at the end of the song. Moments later, she strapped on a guitar for the opening to “Screwed.”
By the time she transformed the stage into her palace and rapped “If she the G.O.A.T. now, would anybody doubt it?” while sitting on a throne during “Django Jane,” she had made the case for the accolades she demands.
Her show was rich with grandiose spectacle. She shouted out all the “Queens” while reminding us “the booty don’t lie” with gluteal acrobatics, brought a horn heavy mix to “Electric Lady” and rocked her celebrated lady part pants while executing suggestive dance moves on “Pynk.”
But what took her performance over the edge is the pure heart she brings to the stage.
“This experience was rooted in love, so I just want to say pride forever,” she said, adding, “No matter how you love or who you love, you are welcome at my show any time.” Then she launched into an epic rendition of “Prime Time” which ended with a segue into the guitar solo from “Purple Rain.”
She flexed her moves on “Yoga,” celebrated self-love with “I Like That” and reminded us that “It doesn’t matter what we dress like or how we look, women are to be respected,” in an outro to “I Got the Juice.”
She took the set out with an extended version of “Tightrope” with twists, turns and vocal gymnastics that would have made her mentor, Prince, proud. As she closed the track, reminding us to vote in November, a wave of joy washed across a crowd that seemed universally blown away. With Monae’s high artistry and expert execution, many of us were left wondering why it was Travis Scott and not Monae who was bumped up into the Sunday headline spot when Childish Gambino canceled.
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