Janelle Monae thrills with Stevie Wonder cameo at the Hollywood Bowl

Janelle Monae’s Los Angeles leg of her “The Electric Lady” 2013 tour had a stop at Club Nokia in Downtown L.A. The smaller venue left the heralded R&B songstress in an odd position. Despite her dynamic set list with tunes from her recent and earlier albums, not enough people attended. Luckily, Monae was able to build more popularity from her performance at Coachella and her World Tour with Kimbra.

Eclectic Lady - R&B and soul singer Janelle Monae electrified the Hollywood Bowl in her performance last weekend, which included a cameo from Stevie Wonder. — Photo courtesy of Atlantic Records

Eclectic Lady – R&B and soul singer Janelle Monae electrified the Hollywood Bowl in her performance last weekend, which included a cameo from Stevie Wonder. — Photo courtesy of Atlantic Records

Last weekend, Monae moved her talents to a more appropriate venue: the Hollywood Bowl, where the Kansas City native was embraced by loyal fans from far and wide. In front of a fully packed Hollywood Bowl, Monae performed a fierce concert with the jaw dropping opening talent of Roman GianArthur and the grand Afro beats of Seun Kuti & Egypt 80. The openers gave the crowd a peek into the diverse world of unsynthesized, raw bass.

After a quick intermission, the crowd seemed anxious to see the headliner grace the stage with her iconic pompadour hair. In less than fifteen minutes, the blank stage was painted into a stark black and white canvas with psychedelic overtones. The frantic affair came to an end as the melancholy chords from “Suite IV Electric Overture” signaled Monae’s entrance from stage right. Similar to her previous shows, the artist laid in a quiet, deep slumber, trapped beneath the binds of her straitjacket, waiting for her followers to awaken her. As the song reached its final crescendo, Monae burst forth to begin her narrative step-by-step.

The Hollywood Bowl date was nearly a month after the Electric Lady had been on the road, but Monae showed no hints of fatigue. Pumped with adrenaline, the leader of Afro futuristic sound hit all her notes with flawless execution.  Monae’s free flowing energy shined through her spinning top movements from stage left to stage right, her trademark pompadour perfectly intact.

Fans old and new, as well as casual and devoted listeners, were treated to a journey through Monae’s musically diverse career. Audience members were brought back to the year 2719 with “Sincerely Jane,” while “Tightrope” and “Q.U.E.E.N.” reminded all of Monae’s viral recognition with her albums The Archandroid and The Electric Lady. Every song was given a standing ovation, yet a hush fell upon the crowd as “Cold War” echoed through the Hollywood Bowl.  Fans waved their arms and sang quietly, embraced by Monae’s enchanting vocals.

Though she reused the same introduction and set list from her previous performances, Monae added some new flare to spice up her gumbo. To start, Monae brought the house down with a spot on cover of the Jackson 5’s classic hits: “I Want You Back and ABC,” mimicking Michael Jackson’s unforgettable voice.  Yet her cover of the Jackson 5’s hit should probably be replaced for something else to show off Monae’s lower vocal capabilities. Most people are well aware of Monae’s ability to hit high notes both during slow ballads and fast paced songs, but it may be time for Monae to push her boundaries in the opposite direction. As a performer and a person who refuses to be pigeonholed into only one genre, it would be in her best interest to expand her performance with other songs to cover.

More notably, the “Q.U.E.E.N.” caused a “Dance Apocalyptic” when pop singing legend Stevie Wonder for a performance of the James Brown classic “I Feel Good.” The momentous duet was a nod to the great performers before her, but the performance itself transcended a simple show of respect. Their harmony was pitch perfect as both artists sang together as if they were longtime friends, treating audiences to the synergy of timeless talents both old and new.

Towards the conclusion of the concert, Monae was carried offstage by one of the band performers to represent how revolutionaries are continually silenced at the height of their popularity. Monae let loose her pompadour into its natural free flowing state as a symbolic gesture of breaking free from expectations. To make her message of self-empowerment more apparent, Monae triumphantly threw down the “Do Not Enter” sign as a metaphor for tearing down the walls of inequality.

Critics worried that this performance would play out almost exactly the same as her previous tours, with some minor changes, and that the same bombastic introductions were starting to get old. Monae, however, manages to shuffle off the coils of expectation by relying on her talents to defy her critics.

The concert could have benefited from an extra song or two from Monae’s “The Electric Lady” album, though the creative choice to continue similar set lists from performance to performance might reflect a larger desire to cater to her existing fanbase. From the beginning, Janelle Monae made it clear that she was here to give the crowd what they love and, perhaps, to “start a revolution.”