She's a sexy CoverGirl model, which is of itself impressive for a five-foot tall woman. Beautiful as she is, Janelle Monae is no typical woman, The modern soul singer performed for a packed Nathan Phillips Square on Sunday night and not since Napoleon Bonaparte has a teeny, tiny powerhouse had a crowd of thousands so totally under command.
Some friends talked me into going to Janelle Monae's performance last night, and I'm glad they did. Some crappy local lead-up acts which should never have gotten beyond a high school talent show didn't create much optimism for the main event. Any pessimism about what was to come next was misplaced. Even the warm up moments for Monae, led by her own band's MC, kicked up the energy well above anything in the preceding hour.
Invoking Jazz great Cab Calloway's Minnie the Moocher, Monae had different sections of the throngs signing hidey hidey ho's as well as parts of her hit. Electric Lady. Reaching back to the 1960's, she belted out high-energy covers of The Jackson 5's I Want You Back, and James Brown's I Feel Good.
The onstage performance was as thoroughly compelling and included a very direct homage to Brown throughout the entire show. From the horn players twirling trombones before snatching them out of the air to blast chords, to the cape being draped on a kneeling Monae, to the dancing back-up babes, to the high-energy gyrations, to the band performing a resurrection of the lead singer who played dead, to her signature girl-pompadour hairstyle, it was like watching a successful audition for the role of the new Godmother of Soul.
Even if she couldn't sing a note, she's compelling and alluring. But capping the main performance off with her hit Tightrope and then an encore, Janelle Monae was more of a blast than the impressive fireworks that illuminated Toronto's City Hall when she was done.
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