Janelle Monáe brought the thunder and lightning on the Bessborough Gardens last night and the warm, soulful rain came with them.
She couldn’t do an encore due to the stormy weather, but the crowd was quick to forgive. Her 75 minute set was so action packed and her performance so spirited and sincere that no one felt as if they had been left out in the rain.
A little bit of coolness was welcome, actually, after a marathon day of hot sun and hot acts on stage. Local band We Were Lovers kicked off yesterday’s events at the Jazz Fest main stage in a big way, despite some heat-related technical difficulties, managing to rein in the scattered crowd at the early hour of 4 p.m.
They were followed by one half of Keys N Krates — just the Krates — as the Keys seemed to have gotten lost somewhere over Manitoba. Luckily DJ Jr. Flo stepped up to his turntables and spun a great set with his bandmates sporadically jumping on the mic to rap a few verses here and there.
Up next was Roman Gianarthur, who has been touring with and opening for Janelle Monáe this year. He and Monáe share band members, sans the wacky spandex costumes during Monáe’s performance. They put on an incredible show and by the time they stepped off stage, much of the crowd was on their feet and excitedly milling up front in preparation for the night’s main event.
Janelle Monáe is a theatrical mastermind. A ringmaster MC opened her show, leading the crowd in a feverish callback style chant of her name until she was “summoned” from the shadowy depths of the backstage. She appeared clad in a hooded robe, face hidden, flanked by two similarly clothed dancers that bore a striking resemblance to Emperor Palpatine’s elite imperial guardsmen.
Eventually, of course, the robes came off and Monáe and her crew appeared rocking black-and-white tuxedoes. The binary colour scheme worked well aesthetically but it certainly didn’t suit her vocal style. Monáe has serious range, treating the audience to several different kinds of music. She leaned on her go-to soul and then dipped into some more classically jazzy tunes, all dashed with hints of rap, reggae and some moments that were undeniably rock and roll.
Some of the best moments of the show came courtesy of Monáe’s wonderful band and crew. Her keyboard player is the best audience clap starter I’ve ever witnessed, and her lead guitarist looks like a diminutive, less strung out Snoop Dogg with some amazing musical talent and silky smooth hair to match hit guitar licks. The three piece string section looked like white and black Oompa-Loompas, albeit much less sinister, and their playing was excellent.
Last night’s show may not have been as frenetic as Michael Franti, or as crushingly sold-out as Feist, but Monáe has my vote as best musical performance of the Jazz Festival so far. Despite the storm clouds overhead (perhaps even because of them) everything seemed to come together perfectly.
The Jazz Fest carries on for another week and there is still a veritable deluge of musical goodness to absorb. Check out the schedule on the festival’s official website and keep in touch with the Sheaf for ongoing coverage.
Photo: Nicole Barrington