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Janelle Monáe fights for the right to funk

July 4, 2018

The one-two punch of those movie roles in Moonlight and Hidden Figures was her break out in 2016.

The Rolling Stone cover story interview in which she declared herself pansexual and political was her coming out in May.

And Janelle Monandaacute;es coming-out party is her current concert tour, which landed at an instantly sold-out State Theatre on Tuesday.

It was obvious from the reaction of the celebratory and worshipful crowd that Monandaacute;e has gone from cult hero to cultural hero. Sure, the people danced to her funky beats but they rallied with rabid enthusiasm to her words, both spoken and sung.

Love me for who I am. Im an American, she sang loud and proud during Americans, one of the tracks on her acclaimed new album, Dirty Computer.

We fight for womens rights. We fight for minority rights. We fight for poor folks rights. We fight for immigrants rights, she declared earlier, sounding like someone leading a rally. And most of all we fight for love.

Then she tore into Cold War, a propulsive rocker delivered with fire and fight.

Before I Like That, Monandaacute;e pointed out that the song was so no ones gonna be told theyre weird or be teased because of the music you like or the clothes you wear.

Like her pal Prince (to whom she dedicated the show), the Kansas City-reared, Atlanta-based Monandaacute;e, 32, is a visionary. She may not play as many instruments as he did but she writes, arranges and produces her music, conceives the clothes, staging, videos and other visuals. She can dance with the best of them. And shes a pretty potent singer, too.

As a performer, shes not as smooth or spontaneous as Prince but shes almost as exciting. Well, almost. And shes way more political and outspoken.

And, shes just as sexy and explicitly sexual, especially on material from Dirty Computer, which filled most of the 100-minute performance.

With her bass heavy, synth-driven sound, Monandaacute;e knows how to speak to her base. Let the vagina have a monologue, she proclaimed at the end of Django Jane, a rap tune delivered while she sat on a throne.

Then there was Pynk, her recent single that she performed wearing rose-colored glasses, a raspberry beret and oversized chaps designed like a womans pink privates, which is what the song, with its Taylor Swift pop echo, is all about.

Princes spirit and influence were all over the show from the fashionista outfits to the flashy choreography to the funky sound. The end of PrimeTime featured the guitar outro to Purple Rain under purple lights. Americans also sported a Princely guitar riff reminiscent of Lets Go Crazy. And Make Me Feel had echoes of the guitar work of Kiss.

This place means something so special to me, Monandaacute;e said in one of her few non-scripted moments. Our hero, Prince.

He had attended all four of her previous Twin Cities performances, dating back to 2010 at a sparsely filled Varsity Theater. Back then she came across as an alien escaped from Parliament-Funkadelics mother ship or David Bowies android daughter raised on Prince, James Brown and Michael Jackson.

Now shes equally ambitious with the eclectic, message-filled Dirty Computer. Her stage, five musicians and four dancers were dressed in Monandaacute;es usual black-and-white motif. So was she, with lot of red accents, a series of caps and sunglasses.

She has a thin, Janet Jackson-like voice but she can wail, as she did on the gospelly ending of Tightrope. And she can dance, as she did with a robotic body and marionette-like legs on Crazy, Classic, Life, exaggerated movements on Electric Lady and Prince, MJ and JB moves on Make Me Feel.

In a word, Monandaacute;e was galvanizing.

Twitter: @JonBream 612-673-1719

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