Janelle Monae + CocknBullKid @ HMV Institute, 25th February 2011


The queue’s chock around the block and the 6.30 p.m. doors open is not forthcoming. I learn later that all manner of sound-check nightmares have occurred which sadly do impact on the main set’s opening but what of mere trifles? Tonight’s audience is as a diverse palette of young and older, trans-ethnic lads and girly smolder you could ever wish to be in company of. And, we’re all here to witness the incandescent dream-weaving, Soul-healing, bad ass funky diva sass of Janelle Monae.


CocknBullKid kick off their support slot led by vocalist, the divinely Sunday school skirted, pig-tailed Anita Blay. With their follow-up single, ‘Hold On To Your Misery’ about to be released, they synth-smooched, funk and bubble-gum pop grooved through a set of engaging and life-affirming songs. The eponymous single, a pillow confessional torch song with a strident chorus line, having an eminently feminine assertive resolution. And, it has to be said many might blanch at writing a song titled ‘Asthama’ and make it romantic to boot, but Ms Blay does it with panache. A smacking thank you kiss of appreciation closes the brief set. Delicious.

Setlist: One Eye Closed, Yellow, Cocknbullkid, Misery, Mexico, Asthma, I Deserve It.


With blackboard finger nail screeching violins and the stage wreathed in mist the ominous figure of a top hatted Baron Saturday look-alike dude invites us to shun material distractions (ie put those damn flashing phones away) and join with him to invite on to the stage (dramatic crescendo here, whoo, spooky or what?) ‘Birmingham we give Janelle Monae!’ And sod all happens. Yes, that sound-check nightmare’s back with a vengeance.


A few agonised minutes of silence, and give credit to the crowd, all taken in good spirit. Then appear a trio of monk cowled figures and I pray were not going to get some Spinal Tap dwarves dancing round a miniature Stonehenge! But no! Lights, a horn-honking brassy band and the lady herself in scorching high waisted black slacks, diamond cut white shirt and black cravat: the Institute goes mental.

She scat/raps to a Latino/jazz funk riff with ‘Dance or Die’ and her art-deco quiff doesn’t dare put a hair out of place. Everything about this show, and it is as much theater as a gig, is wonderful. Monae just has to be the love child of Kid Creole and Grace Jones (and Grace Kelly for those goddess sculptured cheek bones) and of course James Brown being godfather at the baptism. No other explanation.


The kids utterly adore her and the band? They’re Funk, they’re hip they take it to the bridge and beyond. ‘Angel Wings’ literally explodes with a cannonade of digital confetti that is exquisitely captured in the roving spotlights. Cue crowd going even more mental. There’s party-time descending balloons during ‘Tightrope’ that sees Monae in a regally embellished gown delivering a machine-gun spray of funkadelic scat a cappella.

A constantly changing phantasmagoria of costumed creatures inhabit the stage around whom Monae effortlessly glides on gilded splinters. Dr. John voodoo reference intended. ‘Wondaland’ seduces with a steam-roller caress and by now she could part the Red Sea and we’d follow. Encore opens with ‘All I Do’ and for me it was all I could do to stay awake, a bit tepid after all the fun. But isn’t she just the tease. ‘Come Alive’ cast its hypnotic spell drawing influences from the classic groove of ‘The Rhythm of Life/Magic Woman’. It builds up to a fandango thrash but she then she leads us into a crowd section call and response chanting ‘La la la’.


And then damn it, she has us all sit down like it’s Infant’s assembly time. Cooly, she keeps her thumb on the champagne cork popping finale and then it all goes supernova.

Away she goes as the band go pogo bonkers and everyone’s had the time of their lives.

Setlist: Overture, Dance or Die, Faster, Locked Inside, Call Me, Smile, Sincerely Jane, Wondaland, Halleluiah Chorus, Mushrooms & Roses, Cold War, Tightrope. Encore – All I Do, Come Alive.

Review – John Kennedy
Photos – Katja Ogrin

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