Friday Night: How Could Erykah Badu Possibly Seem Exciting After Janelle Monae?

Janelle Monae

Erykah Badu

Janelle Monae
@The Paramount Theatre, Oakland
June 17, 2010

Better than: Watching old Michael Jackson videos on repeat. (Well, maybe not.)

There were seats all the way up to the front of the stage at the Paramount last night, and at first they seemed silly: A Friday night show in Oakland, with as danceable a bill as they come (you'd think), and a crowd dressed to throw down — who's gonna sit?

But they were there for good reason.

The seats — well, the ones with people assigned to them (many didn't have people assigned to them) — were occupied during the film introducing Janelle Monae's set. As the video stopped and the stage lights went up, three hooded figures onstage shook to the itchy bassline that undergirds “Dance or Die,” from Monae's acclaimed conceptual R&B document The ArchAndroid. In the middle of the song, Monae tore off her hood and cape, and her rocketship of a futuristic soul show blasted off. Revealed in her usual white blouse/black pants stage outfit, Monae's caffeinated, Michael Jackson-style whirling dance moves rarely stopped. By the time she and the band shuffled into “Faster,” a lot of those seats were just in the way.

The seats became more useless as her set went on: the grooves built up and bounced around the towering, elegant walls of the Paramount (“the best show in town,” signs above the doors remind you). Down in front, hip-shakers moved to the aisles for more room. Even the ushers in the back waddled their mid-sections. Monae's soundman was losing it behind the mixing board, bouncing and clapping and yowlping, seeding the crowd's enthusiasm.

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