Going into Janelle Monáe’s first St. Louis headlining show, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect crowd wise. My previous experiences with the electric lady were two excellent Bonnaroo festival performances. The key focus of the night was essentially the answer to my question. Diversity and love. Connection and acceptance filled every inch of The Pageant as two pieces of the Wondaland Art Society (Monáe and openers St. Beauty) along with people of all colors and sexual orientation came together to shake whatever their mommas gave them. It was a celebration of being yourself.
The Dirty Computer tour sold out quickly off the power of singles like “Make Me Feel”, “Pynk” and “I Like That”. The album that followed is easily one of the best of 2018 so far and it made up a large majority of the set. When Monáe strayed to work songs like “Q.U.E.E.N.” and “Electric Lady” into the set, it just felt like it was a bit out of place because of the cohesiveness of Dirty Computer.
After the brief interlude into Electric Lady material, the second half of the set finished strong. “Don’t Judge Me” got personal and worked as a moment to breathe before “Make Me Feel” brought its spot on Prince vibes, and essentially served as a tribute. “I Got the Juice” stood out as Monáe and her dancers pulled a select few up onto the stage and got the chance to show their moves, and confirmed that they did in fact, have the juice.
Towards the end of the set The Archandroid track “Cold War” brought things back together as she continued to talk as she did throughout the night about the strength of love and togetherness. The song might forever get compared to Outkast’s “B.O.B” but Monáe brings a power and passion to the track that her Atlanta brethren never did. The version of “Tightrope” that followed did feel a little out of place, especially with its very extended outro. Monáe at several points through the night channeled her inner James Brown. It worked to great effect on “Make Me Feel” as she worked in Brown’s “baby, baby, baby” from “I Got the Feeling”. In “Tightrope” it was a bit overdone.
An encore began with “So Afraid” as she spoke a message of self-love and reminder that depression is a very real problem that shouldn’t be avoided. As images of Trayvon Martin protests, fire and riot filled the screen, it brought to mind recent studies showing increasingly high numbers of suicide among black children and men, while other races show consistently decreasing numbers. A 2016 study found that “psychiatric and behavioral problems among minority youth often result in school punishment or incarceration, but rarely mental health care.”
Monáe stared into the fire onscreen for a few seconds before turning around and starting the last song of the night with “hold on, don’t fight your war alone”. “Americans” served as the perfect closer as a bookend to the opening track, “Crazy, Classic, Life” where she sings “I am not America’s nightmare, I am the American dream”.
This isn’t the America of the past or even the present. We’ve been a country of injustice, hatred of the “other” and segregation. However, with artists, activists and regular everyday Americans who stand and fight to make sure this is an inclusive country where we all can live the American dream, it can be the future. Monáe has a strong vision and passion for bringing people together and empowering them to accept others as well as themselves. With energy and focus, that version of America feels possible.
St. Beauty set the tone for the night perfectly. Their 2018 release Running to the Sun is their first full-length album. A cover of Outkast’s “Prototype” split the set in half beautifully and did the Andre 3000 track justice. The band is at its most intriguing when multi-instrumentalist Isis Valentino and lead singer Alexe Belle are both active and enjoying the back and forth with the crowd. Definitely check them out if you like Monáe or you’re looking for something to get super chill with.