Janelle is truly a “renaissance woman.” Not only is she an immensely talented musical artists, but she’s also acted in an Oscar, best picture-winning movie, and is believed to have plans to stage act in plays in the near future. On top of that she’s never been shy to voice her opinions and stand up for groups of undervalued and unrecognized people as an activist either. Over the years I’ve heard a few songs from Janelle and I’d always been a fan of her popular songs, but I never dove deep into her discography or seen her in concert.
In 2014, I attended Bonnaroo which was the first time that I’d seen her perform in person. She was great for the time I saw her, but I ended up leaving her set early to go see another artist on my list. Ever since then, I’d been waiting to see her on tour. The only problem was that she hadn’t released a solo album or had a solo tour since I saw her in 2014 at Bonnaroo. Once I heard she would be releasing a new album, I was overjoyed. Not only for her to release new music, but also because I figured she would be touring based on the release of the album.
Janelle started her 29-date tour in Washington state, and ended it in the Atlanta (which was the show I was able to attend). The first announcement of the tour didn’t include as many dates as what was listed initially, but some were added due to the high demand. Luckily for me, Atlanta was one of the cities which received a second show, therefore, I was able to secure a ticket to the second show. So continue reading below to hear about my personal experience for the last date on the Dirty Computer tour.
For her shows in Atlanta, Janelle performed at the Tabernacle. If you’ve been following my blog, then I’m sure you’ve read about how much I love the Tabernacle. This venue provides a good-sized venue that holds the intimacy of a smaller venue, but still has enough space to fit over a couple thousand people inside. Some of my favorite concerts I’ve attended have happened here, and this would be another to add to the list.
The Tabernacle provides seats for those who can’t or don’t want to stand, but of course, I chose to stand in the pit; standing in a general admission pit is by far my favorite settings to watch a show from. Luckily I’m tall so I usually don’t have a problem seeing. Since that the show was sold out, the venue was packed throughout each level of the venue. This only added to the intensity of the show in my opinion. I felt the venue was the perfect size for her stage and her crowd. When artists pick a venue that’s too big, the stage and/or crowd will seem drowned out by the space, while choosing too small of a venue can do the opposite. Although she could’ve went with a larger venue, I was ecstatic that she chose the Tabernacle.
I missed the opening acts, so as I walked in, the crew was beginning to remove portions of the opener’s stage to reveal the full stage Janelle would be performing on. The stage, and most of the instruments on the stage, were all-white. This added a level of simplicity to the semi-futuristic setup. Behind the stage, was three large screens which portrayed different videos and images throughout the show. The outer portions of the stage included space for the instruments her band would use during the performance, while the middle had large steps, which peaked with a platform where Janelle would sing throughout the show. In front of this, was a long flat portion of the stage (the main stage) that allowed Janelle and her dancers to interact more closely with the fans.
The mostly white stage added to the black and white theme that has always been Janelle’s signature look. Although each of her outfits were black and white to some extent, they were still very extravagant and unique. Overall, I thought the size of the stage was adequate for her performance. It complimented the Dirty Computer theme.
Dirty Computer was Janelle’s third studio album released. It was an upbeat album that received many positive nods from both critics and fans alike. It showcased her singing talent, as well as her rapping talent throughout, and was an overall a feel-good album.
As you can expect on the Dirty Computer tour, most of the music performed was from her new album Dirty Computer. I didn’t have a problem with this since I enjoyed her new album so much. She also took the listeners back, and crossed some older songs I wanted to hear off my list when she performed “Tightrope,” “PrimeTime,” and “Q.U.E.E.N.” These were some of my favorite songs from the first two albums.
Overall, I felt her song choice provided the crowd with a good mix of high energy and smooth vibes, that showcased most of her discography (to see her full setlist, click the link here).
Although it wasn’t a full set, I’d seen Janelle perform in the past. It wasn’t a solo show of hers so due to that, I haven’t experienced what a crowd of Janelle Monae fans were like. When I walked in the venue, I was quite surprised at how diverse the crowd was. Different ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations; you name them, they were there. This was refreshing to see how the crowd was there to enjoy the music and each other’s company together, in a world that constantly points out each of our differences in a negative way.
When the music started, it only got better. Soon as Janelle hit the stage, the sold-out crowd joined her in singing the words to each of her songs, even though she didn’t start with the most popular songs. Fans were also dancing throughout the crowd and for just about the whole show. The energy was infectious and added to the overall enjoyment of the night. When I would look around, I would see strangers talking and singing with people they didn’t know, like they came to the show together. There’s nothing like attending a show and feeling like a family, despite differences. Witnessing and being apart of the crowd was one of my favorite portions of the whole evening.
After waiting for a short period after the last opening act finished, the lights were cut, and a video started playing on the three big screens behind the stage. The video playing was the beginning of the Dirty Computer Emotion Picture Janelle released along with the album. This was a 49-minute feature film about an android named Jane 57821 (played by Janelle). The story portrays Jane, who is captured by a futuristic totalitarian society, looking to “clean” the dirty computers, (i.e. androids who have a different way of thinking than they did). This film somewhat serves as a portrayal of how those who are different in the real world are forced to act a certain way or are made to feel that their way of thinking is wrong. The acting within the film is also accompanied by a collection of music videos from the Dirty Computer album released by Janelle. Overall, I think the picture is a good portrayal of the album, and I would suggest taking some time to watch the whole thing (Click here to view the film).
The video on the screen started with the main character, Jane, being brought into this large room on a table. This is where they begin “the cleaning process” in the film. As that portion of the video is playing, you can see two men on the stage dressed in all-white, mimicking the video as they roll in a table with a body on it. The person on the table was also dressed in all-white. When they reached the middle of the stage, they stopped and continued to stand by the table for a short period of time. I was sure that was Janelle laying on the table, and that at a certain point, she would jump up from the table and begin performing. However, this wasn’t the case. As the video progressed, the two men began rolling the table to the other side of the stage until they exited our view. Shortly after, the music began, and Janelle popped up on the platform above the stairs on the stage and began performing.
Janelle started her performance to the song “Crazy, Classic, Life,” from her most recent album, “Dirty Computer.” The crowd erupted as she began to sing and dance. One of the first things I noticed was that she had an all-black band that was also mostly female. She also had four black female dancers that accompanied her throughout most of the show as well. This was great to see this group of talented black artists all over the stage.
Immediately, I noticed how great Janelle’s stage presence was. She sang, she danced, she interacted with the crowd, she interacted with her dancers and her band. For one song during her performance, she even brought out a guitar to play. Her energy was infectious, and it only added to the energy of the crowd. She continued performing and the next three songs were almost done in the same order as they appeared on her album. I liked how she positioned the songs similarly to the track list of Dirty Computer, because I thought the album flowed very well together. She ended the first group of songs from the Dirty Computer album, by performing Django Jane. This was my favorite song from her most recent album. It was a track that showcased Janelle’s rapping ability, and while performing, she didn’t miss a beat. She spit her words with so much conviction. At one point, while I was recording a video of this song, and I had to stop just to take in her performance. I also stopped because I thought I was rapping too loud and you’d be able to her my voice on the playback of the video. This was easily one of my favorite moments of the performance.
Next, she stepped off the stage for a short period of time, then came back to perform another one of my favorite tracks, Q.U.E.E.N. This was a popular track from her last album, The Electric Lady. I love this song because it also showcases Janelle’s rapping ability. Along with that, it also features one of my favorite artists, Erykah Badu. Unfortunately, Erykah didn’t pop out on the stage to join the performance, but Janelle did take on her verse. Performing these two songs back to back had my energy level on a thousand. She then continued performing more of her older, popular songs.
Next, she performed Pynk, which was arguably the most popular song from Dirty Computer. This song, served as an ode to the “pussy power” philosophy, which encompasses female empowerment, self-love, and sexuality. Janelle constantly promotes through her music, and her actions. The video for this song had a large portion to do with why it was so popular. In the video, Janelle had a pair of pants that resembled a vagina. Not only was this an eccentric choice of clothes, but it went hand in hand with the theme of the song. The crowd was excited to see her return to the stage after a short break with these pants I previously mentioned. This added to the aesthetic of the performance of this song. Performing this in the line with some of her older, more popular songs, helped provide the most energetic period of the show.
Another highlight off the show was during her performance of “I Got the Juice,” which features Pharrell Williams. Pharrell didn’t come out, but she did perform this song this with some guests. In the middle of the song, she invited four random audience members on stage to join her to dance to this song. Each of those four guests had a chance to dance in the spotlight by themselves with the crowd watching, and each of them showed out. I myself was hoping that Janelle would choose me, but I was towards the back of the crowd, so I wasn’t expecting to make it up there.
A couple songs after this, Janelle ended the first portion of her show. Once she exited the stage, the lights remained off, and then the crowd began to shout and cheer for an encore. She then returned to the stage to perform two more songs. She ended by performing “Americans,” I felt was a great song to end the night with. This song is about the America she envisions for all her androids. It is such a powerful song in itself, but the ending portion where a male voice speaks about how he won’t accept the current version of America is great.
“Until women can get equal pay for equal work
This is not my America
Until same-gender loving people can be who they are
This is not my America
Until black people can come home from a police stop without being shot in the head
This is not my America, huh!
Until poor whites can get a shot at being successful
This is not my America”
These words rang so true and as many people stood together in solidarity to appreciate such a powerful performance, I could only stand there in amazement. This is why I love music so much, because it can bring so many different people together to forget about the troubles of the world and their own lives, even if it’s just for one night. This concert wasn’t just a show, it was a whole experience. This was easily one of the best shows I’ve attended, if not the best, of the year.