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As she tore through 90 plus minutes of riveting R&B, Monae proved that she has James Brown’s legs, Little Richard’s pompadour and a voice that can channel the Pixies, the Jacksons, Cab Calloway, Parliament-Funkadelic, OutKast, Grace Jones, Tina Turner and Prince.
Versatility oozes from her new album, “The Electric Lady,” but Monae still seems a long way from producing a record that captures the breath stealing physicality of her live show. On Monday night, the woman could not be contained, her arms shooting out of her body like lightning bolts, her heart pumping 5 hour energy, her hairdo refusing to droop. The show was garnished with campy costumes and sci-fi props, but the real spectacle was Monae’s body darting and jerking across the stage, never losing breath, never missing a beat.
Her note for note cover of “I Want You Back,” where the singer squeezed her voice into the shape and timbre of an 10-year-old boy’s. She wasn’t taking ownership of the indelible Jackson 5 hit so much as proving that this might be the closest we’ll get to hearing the real thing.
Monae also sang in whispers during a vast and vampy read of “Come Alive (War of the Roses),” hushing her rapt crowd, hopping off the lip of the stage, and then tiptoeing up and down the aisles of the Lincoln, as if hoping not to be detected.
That might have been the evening’s most intimate moment, but the most striking came during “Cold War,” a song that palpitates at a tempo even more manic than OutKast’s “B.O.B.” Monae introduced it with an affirmation: “No matter who you love, no matter what you look like, no matter what religion you serve, you gotta love yourself.”
Esteem-boosting anthems have long been the stock-in-trade of A-list pop stars such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, but Monae’s seemed like a political statement about clinging to individuality in an era when protest is often stifled from above or defused on the ground.
“This is a cold war / You better know what you’re fighting for,” she belted, stretching out the words “cold” and “war,” suggesting her struggle has lingered longer than first expected.
Amid all the frenzied dance steps and fantastic escapism, her protest felt characteristically exact.
Check out her video Prime Time featuring Miguel, and tell us what you think.