Live Review: Janelle Monáe // The Age of Pleasure Tour, Manchester, 04.07.24


July 4th may be another day of Summer for some but for Janelle Monáe, it marks the final chapter of a remarkable three-night residency at Aviva Studios in Manchester, which has been open for just over a year. Monáe’s tour, which also shares its title with their most recent musical release, has spread sunshine to multiple countries and festivals, not long leaving Glastonbury this past weekend. 

The American Singer puts on an almost two hour show for the unofficial Music Capital of the UK. She took the audience with her on a journey from the cloudy skies of the North-West City and transported them to a sanctuary known as The Age of Pleasure

Monáe’s attention to detail is like no other. From ‘The Ten Pleasure Commandments’ pamphlets handed out for free upon entry, and selecting a local opening act, nothing goes unnoticed. The KTNA, two twins and singers from Manchester, rocked the room with their show-stopping vocals and cowboy hats. Also known as, ‘The Sisters of Darkness’, they made sure to cool down with fabric fans which denoted the same slogan. ‘Frenemies’ had a sultry instrumental and the sisters knew how to work with it as they also produce and write all their own music too.

With a horn section that began with the same grandeur of a Royal entrance and strong vocals from the R&B singer, their entrance was nothing but dramatic. Much like the song of the same name, Monáe didn’t step, walk or dance instead, she does what she knows best, ‘Float’. This song opens her 2023 album and is inspired by a multitude of iconic cultural events including Mohammad Ali “I don’t step, I don’t walk, I don’t dance, I just / Float”, referencing the Boxer’s infamous quote, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. The track was a perfect choice for starting the show off on a high. It’s not only in this opening track where her confidence peaked, this conviction continued throughout the whole concert as she commanded the stage and kept the audience enthralled BY her charm. 

As well as an impressive voice, the musician also has an even more impressive flower-cape which catches the crowd from the second she greets the stage. It’s safe to say this outfit is a new contender amongst iconic pop culture fashion. Some artists’ outfits go on to live a legacy of their own: Britney Spears has her infamous school-girl chic from ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’, Amy Winehouse had her pin up style and this blossomy ensemble of Janelle Monáe’s is no different. 

When the first chord of ‘Lipstick Lover’ struck, the crowd was clenched in Monáe’s hands. Everyone was enchanted by the ska-style guitar melodies which introduced the song and continued throughout. When the first line was delivered all the voices in the room were singing “I like lipstick on my neck”, and the good vibrations were circling around the venue. A nice touch was Monáe’s call and response for the outro of the song, making people feel like they were part of her phenomenal band.

There was only one choice as to which track would follow the anthemic ‘Lipstick Lover’ and of course it was ‘Water Slide’. Switching genres from Reggae to Dembow, both songs have a Caribbean-inspired instrumental, ideal for dancing to. Sampling the classic Patra track ‘Whining Skill’ “All the girls dem / Wine!”, and referencing different swimming styles, “Backstroke, Freestyle / Surfin’ on that thang like it’s high tide”, throughout the chorus, audience participation was necessary. The groovy bass and drums which resonated perfectly made this a great track to move to.

Monáe’s track ‘Paid in Pleasure’ highlights a tender side to the outgoing vocalist and allows their dancers to take control. Monáe and their crew hand-selected fans to feel the music and show off their best dance moves on stage with the singer. It’s no surprise that her fans were not too bad at putting on a show either – they’ve learnt from the best. 

Five years since her last visit to Manchester, the ‘Make Me Feel’ singer provided fans with a show that features tracks from across their whole discography. Spanning from ‘Q.U.E.E.N’ to ‘Only Have Eyes 42’ the revered singer paid homage to all of their records. The band even got their own moment to shine, getting introductions before the star took to the stage; everything was planned precisely and with care. A well-rounded and well-balanced show suitable for rookies to expert fans of the multi-talented recording artist, this is someone everyone should get the opportunity of watching live.

Words by Thomas Melia

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