March 23, 2010
The Viper Room
Standing outside the Viper Room moments before Janelle Monae was set to take the stage, the guy standing next to me exclaimed, “Did you see THAT?!”
“What?” I asked him.
“There were all these people… and they’re wearing cloaks and hoods… and there’s a bunch of them… and they just walked into the Viper Room!!” He took a moment to catch his breath and then said, “what was that??”
That, my fellow music lover, is Janelle Monae. Welcome to the experience.
The first time I saw Janelle Monae was during SXSW 2009, at a small venue called, Vice. Let me clarify, I didn’t see Monae at all actually. The stage is low, people in Austin are tall, Monae isn’t tall, neither am I. The venue also may not be that small, but it was so crowded in there that it felt like we were playing a musical version of that How-Many-People-Can-You-Fit-In-A-Phone-Booth game. So, I didn’t see Monae at all, but I felt her. Everybody felt that performance, as well as Monae’s 3 previous shows earlier that week. Village Voice named Monae “Best In Show” at SXSW 2009.
The second time I saw Monae, I saw Monae. New Orleans Voodoo Festival 2009. The stage was elevated and so was everybody else. Not by substance, but by the energy and fire that emanated from Monae and the talented ensemble of musicians that surrounds her.
Good things come in 3’s and the third time I saw Monae was at the Viper Room, capacity 250. The moment I walked inside the venue and felt the energy of the crowd, remembered the compact, elevated the stage, the way the room wraps around it, making you feel like the person standing at the other side of the stage is a long-lost friend, the energy Monae is known for and the way it moves the audience, I actually considered the fact that The Viper Room may not be standing the next day. “You are about to be part of a show that crushes The Viper Room,” I thought to myself.
The house music came down, as did the lights, and Monae’s voice was heard overhead, describing the Emotion Picture experience, a 2-evening, multimedia, multi-sensory event, that was about to envelop you and everybody around you. Consider yourself warned. This is different. Monae encouraged people to come both nights to get the full Emotion Picture experience, but, if you couldn’t make it to both nights, Monae assured you, “We’ll see you where we always see you. . . in the future. . . ”
As the curtains drew back, another voice was heard, this time a man whose introduction to the show further reinforced the fact that we were all part of something unique and powerful (a good reminder about life in general). “By now you should have already Tweeted,” he said moments after I actually had Tweeted that the Viper Room may not be standing the next day. “Your Facebook status update should say, ‘I’m at the sold-out Janelle Monae show at The Viper Room’ and if you’re still on MySpace, kindly excuse yourself.” The crowd laughed, the curtains opened, a movie screen lit up center stage. Emotion Picture had begun. Cloaked and hooded, the band made their way to their instruments and began playing. At that moment, the audience went from watching an Emotion Picture on screen to experiencing it. This, and more, is what happened next:
Monae is right — we will see them in the future. They’re going to be around for a long time.