Wolf Gang / Janelle Monae - Koko London
London's Koko venue played host to the largest headline show in the capital to date from Kansas City retro-electro popping R and B star Janelle Monae! I was privileged to view two sets from the lady at Ireland's Electric Picnic Festival a few days earlier so was looking forward to the Koko show, even though I knew it had no chance of topping Janelle's second Irish set as it completely blew me away!
London's Wolf Gang had the task of entertaining the sold out venues crowd before Miss Monae took to the stage and he seemed to go down well with them. Wolf Gang is the name Max McElligott goes under when performing and with his band delivered a selection of songs mainly pulling on 80s electro pop as an influence, with Max dividing his time between keyboards and guitar. I enjoyed a lot of what I was hearing, particuarly the song that started off like a wonky version of the "Love Will Tear Us Apart" synth line then got all Talking Heads on us! Going by the songs on offer at Koko I'm sure there's a promising debut album waiting in the wings anyway.
Koko's photo pit was corraled off for the evening meaning photographers had to lose all their dignity clambering over the barrier in an extremely clumsy manner (or maybe it was just me!). This meant once in we weren't going anywhere unless asked so a few of us took in all of Wolf Gang's set from a seat in the pit, grabbing a spot front of stage the moment he finished as there were plenty more shooters to come, leading to a very packed small space!
Janelle's MC took to the stage to introduce things, rousing the already expectant crowd by getting them to shout her name. Eventually she showed up sporting a black hooded robe alongside her two female dancers performing the first section of "Dance or Die" with her back to the audience, finally turning around and taking down her hood to reveal herself, pleasing a couple of slightly irate photographers in the pit who seemed to be sporting a look that said "Get on with it, we're only here for three songs you know!" Janelle's opening trio of tracks were the first three on her current album The ArchAndroid, with each song seguing into each other like the recorded version. This meant security weren't sure where our three songs ended so we continued shooting during Janelle's always gorgeous rendition of the standard "Smile". We eventually got the message to leave halfway through the song which I thought was a really bad call as it's delivered with just Janelle and her guitarist, the excellent Kellindo Parker in a real stripped down manner, so the sound of a dozen or so photographers packing away and traipsing out must have been a bit of a mood killer!
I knew Janelle's Koko set wasn't going to be up to the standard of the five previous shows I've caught from her for me personally due to what always happens when you leave Koko's pit during a sold out show. There's basically nowhere to go to view the remainder of the set but the back of the room, so the initial buzz you've had from shooting vanishes quickly leading to frustration as you can't see a bloody thing! That's not to say that Janelle wasn't firing on all cylinders and she was certainly sounding amazing, with the crowd lapping up every second. I was very happy to hear "Sincerely Jane" from Janelle's Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) EP early in the set and I knew I was in for a couple of more treats towards the end of the evening.
My time spent "listening" to Miss Monae did give me a few moments to contemplate a little niggle in the shape of Janelle's lack of communication with her audience. She undoubtedly deserves the cheers and adulation she receives because she really knocks herself out on stage, delivering world class performances each time you see her but she gives zero out in the way of crowd communication, resulting in the gig being more akin to a theatre show. She may just be playing up to her android persona but a bit of banter would be nice. I believe Janelle did pop out to the foyer after the show to meet a few fans though so maybe this android does have a heart!
Janelle's set closed with a killer two song salvo in the shape of "Cold War" and the song that brought her to the attention of a lot of the Koko crowd - "Tightrope", with both tracks giving the audience plenty of opportunity to bust a few moves, leading to huge roars as Janelle left the stage. This was my cue to make a bit of an effort, worming my way a bit nearer to the front as I had sneaked a look at the set list in the pit and wasn't standing at the back for two of my Monae faves - "Violet Stars, Happy Hunting!!!" and "Many Moons", neither of which got an airing at Electric Picnic. This was without doubt the highlight of my evening as I love both songs and the night finished on a real high when the punkabilly stomper "Come Alive" was rolled out too as the evening's final number.
Having originally stumbled over Janelle performing in a small tent at Austin's SXSW in March of last year, singing her praises to all and sundry since then, it feels great to see her going down so well in the UK and it brought a smile to my face to hear people saying it was the best gig they'd been to as I was making my way out of the venue.