Live: Janelle Monae and Gnarls Barkley @ Variety Playhouse 8/11/08

Music Reviews Janelle Monáe
Live: Janelle Monae and Gnarls Barkley @ Variety Playhouse 8/11/08

On August 11, Atlanta hosted a combo of musicians who are not only reshaping the city’s increasingly diverse music scene, but dismantling preconceptions of popular music as a whole. Gnarls Barkley returned home for a sold-out crowd at Variety Playhouse and, on the eve of her national debut on Bad Boy Records (a extended version of the Metropolis: Suite I she’s been selling independently), Janelle Monae teed them up.


Current Paste cover artist Monae burned up the stage and worked the crowd into a frenzy as she poured all her energy into the performance. In her tuxedo, pompadour hairdo and saddle shoes, she ran around the stage with total abandon. She’s taken the frenzy up a notch since I last saw her, jumping in to the crowd to dance, crowd surfing and slamming the mic stand to the ground. (To get a sense of this, check out this footage from her performance at New York’s Afro-Punk Festival, via MTV.)


As usual, she performed all the proper tracks from her original EP with all the theatrics called for by the concept album. Also as usual, she performed Judy Garland’s “Smile” and one of her first songs, “Letting Go.” She did not, however, unveil the live version of “Mr. President,” one of two new tracks (with “Smile”) on the national release.


With the audience fully primed, Gnarls Barkley brought it home. They did all the hits: “Crazy,” “Run,” “Gone Daddy Gone,” etc. The highlight for me was hearing Cee-Lo belt “Neighbor.” It’s a beautiful song and Cee-Lo’s voice just slays me. This was my second time seeing the band in 4 days (they had just performed at the New American Music Union in Pittsburgh), and I came away from both with one overwhelming impression: Cee-Lo is a rock star. Even when he’s just sitting on stage, he exudes an infectious showmanship. He owns the stage and the audience, and has has one of the strongest and most unique voices in popular music.

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