SXSW: Janelle Monae, Black Diamond Heavies, and more

Categories: SXSW
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Janelle Monae photo by Stacy Schwartz

Things are starting to gear up today, but before I head out for round two I wanted to post a few quick updates from yesterday's events:

Janelle Monae:
The set by Janelle Monae at Stubb's last night was literally like nothing else I have ever seen, and I am finding it difficult to even put it in words. Her first song spanned about 10 minutes, and included an intricate instrumental introduction that sounded like an alien spaceship landing on stage and a grand entrance by Monae, a small, sprightly woman with the most impressive fro-hawk pompadour I have ever seen. Monae moved with the agility of a marionette doll, spinning, kicking, and gesturing wildly as she sang, at times dancing so aggressively that her hair would come undone. The music was a furious combination of souped-up soul, dance, techno, R&B, and pop, and her vocal melodies jumped all over the map.


After her first song, Monae left the stage in as triumphant a way as she had entered it, leaving only a guitarist on stage. The set shifted gears dramatically, and she returned to sit calmly at the middle of the stage and serenade the audience with a breathtaking version of Nat King Cole's "Smile" before returning to her own style of manic, explosive pop.

The apex of her set came at the very end, as Monae climbed over the photo pit and dove straight into the audience, surfed out and back, sang her final notes, smashed her microphone stand over her head, and stormed off the stage. Here is a video of her grand finale:


Video by Ben Clark


Black Diamond Heavies: The spirit of the blues was alive and well in the grumbling, growling set by rock and roll two-piece Black Diamond Heavies. The duo was crowded into the corner of a tiny open-air bar called Headhunters, with John Wesley Myers drawing amazingly versatile sounds out of his keyboards as Van Campbell pounded away on the drums. They played a swirling, intoxicating style of blues-rock that simultaneously reminded me of the Doors, the Who, the Black Keys, and Tom Waits, culminating with a cover of AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" that closed down the bar at the end of the night. 


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