Electric lady Monáe lights up opening night

***** (5 stars out of 6); July 5 at Arena, Roskilde Festival

It was the best birthday ever for one Roskilde fan last night when Janelle Monáe pulled him onstage to give him a canvas she had painted during her show.

Though her name sounds like that of a famous French impressionist, the painting wasn’t the greatest work of art – but her performance, on the other hand, was. 

It was Monáe’s second appearance at Roskilde – she played the Cosmopol stage last year and this year was given more space in the Arena tent. It was a good move, because the tent was packed to the brim.

Monáe’s tux-clad MC politely asked the crowd to refrain from smoking (“It hurts our voices”) and introduced the Atlanta, Georgia groover to the stage. She was dressed in her usual style, wearing black trousers, braces, a white shirt and black knee-high boots. Her hair was done in the style of a show pony, braided tightly at the nape of her neck with a mane of black hair rising high like an afro-Mohawk.

After a fast-paced opener, Monáe slowed it down with a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s classic ‘Smile’. The song is said to be Michael Jackson’s favourite, and while watching Monáe on the stage, it was hard not to make comparisons between the two R&B singers. She really is like a female version of MJ, from her gentle pelvis-thrusting dance moves, to her sexy masculine style. In an ode to the King of Pop, Monáe even sang his tune ‘I Want You Back’.

Her band of more than a dozen also kept with the black and white theme. The horn players got airborne while playing, and the male lead guitarist had the slickest, shiniest, most impossibly straight black hair (a dead giveaway that he’s not camping).

‘Cold War’ went down very well and ‘Tightrope’ was also a crowd winner – they clapped to the beat, following Monáe like a metronome. With a little spin and a twirl of her cloak, Monáe said “Thank you” and marched off the stage. It was a brief goodbye because she surely knew the crowd would summon her back. Sure enough, they did, and Monáe teased them from the side of the stage: “I’ll only come out if you promise you’ll dance!” she hollered.

She did ‘Electric Lady’ as an encore, which was a real treat. At one point she coaxed the whole crowd to “get low” and crouch down. She and her musicians led by example and some ended up on their backs, stiff like dead insects. They leapt up and Monáe launched herself out for a crowd surf before passing the microphone around to her band mates, so they could introduce themselves one-by-one. It was a personal way to end the 90 minutes of joy we had just shared.