Winnipeg Jazz Festival Review: Janelle Monae with Roman GianArthur at the Burton Cummings Theatre

Filed under: Reviews, Festivals

During his TD Jazz Lab at the Manitoba Music Conservatory, Lucky Peterson played to the people. Taking requests and telling tales, the Buffalo bluesman gave a preview of his storied career. Joined by his wife Tamara, Peterson encouraged audience participation through a number of classics and standards. He even threw in the occasional contemporary piece for good measure.

On his award-winning 2010 album, You Can Always Turn Around, Peterson combined modern with tradition. It was a showcase of current song craftsmanship to a wider audience. That night at the Burton Cummings Theatre, two contemporary musicians reversed this concept. Their choice of popular music milestones may have played a role in broadening their appeal.

Roman Gianarthur

Despite working with Of Montreal and Janelle Monáe, little is known about Roman GianArthur. His biography on Wondaland Arts Society's website isn't helpful (his superpower is listed as "Melody Mind Control"). When the artist known as GianArthur stepped into the purple stage-lights, expectations were nowhere to be found.

Ripping through a short six-song set, there was a Prince-like efficiency and indulgence in his presentation. The backing band mostly remained in the shadows as GianArthur strutted from stage right to left. Other than a dead-on rendition of the Isley Brothers' "Who's That Lady?", the set was completely fresh. There were plenty of soulful falsettos and slick R 'n 'B grooves. Not to mention, guitar work that would make the Purple One proud.

GianArthur kept a cool, composed demeanor that seemed aloof during his performance. However, the moment Monáe appeared from under her cape, Roman celebrated wildly behind the mixing board. He even danced amongst the crowd during "Come Alive (The War of the Roses)".

Thanks to the emcee, who spelled his name, Roman GianArthur was a popular Google search that night.

Janelle Monáe

Midway through "Mushrooms & Roses", Janelle Monáe managed to make watching paint dry interesting. As she pushed her vocals, the Kansas City psychedelic-soul singer put brush to canvas. A simple but eccentric image captioned with vague scribbles of "God" and "love" settled in slowly. It was a reminder that Monáe shows promise but doesn't need to dive off the deep end.

Despite the size of her performance, Monáe is still early in her career. However, what she lacks in experience, she makes up for in ambition. Her debut full-length, 2010's The Archandroid, was an 18-track concept album featuring an alter-ego named Cindi Mayweather.

Fortunately, her compositions are in capable hands. Her 12-piece band came complete with strings, back-up singers, horns and a "master of capes". There was enough substance behind the spectacle. There was even a little Hendrix-like guitar magic courtesy of Kellindo Parker at the opening of "Smile".

The set featured a majority of the a-side highlights from The Archandroid. Monáe opened by cutting a rug with two druids to "Dance or Die" then quickly transitioned into "Faster". These performances were both exhilarating visually and aurally. The initial set also ended with a back-to-back singles "Cold War" and "Tightrope". Both were energetic and surprisingly uplifting. There were even pleasurable renditions of Prince's "Take Me with U" and The Jackson 5's "Want You Back". However, it feels as though Monáe is in need of new material. Lengthy dance breaks had worn off their novelty by second encore song "Come Alive (The War of the Roses)". However, when Monáe walked upon the crowd, it was only the hands supporting her that weren't applauding.

Tags: Janelle Monae, Roman Gianarthur, Burton Cummings Theatre, Kansas City, Wondaland Arts Society, Winston-Salem, Bad Boy Records, Lucky Peterson, Tamara Peterson

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