At the start of the penultimate night of Janelle Monáe’s The Age of Pleasure tour at Bill Graham Civic Center on Tuesday, October 17, the scrim came down revealing a stage organized like a Greek amphitheater. The top left section hosted a stylistic speaker set festooned with plants and flowers. The stage amphitheater created the feeling of a semi-circle, with the audience completing the circle—nothing like symbolic stagecraft!
Monáe divided the regular set of her show into five chapters: “A Thousand Versions of the Self,” “Now or Never,” “(T)High Vibrations,” “Paradise Found,” and “Surfing the Sun” working through much of The Age of Pleasure as well as hits from Dirty Computer and Electric Lady.
Each chapter brought fabulous costume changes: A flower-adorned jacket and boots, her signature tuxedo style leotard bodysuit with shorts, a floppy sun hat, and her iconic vagina pants and a clitoris fascinator for “Pynk.”
As she notes in her SeeHer Award acceptance speech in 2023, “I’ve tried to make an effort in my work whether it’s storytelling, through music, through film, through TV, through fashion, through literature, to highlight the ones who have been pushed to the margins of society who’ve been outcast or relegated to the other.” Many of her fans emulated her love of fashion as a way of storytelling: a quartet of friends in a variety of combinations of bathrobes, birkenstocks, sequins and keffiyehs; flowers; flowers with lights; sequins of all kinds; pink—lots of pink—jackets, scarves, hair, bras, pants, boas, masks.
The “pleasure” of the album’s title focuses on sensual exchange, and Monáe and her team of dancers and musicians worked through an unabashedly sexy set. Always true to herself, Monáe lives by her “Q.U.E.E.N.” anthem: “Even if it makes others uncomfortable/I will love who I am.” Far from being uncomfortable, the audience embraced all of her pro-love, pro-sex songs and dances!
During “Paid in Pleasure,” Monáe and each of her dancers invited an audience member who thought they could “match [their] energy” through dance on stage. To the lucky winners , Monáe told them to “pay [her] in pleasure” via their dance moves. A back flip, splits, and twerking ensued.
The encore was a cherry on top of a visually stunning show. After the stage cameras captured the audience screaming for more, Monáe appeared at the top of her amphitheater backlit first playing a guitar in a glittery tux. After her crew deftly whisked away the guitar, Monáe channeled Michael Jackson and took his dancing up a notch or four by embedding moonwalking into her own captivating footwork while she sang “Make me Feel.”
During a highly polished show, Monáe’s personal comments after this song injected a deeply personal and vulnerable element. Thanking the openers Dreamer Isioma and the Celestials and DJ Nana Kwabena, Monáe noted that she feels safe in San Francisco. Acknowledging the all-important role her mother (who was in the audience) plays in her life, Monáe went off script.
She took the audience on an audio explanation of how her work has evolved by singing song snippets (largely a capella) spanning her career. With The Age of Pleasure, she explained that she wanted to center love in the face of the “hate we can feel with the law-making.” She continued, “To my trans family, I stand with you.” Being seen and understood matters.
Just before the final song of the night, “Tight Rope,” Monáe offered her directives: drink water, masturbate, show those nipples (which she did during “Yoga”).
Monáe has said, “My pronouns are she, her, they, them, and free ass motherfucker.” Her amazing confidence, impish grin, 1000 Kilowatt smile and every other aspect of her show reinforces that she is, indeed, one kick ass motherfucker.
Monáe’s excellent band included De’ARCUS Curry on drums, Lynette Williams on keys, Lexi M. Hamner on trombone, Nick Clark on bass, Gabrielle Murphy on saxophone, Kellindo Parker on guitar, Lessie Vonner on trumpet. Dancers Asha Franklin, Helen, Bianca Muscatelli, and Cierra Nichols kept everything energetic and on point.