Cock 'n' Bull KidEdit this event
I’m entirely unsure what to make of Cock'n'Bull Kid. It’s early days for her career but obviously someone’s a fan as she’s standing on stage at a sold out Roundhouse. Much of the young singer’s set passes me by and seems to echo those Eighties power ballads I’ve long since tired of having to pretend I ‘ironically’ enjoy. However, sporadically something leaps out at you and makes you stop dead in your tracks, usually due to her impressive voice. It feels like she might ‘do a Duffy’ and drop a huge chart hit out of nowhere. Equally, she could end up doing a guest slot on a Basement Jaxx B-side. But there is something promising there, under the surface. When she crafts her skill further and works on her stage presence, maybe the ability to put on a show will develop alongside.
Putting on a show is something Janelle Monae is already adept at despite her relative inexperience. Commencing with an over-the-top sci-fi intro sequence about a young woman being sent back to 2011 and an overture from a circus ringmaster, Monae puts on more of a stage show than a mere gig.
On paper, it might sound like an elaborate way of disguising musical shortcomings when in actuality it helps compliment the songs. She paints pictures, disguises her entrance brilliantly, has the crowd where she wants them throughout and hams up the clichés with skill far beyond her years. But whilst this is all going on, it’s always that voice and sense of utter joy that holds your attention.
Admittedly that takes a few songs to happen tonight. The sound is an utter mess for the opening trio, with the vocals in ‘Dance or Die’ and ‘Faster’ totally inaudible for the most part. But when she begins the (wholly underwhelming on record) acoustic cover of ‘Smile’, she has the crowd in the palm of her hand. Her voice is astounding, with an awesome range and ability to be soulful, heartfelt and incredibly powerful. It also gives the sound team time to iron out the early gremlins in the machine, as from here on in we’re treated to a riot.
She twists and dances, exploding into life and shuffling her feet faster than the eye can see as her iconic hairstyle falls apart under the strain. ‘Sincerely, Jane’ sounds like a long lost Bond anthem, ‘Cold War’ feels even more natural in the flesh - like the musical heir to James Brown - and upstages ‘Tightrope’, which gets a huge reception. It doesn’t disappoint but if the band can work out how to end it properly it’ll only get even better. Even the 12 minute encore of ‘Come Alive’, which gets milked to its very limits, still feels fresh after the seventh minute of the whole building na-na-naning along.
It’s this rare ability to transcend genre and unite such a spread of music fans that makes her so fascinating (I’m flanked at the gig by a group of young black males in tailored monochrome suits, a family unit aging from 14 to 60 and a group of screaming adoring teenage girls). She manages this by essentially being a lively, wholesome Jack of all trades, merging everything great about soul, hip hop, R&B and excessive Seventies prog rock in a manner that includes everyone. There’s no posturing or expletives, a tiny detail but one that makes her even more likely to capture the hearts of a wider demographic. The nearest she comes to offending is cheekily smiling and whispering on ‘Wondaland’, "Take me back to Wondaland, she thinks she left her underpants" as balloons and confetti fall out of the curved ceiling all around the venue.
The sound at the start and slight sense that, whilst The ArchAndroid is a great debut, the set requires a bit of padding and stringing out of some already excessive guitar solos means it’s not quite the finished article just yet. Plus there’s a slight disconnect between those on stage and those in the crowd despite the attempts at interaction, not helped by Monae failing to break out of character until half the building leave and she returns on stage to say hello. But overall it’s a life affirming evening, full of fun and sheer spectacle that transported this grinning fan to a futuristic alternate reality via Motown’s glory days and a rerun of Buck Rogers.
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