There was perhaps no more appropriate way for R&B and art-pop polymath Janelle Monáe to begin their Sunday night show at Fenway’s MGM Music Hall than with a champagne toast. Opening number “Float,” a triumphant ode to self-assurance, led off a suite of songs from this year’s “The Age of Pleasure” that functioned as a thesis statement for the night. Monae encouraged the crowd to dispense with thoughts of the past and future in favor of embracing the present, before raising a glass at the song’s conclusion in a celebratory gesture to kick-start a genuinely joyous evening.
Breaking from the sprawling science-fiction trappings of a prior trio of long players, Monáe’s fourth record is their most succinct and direct to date. “Pleasure” breezes through its 14 tracks in a mere 32 minutes, its carefree mood and balmy grooves embodying themes of self-love and sexual freedom. If the album is a concept record in the tradition of its predecessors, that concept is pleasure itself.
In turn, the spirit of Sunday’s show was that of an all-inclusive, breathlessly euphoric party. Monáe, in excellent and acrobatic voice, led an ace seven-piece band through the bulk of the new songs and a curated selection from 2018′s “Dirty Computer” and 2013′s “Electric Lady,” extending intros, outros, and breakdowns for maximum dancefloor impact. A squad of tightly choreographed dancers (at one point augmented by reinforcements from the crowd) and an energetic brass section added movement and momentum to the set — though, individually, Monáe also generated plenty of both.
If “Pleasure” represents a relatively stripped-back version of the artist in studio, its live presentation was anything but. Divided into several acts — complete with title cards and costume changes for its ringleader ranging from a cloak of flowers to a sparkling suit — the production embraced a theatrical maximalism in keeping with the Monáe who once extended an android’s narrative thread across three separate projects, and accompanied another with an album-length film.
Amid the show’s rapid-fire pacing, it wasn’t until its conclusion approached that Monáe took an extended moment to address the crowd. An earnest appreciation of both the diversity and enduring support of their gathered fanbase tied into “Tightrope” and “Come Alive (War of the Roses),” reaching back to 2010′s “The ArchAndroid” for the oldest songs they’d play. The latter’s retro swing and extended audience participation portion brought the crowd to its knees, literally, before concluding in a dizzying dance fervor — a fitting cap to a night of kaleidoscopic pleasures.