2011 Year in Review: Concerts


Nicki Minaj

The ladies ran the world this year — or at least the concert stage, whether dives or arenas.

1. Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae (Verizon Theatre). These two crashed the venue with the year’s most amazing live performances. Monae, in all her spastic glory, ran across the stage and into the audience, proving why she is the next Prince. And with her futuristic-themed album Archandroid, her band was loud and live minus any apparent electronic help. Mars did the same but recalled old-school showmanship, channeling Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Smokey Robinson as he and his own band filled the place with raucous horns, slamming percussion and Mars’ charisma.

2. Nicki Minaj (American Airlines, pictured). Britney sputtered before her concert hit its stride halfway through, but Minaj brought it from the get-go. With military precision, she and her troupe marched and danced while the audience roared, spanking the American Airlines Center as if she were the headliner, making everyone in the crowd her bitch. And all were on board. Her ovation with Spears was proof that Minaj’s star has arrived.

3. Jackie Hall (Lakewood Bar & Grill). A surprise at the May edition of Twist LGBT, stepped in with local band One Night Stand to end the night with a bang. Even as the crowd dwindled, Hall went full bore, working up those left into a frenzy with powerful covers. This lady sings the blues and rock and pop, but turns them out like no other.

4. Scissor Sisters (American Airlines Center). There is no way to steal a show from Lady Gaga, but the Sisters didn’t need to, giving a workout of a show. Ridiculously pumped Jake Shears burned a million calories with his high-energy antics (and that ass-reveal, a great bonus). Ana Matronic held her own as Shears’ equal with funk and sass. True fans were breathless.

5. Brandi Carlile (Granada Theatre). Without much fanfare, Carlile and her legions of fans in the mid-sized Granada were like one entity fused together. Her fans gave her space to sing softly, to go unplugged and to simply love her. She gave it right back with both grit and tenderness that were triggering all the ladies’ pheromones.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

— R.L.               

—  Kevin Thomas

’Mo town

Rich with culture and a strong queer identity, Detroit rocks as a gay destination


DETROIT ROCK CITY | The 73-story GM Renaissance Center is an icon of the Detroit skyline and home to the upscale Marriott Detroit. (Photo courtesy Andrew Collins)

As the cooler weather of early autumn settles in, southern Michigan becomes a particularly enchanting spot for a vacation. The scrappy and culturally rich Detroit makes an appealing weekend destination, with its slew of friendly gay bars and stylish restaurants and some of the Midwest’s most acclaimed cultural attractions. The country’s 18th largest city is difficult to get a full grasp of on a short visit, but a couple of days is enough time to see one incredible city.

For art lovers, a must-see is the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), whose central foyer contains spectacular Depression-era frescoes by Diego Rivera. The museum holds 65,000 works and anchors the Cultural Center district near Wayne State University. Such notable attractions as the Detroit Historical Museum and the Motown Museum, which celebrates the careers of such R&B legends as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Jackson 5, are conveniently nearby.

Walk along Woodward Avenue, downtown’s main drag, to a stellar theater district, including the fantastical 1927 Fox Theatre; the Bonstelle Theatre, where Lily Tomlin got her start; Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, home of the Detroit Symphony and the impressive Detroit Opera House.

Northwest along Woodward Avenue is Ferndale, a formerly working-class community that’s become something of a gay stronghold over the years. West 9 Mile Road, has a few hip boutiques and vintage stores, as does Royal Oak, a bastion of more cool dining and retail spots. See the recently renovated and expanded Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills designed by architectural legend Eliel Saarinen, whose nearby house is open seasonally for tours.

Head west to Dearborn, the heart of the America’s auto-manufacturing heritage, to tour the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, a fascinating 81-acre complex of historic homes and structures moved here from across the country as well as an incomparable museum that traces the development of American technological innovation over the generations.

When it comes to dining, metro Detroit has a number of highly regarded options. One of the most famous is Opus One set inside a former taxi garage built by Kimbell Museum designer Louis Kahn in 1916, and serves superb contemporary food. A funky eatery on the edge of the Cultural Center, the Majestic Cafe scores high marks for art exhibits and eclectic comfort food, while lesbian-owned Avalon International Breads is renowned among foodies for its fine coffees, artisan breads and delicious sandwiches and salads. Royal Oak restaurant notables include the dapper Town Tavern and the charming Cafe Muse, which serves a delectable grilled cheese good enough to be featured in Esquire Magazine.

Fans of clubbing will find plenty of options in Detroit. Popular spots include Royal Oak’s gay video bar Pronto; Ferndale’s sophisticated yet friendly SOHO lounge; and Detroit mainstays such as Menjo’s Complex, where Madonna used to party in her early days, and Gigi’s, with its stable of hot male dancers.

For lodging options, consider the upscale Marriott Detroit, which is set inside the soaring 73-story main tower of the GM Renaissance Center, and the more moderately priced Courtyard Marriott. Also excellent is the sleek Atheneum Suite Hotel. All of these are close to Detroit’s festive Greektown neighborhood and the popular Greektown Casino.

— Andrew Collins

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

REVIEW: Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae at Verizon Theatre on Tuesday night

Janelle Monae surfs the crowd. (bighaber.com)

My hope is that there were a few “come to Jesus” moments last night at the Haus of Mars & Monae. With way different approaches to pop music, both still melded into each other like fried batter and beer. And Texans love that, ya know. Plus, they delivered strong showings and raw talents.

I’m sad to have only caught the last half of Monae’s set, but upon my arrival, she was filling the room with her avant-garde music backed by a huge band complete with horns and strings. Monae, in her signature black suit (which I hate) is hard to pin down. She’s erratic and all over the stage like James Brown on crack, but it’s also exciting to watch. Whether she’s laying down on the ground singing or diving into the crowd for major body surfing, it’s hard not to just want to let loose with her. And she has the talents to back it up. Her vocal runs were extraordinary in a piercing, raw manner. She gets scary, gritty and then goes into sonic high notes with ease. Then she turned around to deliver sheer innocence in her cover of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” She nevertheless delivered strongly on her own hits “Cold War” and “Tightrope” as did her backing band, which generated the richest of sounds seemingly without any electronic help.

Mars was my big surprise. His music hasn’t resonated with me so much, but live, he worked it with beautiful overkill. Mars was a big flirt and he worked his lady fans over with smiles, hip thrusts and high notes. As with Monae, Mars’ band recalled many a soul concert from decades ago and his background visuals were effective. His songs translated much better as the live show with an overflow of energy and even joy. Where Monae recalled James Brown, Mars exuded Marvin Gaye with touches of Michael Jackson. Clearly, he had the retro thing down right. Although he pushed his big hits, when the tempo chilled around “The Lazy Song,” despite the cheers, the show plateaued and the vibe dissipated into the ordinary, but that didn’t change the fact that Mars ruled over his show and his fans.

Of the two, Monae edged out Mars in sheer dynamic. Her rawness in delivery was astonishing where Mars’ polish is showing. The crowd was definitely more into Mars, but gave Monae proper props which gave me hope that she’ll gain a bigger crowd of fans through this tour. Mars and Monae delivered big on Tuesday night, but Monae left a lasting impression.

—  Rich Lopez