Bonnaroo '09 Thursday: Janelle Monae and dance rock in the rain | EW.com

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Bonnaroo '09 Thursday: Janelle Monae and dance rock in the rain

Remember that one time when I thought because I bought rain boots today it wasn’t going to rain at Bonnaroo? Yeah. Good times. It rained at Bonnaroo today, Mixers, and then it absolutely let loose for about ten minutes in the 10 o’clock hour, nearly drowning out poor The Low Anthem. They were minding their own business, shambolically folking about in That Tent with their harmonicas and their zithers… and then they were straining to be heard over the gallons of water drumming on the roof. Worse, I don’t think today’s rain is anything compared to what the festival gods have in store for us this weekend. I think that was just a tease for the big show. I think I’m gonna need a bigger boat.

But if weather can serve as a metaphor – and by god, I think it can! – Thursday at the ‘Roo was really just a tease for the deluge to come. Mud aside, the scene is the same as it’s been my last two years in these Tennessee hills, and thanks to the absence of the Delta Spirit (scratched due to travel disaster), I got the chance to do some early meandering, greeting the ferris wheel and the Silent Disco and the 47 batik-print sundress stands and the giant fountain like old friends. A companion commented on the kids in attendance, and how fresh-faced they all seemed compared to the kids he’s used to seeing at European rock festivals; I reminded him this was day one, and we’ve quite a long way to go. Fresh-faced on day one can just as easily mean passed-out-under-a-recyling-bin by day three. And if it keeps raining, anyone who passes out is probably going to need a snorkel.

After the jump: Pictures and words about Hockey, Portugal. The Man, The Knux, The Low Anthem, Passion Pit, Zac Brown Band, and Thursday’s all-star, Janelle Monae (above)…

It’s 2:30 a.m. and the man who was presumably having sex with the woman next door earlier today is now snoring like a lumberjack, so let’s get right to it. Walked on the grounds in my new rain boots and marched straight to what was easily the best (or at least most memorable) set of my day in Ms. Janelle Monae. When I saw her operatic spaz-funk robot party at SXSW, I had a tough time enduring it all; she has a tendency towards atonality, and her choreography initially seemed far too calculated. With room to breathe in the field today, that overeagerness morphed into a fully-realized character – some sort of bouffant-sporting alien from a classy dinner party in outer space – and when she stepped onto a monitor for a totes-legit torch-song rendition of “Smile,” I realized both who she’s really copping her style from (Chaplin!) and just how good a vocalist this girl is. I wish her songs themselves hung with me a little better, but the spectacle (including crowd-surfing and finger-painting) is certainly something I’ll remember.

After taking a field trip off-site to buy socks (important to put between one’s skin and one’s rubber rain boots!), I returned to a mish-mosh of stuff that neither repelled me nor made me want to stay in one place forevers and evers. Genero dance rock emerged from both the Hockey and the Passion Pit tents, the former heavy on the familiar beats, the latter on the synthesized loopiness and falsetto boy bleating. Both crowds were bouncing merrily, but that’s what you do to dance rock. If you’re not bouncing, it’s most likely not dance rock. It’s possible I don’t care for dance rock, which is probably not dance rock’s fault. Elsewhere in the land of falsetto, I found Portugal. The Man, who I’d call my favorite new discovery of the day, and not just because I enjoy bands with unnecessary punctuation in their names. John Gourley’s wail pitches high over their stonery jams, and there’s a pleasing Zeppelin-esque undercurrent to their sound that matches his conviction. Sometimes I think I’d like dance rock more if the music ever matched the conviction.

Would have hung out with the Portugese longer, but the notion of a golf cart ride was too enticing; as we whizzed past some surely-sarcastic “We Want Kanye!” graffiti on the outside walls, I felt a sudden urge to yell “SQUID BRAINS” but did not. Better than Kanye ‘08 was the non-glowy hip-hop of The Knux, where Aunt Whittlz-approved tracks like “The Train,” “Cappuccino,” and “Bang! Bang!” were delivered to a sizeable and enthusiastic audience. This is Major Festival #3 for the NOLA brothers, and they seemed a bit less eager to please this evening; let’s hope they have the energy and the patience to carry them through the long hot months to come. Finally, though the rains nearly washed the broadly-rendered folk of The Low Anthem away, there’s something fascinating about any trio who switch off on kooky instruments ranging from a pump organ to a clarinet to cell phones to something one of my friends called a flugelhorn but I think he was just being funny. Also, Wikipedia has informed me that female member Jocie Adams is a NASA technician, which may or may not be true. If I wasn’t trying desperatly to conserve energy for the long days and nights to come, I would have stuck around for that band’s performance and interview at the post-midnight Triumph the Insult Comic Dog show in the comedy tent. If they can turn cell phones into birdsong, I can only imagine what they’d do with a rubber dog puppet.

Did I mention the long days and nights to come? Stick around, won’t you? Tomorrow’s itinerary includes Al Green, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beastie Boys, David Byrne, Public freakin’ Enemy, and the long-awaited answer to the question, what in the hemp is Whitney going to write about a Phish show? Meanwhile, if you are at Bonnaroo and have somehow rustled up internet access in your tent: How are you enjoying the festivities so far?

Photo Credit: Whitney Pastorek/EW.com