Governors Ball, Randall’s Island, New York, NY- 6/6-8
In its fourth year, New York City’s Governors Ball has transformed itself from its inception as a one-day, predominantly EDM event into the northeast’s premiere mega-music festival.
Despite featuring a plethora of current groundbreaking talent, leading up to the event it was a “nostalgia-act” generating the most media attention. Governors Ball served as the NYC stop for the Outkast reunion tour. After shaky reviews of earlier reunion shows, it seems as Andre 3000 and Big Boi have literally gotten their act together. During their Friday headlining set you could sense how rehearsed the production was. The non-musical interplay between the two had the feel of an old-time comedy routines and their banter with the audience also felt canned (such as the salute to single-mothers leading up to “Ms. Jackson”). But none of that mattered when they were dropping their brand of intergalactic hip-hop. From the explosive B.O.B. opener through all the hits and some older material such as “Elevators (Me and You)” and the event appropriate “Player’s Ball,” the dynamic duo and their band had the entire island getting down.
Governors Ball honored its location by featuring the three best bands to come out of NYC in the last fifteen years; Vampire Weekend, The Strokes and TV on the Radio. While Vampire Weekend had the prime Sunday closing set, it was the Strokes first appearance in NYC in more than three years that was by far the weekend’s most anticipated event. All Saturday leading up to their early evening set there was a huge buzz in the air from the masses who had camped out in front of the festival’s main stage desperately waiting to welcome home their local heroes. The crowd whipped itself into frenzy as the Strokes were almost fifteen minutes late in getting on stage, the throngs-many of which were girls who looked like they were in diapers when “Is This It” came out-serenaded the vacant stage with a healthy portion of the band’s catalog until they casually strolled out to make their appearance.
They quickly seized the moment, and if it wasn’t surprising how the Strokes rose to meet the occasion, it was almost shocking to see how much fun the famously disgruntled bunch were having in doing so. Right from the get go with “Barely Legal” you could tell frontman Julian Casablancas, if not overwhelmed by this adoration, was certainly appreciative of it. Throughout the set Casablancas would constantly lean on and laugh with guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. and he also seemed to be having a running conversation with drummer Fabrizio Moretti. The band played with a sense of urgency not seen in years as the energy between them and the audience swelled throughout the set. Highlights included the one-two punch of “Hard to Explain” and “12:51” and the much appreciated encore of “New York City Cops.”
Vampire Weekend also treated the hometown crowd to a tremendous set. After opening with “Diane Young,” Ezra Koenig & Co. delighted the audience by offering up an expanded version of the Manhattan fairy tale “White Sky.” Throughout their set they utilized their full kaleidoscope of sounds with multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij leading them through several extended jams. “Horchata” and “Diplomat’s Son” were two songs that benefitted from the extra room to stretch-out and “Ladies of Cambridge” showcased the band at their bouncy best.
For me the best set of the weekend was the 90 minutes of glossy-funk bliss delivered by Phoenix on Friday. The band produced a high energy set filled with slick jams that were harder and more driving then what one might expect from just hearing their albums. Phoenix provided most of the big catchy hooks from their breakthrough album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and the more experiential material from last year’s Bankrupt, with songs from both albums finding a new life in the live setting. Most impressive was how they mashed some of their songs together with the best examples being “If I Feel Better” mashed with a jammed out “Funky Squaredance” and the apex of the set a fiery and beautiful “Sunskrupt” which combined “Love Like A Sunset” and “Bankrupt.”
Jack White had the enviable task of following the Strokes on Saturday. To no fault of his own, his set felt anticlimactic juxtaposed against the intense energy surrounding the Strokes earlier set. White did all he could to quickly win over the audience by opening with the White Stripes classic “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” and filling his set with plenty of hits from the Stripes and the Raconteurs. I liked how the old Stripes songs were reborn and fleshed out by White’s full-piece band.
Other weekend highlights included: the smooth, dark and dreamy sounds of Broken Bells (with both Danger Mouse and James Mercer both aptly tackling multiple instruments), Foster the People throwing the best dance party this side of Outkast; the propulsive jams of the Naked and the Famous (for me the weekend’s best surprise); the always delightful ear-candy of Spoon who debuted lots of new material and the over the top glam spectacle of Empire of the Sun.
I was impressed with the whole atmosphere of the festival, despite the offerings of gourmet food and interesting art installations you certainly got the vibe that the revelers were primarily there for the music and not to take part in a scene.