It was always believed that a recurring New York City festival could never be done, but having now completed its fifth year, I think it’s safe to say that Governor’s Ball is here to stay (especially after surviving that hellishly wet 2013 edition). Despite a few (well, a fest-full) of sound glitches and issues that began during DeadMau5’s headlining set on Saturday (turns out EDM reeeally needs electricity), Governor’s Ball was an interesting experience compared to a standard 3-day camping fest. There are pros and cons to both sides, but here’s a recap of events, starting with my festival faves:
(Note that I only attended on Day 3 – Sunday. Noted? K, great!)
3. Hot Chip
The British electronic band Hot Chip closed out the Big Apple stage on Sunday with their best tracks off this year’s Why Make Sense and tons of catalog hits sprinkled throughout. Having never seen the band, I wasn’t sure how their sound would translate to a festival scene. I had always pictured catching them at Terminal 5 or some other large-sized club, but the band’s live production was even stronger than on record, with thumping bass that carried forever back into the crowd, and exceptionally strong drumming from Sarah Jones, master of her hi-hat, and air drumming extraordinaire.
The band kept a crazy-cool vibe throughout, with a swell of energy building though tracks like “Huarache Lights,” “One Life Stand,” “Over and Over,” and “Need You Now.” Contrary to the lulls found on their studio discs, Hot Chip’s songs exploded through the speakers, with each instrument—guitars, synths, percussion, keys, and drum machines, etc.—perfectly complementing the others, and never drowning out a single sound. The hour-and-fifteen minute set worked on every level and was the perfect set to kiss the sun goodbye to, as the band’s yellow-purple-green lights show took over in its absence. As if we weren’t already wide-eyed and glowing, the band closed out with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” Done and done. I love you, Hot Chip.
2. Royal Blood
This new-ish rock duo packs quite a punch, to say the least. The amount of noise that was emitted via the work of just two guys was astounding, arousing a burst of fury that hadn’t been seen yet that afternoon in the mostly tame crowd. Having only one album (a dope as fuck album, but still) led to a predictable setlist, but man, did they play hard. Drummer Ben Thatcher attacked the drums, beating the shit out of them for opener “Come On Over,” “Figure It Out,” and “Little Monster,” to name a few. The two were so in sync that the live result was massive and undeniable, as Mike Kerr came to jam out on Thatcher’s side during the last song, “Out of the Black.” It was pure hard rock carnage and a punch in the face when the Sunday edition of Governor’s Ball needed it the most. Having been so immersed in Indie Pop and EDM lately (both at the festival and in my Spotify playlists), seeing Royal Blood – an up and coming band with some serious skills and potential – was just what my body needed…well, everything but my neck the next day. Ouch.
1. Weird Al Yankovic
I grew up loving Weird Al Yankovic, but then again, who didn’t? Being a part of one of the earliest of MTV’s audiences, Weird Al’s genius was always there in regular rotation for me on the very same level as the most popular music of that strangely bizarre decade. And now I can say this with a giddiness in my heart that was plastered all over my stupid face by set’s end: I SAW WEIRD AL.
I had always heard that Al was a sight to be seen, but the second the parodist hit the stage, he was giving it 150%, asking the New York crowd: “Are you ready to polka!?” The screams for Al were deafening at times as he and his band jumped right into “NOW That’s What I Call Polka!” off last year’s Mandatory Fun. The crowd sang along, laughed, danced and jumped, and never stopped for the entire hour. (Aside: Weird Al should have had a longer set. /Aside.)
The polka medley was chased with “Foil,” which prompted the crowd to scream the Lorde-y background vocals back at Yancovic (Foiiiiiiiillll!), and it totally hit me. Weird Al is still in his prime! The younger kids in the crowd loved him just as much as we did, eating up “Word Crimes,” “White & Nerdy,” “Canadian Idiot,” and more of his recent fare. Everyone – all age groups – was enjoying Al’s polka-induced theatrical display. He dressed up in his signature fat suit for “Fat” and later, as an Amish man for “Amish Paradise.” In fact, he had props or a costume for almost every song he performed. He danced, jigged, jumped, skipped, and did anything and everything to get a reaction from the crowd, who in turn, gave the man heaps of love.
His last, “Yoda,” (spun off The Kink’s “Lola”) was just….his band…their harmonies…an entire synchronized dance and vocals…I can’t even explain. It was magical – a show I never knew I needed to see. His band’s dedication to the performance also should not be understated. They seemed just as passionate and professional as Al, himself. For anyone in the crowd who, like me, hadn’t seen Weird Al live before, the performance was a stern reminder of how legendary he is and always will be. His show is special and absolutely like nothing I had ever seen or experienced. And I want to see it again.
Those were my favorites, but here are some quick hits on some other acts we checked out:
Strand of Oaks, aka the rock project by songwriter and producer Timothy Showalter, played a solid 45 minute set of bluesy hard rock mixed with some poppier ditties that had some real U2 flair to them. Not the biggest fan of Bono and co. (read: like, not at all), Oaks’ bluesy, dirtier tracks made it worthwhile.
Chronixx and the Zincfence Redemption, the festival’s only true reggae artist, brought some chill afternoon vibes to GovBall, trotting through some technical issues like pros, and grooving along to tracks like “Smile Jamaica” and “Here Comes Trouble.” It was a good enough set for a 2 p.m. slot, though Chronixx could work a little bit on making the experience memorable. I’m not sure if he has a star quality that will make him stand out going forward. And programmed horns? For a reggae band? Weaksauce.
How I love Tame Impala. The psychedelic rock outfit played on the main stage while the sun was possibly at its most excruciating and my crew sought out some shade in the back. The band sounded amazing, blasting through new classics “Eventually,” “Cause I’m A Man,” and “Let It Happen,” which all sounded absolutely fantastic. One track from the band’s debut came out to play (“Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?”) and the remainder came from 2012’s exceptional “Lonerism.” From the way back, it didn’t seem like the band had much of a presence up there, though major physicality isn’t something I’d expect from a band like Tame Impala. I do think that not rushing to the front hurt us on this one, and I’d love to see them again in a more intimate, darker setting so I could really zone in and get immersed. Having said that, their hour was still amazing.
I don’t want to call The Black Keys a one-trick pony…but that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Don’t get me wrong – when they play live, their guitar effects sound like the older, grittier Black Keys we all know and love, even when they’re burning through the mainstream stuff like “Lonely Boy” and “Howlin’ for You.” They have a sound, they do their thing, and they do it well, but having seen them already, it was a predictable lineup of songs that mostly all sounded the same. But no harm, no foul – it was enjoyable, but perhaps not exactly the energizing final performance you hope to end your festival day with.
Comparing Governor’s Ball to a camping fest is sort of unfair, but I’m going to do it anyways. Though being right smack in the middle of the world’s best city, Governor’s Ball surprisingly lacked a distinct character. I don’t think it’s the festival’s fault, I think it’s mostly the NYC crowd (who I’ve definitely written about before). People were tamer, not as wild, and not as friendly as I’m used to. Where were the random high-fives, new-found friends and the “everyone’s in this together!” spirit!? None of that was really found on Randall’s Island. Granted, I was there at the tail end of a festival – one that required festival goers to trek on subways, ferries, buses and more just to get to the island, let alone sustaining energy set after set, so I guess I get it. Maybe the crowd was just winding down because, after all, it was Sunday.
But you’ve got to hand it to Governor’s Ball – their lineups have been consistently stellar and it is a unique location that’s a mere train ride away from me. I would almost definitely never do a full 3-Day pass there (NYC is ‘spensive, homies!), but I’ll definitely continue to keep an eye out for the lineup in the years ahead.
Did you go to Governor’s Ball? All three days or just one? Let me know what your festival faves were!