June 10, 2014

Governors Ball | 2014

Music festivals have had a weird history with New York City, mostly because they have not had the best results in the past. All Points West called it quits after only two years and last year's Electric Zoo saw two drug related deaths. Somehow, Governors Ball is making it work.

After launching in 2011, this festival has steadily grown from a single day party to a three day extravaganza with top-tier headliners and drawing roughly 150,000 fans. While last year will probably be best remembered for mud-bath it became, this year's rendition seemed to go off without a glitch. While it's not on the scale of destination festivals such as Coachella, Bonnaroo, or even Lollapalooza, there is a special attraction to a mid-size festival in the nation's premier city. Sure, it seems that just about everyone stops by New York for at least one show on their national tour, but exclusive bookings and reunions from hometown heroes make the festival a totally unique experience. This year seemed pretty divided between nostalgic acts and new up and comers allowing even your average music fan with more than enough options for the weekend.

Friday was the most jam packed day of my weekend and it all got kicked off with a killer set from Janelle Monae. The arch-android delivered high energy R&B-pop that paved the way for the weekend ahead. Washed Out brought the chill vibes to the Gotham Tent blending sedated grooves with shimmery disco for a perfect mid-afternoon set. Jenny Lewis looked as killer as ever and La Roux got things shaking with her instant dance party just as the evening began to settle in. Just around sundown, the forever dapper gentlemen in Phoenix took to the main stage. While they aren't riding quite as high as last year when they were billed as the Saturday night headliner at Coachella, these Frenchmen didn't seem to notice or care. It was still reassuring to hear a festival crowd sing the entire chorus to "Lisztomania". Delivering hit after hit their slim-fit guitar lines and savvy synths sparkled away into the sunset over Manhattan. Their live showing here was just as impressive as their stellar Barclays set from last fall. Frontman Thomas Mars even descended into the crowd once again to walk over the audience as the "ohhhs" of "Entertainment" rang out over the grounds. Of course, the biggest attraction of the weekend was OutKast's reunited Friday night set and despite the mixed reviews of their debut at Coachella, their stint in NYC lived up to the hype. For almost two hours, Andre 3000 and Big Boi attacked the stage and let every know why the South had something to say in the 90s and why we still need to be listening. Things got started with an explosive "B.O.B." and never let up as the duo did a great job of balancing smash hits and deep cuts. Reunion shows are nothing new at this point in the game, but it was still refreshing to see this legendary duo deliver such a high caliber set. After running through "Gasoline Dreams", "Rosa Parks", and "Ms. Jackson" they settled into two short solo sets with Big Boi running through "Ghettomusick" and "The Way You Move", but it was Andre's genre-defying smash "Hey Ya" (complete with a Janelle Monae cameo) that really stole the show. Yes, this was just one of forty shows the group has lined up for the summer in which they will play the same set night after night (and bring in a cool $60 million by the time they wrap things up), but it was a spectacle of a performance none the less.

As the weekend continued and temperatures continued to climb, Randall's Island was as packed as ever and the limits of a smaller festival started to be tested. An early day set saw an overflowing tent for rising Chance the Rapper who paraded around and delivered a brilliant feel good set. He even through in a cover of the Arthur theme song to help get people prepared for the rest of the day. However, as the afternoon carried on, swarms of people flocked to the other side of the island for the highly anticipated set from current British dance kings Disclosure. "This is one of the largest crowds we've seen in America" the brothers announced at one point in their set, but despite the huge audience the excessive heat and shining sun did little to aid the conditions. While their popularity seems to be at an all time high, day-raving didn't seem to be in the cards for most in attendance and even with the lackluster set timing, the dup still put on a killer show and when "Latch" finally came on to close the set, I sure hope I wasn't the only one hoping the song would be on infinite repeat. One of the greatest parts of attending a festival is the chance to discover new artists that you might not normally have the energy to seek on your own and while their were plenty of new acts to check out, it would be wrong to say that the idea of seeing the Strokes and Jack White close out Saturday night was not the selling point of my weekend. For me, the two acts were integral parts of my music exploration in my teenage years and this blog would not exist without them. Still, even I can admit that it has been quite some time since the Strokes released music that struck my interest, but hearing a crowd roar along to the classics was worth the price of admission alone. In some ways it is actually rather stunning to think how well tracks from Is This It and Room on Fire hold up after all these years and the new songs weren't actually half bad. Still, it was clear as they kicked off with "Barely Legal" that these guys are still rockstars and forever kings of New York cool. Even as they age, they still do it with a swagger and style all their own. Hell, these guys wrote a song called "You Only Live Once" back in 2006 and don't think they failed to remind us just how ahead of the curve they were even as they began to lose their edge. "Reptillia", "12:51", "Someday", and "Last Nite" all sizzled with white hot heat and passion as if they had been waiting for a proper NYC festival to really allow them to explode into an epic state. Yet it was the fact that even after half the crowd dispersed and even though they weren't proper headliners they still delivered an encore comprised of a raging "New York City Cops" that marked their set in stone as an absolute highlight of the weekend. "I typically hate festivals, but this seems pretty all right" Jack White declared shortly into his mesmerizing headlining slot. "I was feeling nervous about it until I heard the Strokes right before me" he continued. It was truly exceptional to watch these rock masters play back to back and anyone remotely interested in live rock music would've felt the same about White's fantastic performance. Playing from all across his discography, the guitar virtuoso lead his band through hit after hit, tackling new renditions of old favorites with plenty of guitar solos scattered throughout the night. More than just a musician, Jack White is a showman playing in a league all of his own. A master of the blues and electric rock, his unmatched ability to dazzle a crowd is a real triumph and unlike any of his so called contemporaries (Black Keys, I'm looking at you). He makes his guitar scream and squeal as he pours every ounce of his soul into every note the comes shooting out of his amps. He personifies the idea of rock and roll unlike anyone else currently making music and he has proven that he won't stop until he's dead. I always relished in the idea that one day I'd be able to see him play his hits from his prior bands and all the material he released under his own name. I'm glad I didn't need to wait as long as I imagined.

As the dust began to settle on the final day of the weekend, things were off to a jolting start as Earl Sweatshirt took to the stage and began cursing non-stop throughout his set until throngs of young fans started erupting with energy as his set helped kick off the day. Luckily for us, his friend and Odd Future ringleader Tyler, the Creator was scheduled to play directly after on the stage across Earl. For the fans, it meant almost two full hours of all out insanity. No question, it was the first time I have ever seen a mosh-pit in the midst of a hip-hop show. The explicit nature was everything I'd come to expect and by no means did I feel underwhelmed in the amount of insults thrown at the crowd. If anything, the surprising thing seemed to be that these two attracted what appeared to be the youngest crowd of the weekend. That could also perhaps be in part because I chose the safer veteran act of Jack White over the EDM superstar Skrillex (Am I losing my edge??). Finally, the temperatures began to drop as James Blake's late afternoon set started and the cool air felt like the perfect accompaniment to atmospheric and minimal post-R&B/dubstep stylings of this British whiz-kid. I had some apprehension to how Blake's delicate sound would resonate over open-air festival grounds, but I was quickly halted in my thoughts. His bass lines were thumping and the ticking percussions perfectly backed the dizzying synths that wrapped around his angelic voice. It was a perfect gateway set to my last two sets of the weekend. First up, the dark and moody brilliance of Interpol took over the grounds as the sun began to set one final time over the weekend. Like their fellow rock and roll revivalists the Strokes, Interpol have seen their better days as they seem to find it more and more difficult to live up to their old tricks. Still, just as the night before proved, the old classics still have a way of waking up past ghosts. "Evil" and "Slow Hands" were as on point as ever and it was a sincerely special moment to hear thousands of people singing "but New York cares", a thought and lyric just as meaning full now as it ever was before. For the final show of the night, it was another divide between electronics and live instruments as Axwell ^ Ingrosso closed out the smaller stage while Vampire Weekend cemented their spot as the city's newest hometown heroes. It has been fascinating and equally exciting to watch this quintet rise to this sudden (and deserved) fame. It doesn't seem all that long ago they were playing in the basements of Columbia and now here they are headlining arenas and festivals across the country. Playing a huge set from across their three records, these indie darlings dazzled in all the right places proving that they're a band poised of serious musicianship and distinguished song-writing capabilities. It never seemed impossible that a song like "Oxford Comma" would be a great hit in small clubs for years to come, but it feels every bit as perfect in front of tens of thousands of people. They've taken early songs and transformed them into monstrous hits. Not one note felt shy or out of place. Everything from "Cousins" to "A-Punk" and "Giving Up the Gun" to "Step" felt like they belonged on a scale of this size. Back in 2008 it sounded crazy, but all these years later it seems downright certain that these kids do stand a chance.

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