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 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.