Best of Governors Ball 2014
Wow, so this weekend actually happened. The annual music festival that gains more popularity each year made its three-day stop at New York City’s Randall’s Island this past weekend, and it made quite the impression on tens of thousands of music fans alike, including this one! I’ve been skeptical about this festival in years past, but this year seemed to be the first time where I felt confident going in that people were getting the most bang for their buck. I mean hell, any festival where The Strokes and Phoenix aren’t even headliners must mean that the promoters are doing something right. After reading some of the other publications’ reviews of the weekends festivities, I figured I’d throw my own two cents to give those who didn’t make it out an idea to what they missed out on.
What started as a day built around a hangover slowly turned into build up of angst and anticipation. After leaving work to start my weekend a little early, I took the 6 train with many others, up to 125th Street, across the RFK Bridge to the island where my first set was none other than Kurt Vile & The Violators. The former War On Drugs guitarist covered some of his best solo material as he casually ripped through his mellow jams like ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’, ‘Girl Called Alex’, and ‘Jesus Fever’. As he hunched over his guitar like a mad chemist carefully examining his work, you couldn’t help but appreciate his ability to take grungy folk songs into extended rock jams.
Up next was the pop-friendly retro sounding vibes of The 1975. I’d never seen this band before but their FM friends pop vibes were worth looking into. While I wasn’t wrong in assuming they tailored their sound to a teen demographic, there is a similarity to British pop acts of the 80s in their tunes. As they covered their bigger songs like ‘Chocolate’, ‘Girls’, and ‘The City’, it seemed clear this band might be a mere product of the pop music label machine, but were still able to get a little energy out of their younger fans that came straight from 8th period geometry class.
After the migratory walk to the opposite stage, I caught Bastille, and while they were a little less power-pop and a little more synth-pop. It seemed like these English rockers put a little more effort into the quality and originality of their sound and songs. With pretty cool rhythmic sections, the band paraded through songs off Bad Blood and even did a poorly attempted cover of TLC’s ‘Scrubs’, but I can’t be too hard on these guys, they still put on a good show. A for effort fellas!
Up until that point I had been entertained but still waiting for someone to blow me away. Enter Jenny Lewis. The singer/guitarist seemed very much like Debbie Harry meets Wilco musically and a little bit of Elton John in her colorful rainbow-to-white outfit and tastefully sexy sunglasses to match. She and her band of very talented performers sang and danced through ‘Just One of The Guys’, ‘Pretty Bird’, and an incredibly BADASS version of ‘The Next Messiah’ and a solo acoustic performance of ‘Acid Tongue’ to close out the set. Jenny can easily been considered one of Friday’s best performers. Fans didn’t seem to mind her sneaking in a few Rilo Kiley songs as well in ‘Silver Lining’ and ‘The Moneymaker’. I know I certainly didn’t. I can’t wait to see how she keeps developing her sound and songwriting over the next twenty years. Look out rock and roll, there’s a new queen on the horizon.
After my counterpart and I somehow found our way into the side stage VIP area, double fisting some complimentary Don Julio tequila cocktails, I quickly lost track of time only to stumble back out to the main stage where I was absolutely blown away by one of the bands that have been at the top of my to-do list for a few years now, Phoenix.
The best Frenchmen in rock quickly blew the doors open with their high energy and electro alt-pop songs. Starting out with the good shit, ‘Entertainment’, ‘Lisztomania’, and ‘1901’ were appropriately in the set list early on. As the sun set behind them on the first night of Gov Ball, the band helped the endless wave of music fans dancing and singing into the night as they ended their set with a rare festival crowd surf from singer Thomas Mars. Rock on boys, rock on.
The night of course was capped off with who else but Andre 3000 and Big Boi. As the strobe and laser lights cut through the air, the two ATLiens came out like the hip-hop champions they still can be with my favorite, ‘BOB’. I’m not sure what the hell was wrong with the fans at Coachella.. actually yeah I do, they were at Coachella. NYC seemed to have no problem helping welcome hip-hop’s best duo back to the east coast. While no one knows when the next time the big apple will be dancing along to Big Boi, I know around 50,000 plus enjoyed the time they got with what was a phenomenal opening night performance by Outkast.
The second day of the festival was hot as shit. That being said- so was Diarrhea Planet. I got there nice and early to make sure I saw these guys, and they did not disappoint. Their style quickly picked up where Jenny and Phoenix left off the night before with in your face rock and roll energy. They know how to make their guitars sound nice and raunchy and a name like theirs would suggest, and they even had the chops and balls to cover ‘Hey Ya’, by some band that apparently played the night before.
After running into Michael Fitzpatrick from Fitz and the Tantrums in the press tent, it was only appropriate to make sure to catch their set later on in the afternoon as they helped everyone beat the heat with a near perfect mid-afternoon set. Co-lead singer Noelle Scaggs was absolutely flawless, as her only mistake of the performance was being a bit too warm in her black mesh dress. The band threw in a quick cover of Annie Lennox’s ‘Sweet Dreams’, which of course complimented their set perfectly. Well played guys!
Surprisingly the band I wanted to see most on Saturday wasn’t The Strokes or some guitarist from Detroit named Jack White, but rather New Zealand’s own The Naked & Famous. I’ve been a fan of theirs since hearing ‘Young Blood’ play in an episode of Whitney. Yeah, I was one of the only like four people who watched that show. While the sound quality on the Big Apple stage was absolute shit all weekend, I was still able to enjoy the band, as they sounded great together playing ‘Punching In A Dream’, ‘All of This’, ‘Rolling Waves’, and my favorite- ‘Hearts Like Ours’. They’re still one of my favorite new bands and their live show certainly lived up to any expectations I had for them going in.
Speaking of Jack White, he was Saturday’s headliner, even though you wouldn’t have noticed by how many people seemed to be more amped up to see The Strokes. However, the biggest name in guitar rock simply wouldn’t not be outperformed on this night, as he strutted his stuff to what seemed like one million people, who braved the drunkenly hot elements all day to see him perform. While Skrillex was remixing anything that he hasn’t remixed to this point across the venue, Jack paraded around unleashing his 50% madness and 50% mastery to work with a mix of the new shit in ‘Blunderbuss’, ‘Lazaretto’, and ‘Sixteen Saltines’, along with the classics and rare favorites that made the crowd almost erupt into an earthquake with ‘Hotel Yorba’, ‘We’re Going to Be Friends’, ‘Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground’. Jack showed he still wears the crown as this generation’s greatest guitar hero and doesn’t seem to be giving up that crown anytime soon.
After baking all day in the sun on Saturday, I was still surprised I was able to make it out for the third and final day. Frank Turner was the man of the hour on Sunday, as his early afternoon show was met by countless fans relaxing and laying on the mainstage grass, drinking their beers and enjoying Franks acoustic jams as if he were playing to them in their favorite hometown pubs. Believe it or not he even got the entire fucking crowd doing jumping jacks while he serenaded them with ‘Recovery’. It’s about time someone got Americans to get up and do some exercise.
Local NYC punk band Skaters also had people going nuts early on. Following some instrumental difficulties (Broken drumsticks, strings, PA issues) the band was in full force with their pop-punk music jams. Playing most of the songs off their debut album Manhattan, the crowd got most of the excitement when the band ripped through their single ‘I Wanna Dance (But I Don’t Know How). It may have only been around 1:30 in the afternoon, but these guys already seemed like they were plenty of cocktails in, which would explain set list and song confusion in the middle of their set- but hey, it’s fucking rock and roll and these guys released their angst and energy out on a crowd that had plenty of their own.
I must say, while I baked and basked in beer, heat, barely clothed women, I got on the ferry to go back to the city (and reality) on Sunday evening realizing I had experienced one hell of a festival. I tried my first silent disco (which is fun a shit by the way, and I plan on doing as many more as possible) and got to see a lot of bands who proved to me once again that rock and roll is far from dead. While I’m still skeptical over festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo, as they are beginning to turn into popular kid parties rather than a true blue music festivals, I’m still grounded with the belief that New York’s Governors Ball, in its 4th year just might have become one of the better music festivals here in the U.S. It’s not as large as some of the others that will take place this summer, but it’s still got that New Yorker vibe to it. The attitude, the drugs, the local food trucks, the girls, and of course, the music. I shall be attending Gov Ball again next year, in hopes that I will once again be able to dance around in a silent disco in my European-style bathing suit to some of the best music New York City has to offer. Until then!
Article by: Tom Shackleford