Reviews

Governors Ball Music Festival 2014: Recap + Photos from Randall's Island

Perfect weather and fantastic music lent Governors Ball 2014 the sensation of escaping from New York, even though the island itself sits snug atop the East River.

Governors Ball 2014

City: New York
Venue: Randall's Island
Date: 2014-06

These days it is difficult to assign the various, omnipresent music festivals a singular identity. Bonnaroo used to seem like a hippie-fest but it's since expanded way beyond that. Lollapalloza felt like it was once alt-rock, but that can't be said of it anymore. But, fortunately for it, Governors Ball does not need one. As New York City's most diverse three-day weekend fest, Governors Ball is invariably granted the same melting pot characteristics of the city it calls home in the few short years of its existence. Many of the performers and bands were more sonically distant than the two largest stages were from each other. The headliners included the modern-sonics of Vampire Weekend, dubstep dance from Skrillex, bluesy rock by Jack White and powerful verses from the reunited Outkast.

Given that last year's festival grounds became a muddy mess during the torrential rains which resulted in the cancellation of the first evening, the perfect weather this year was transformative upon the experience. In fact, aside from logistical issues, like overlapping sets and walking distances, which one should expect, complaints were few and far between. Sure food costs are higher than normal but water was freely available and plentiful and there were other games, activities and freebies to occupy down time. The only unpleasant moments were when odors from the blocks of portable toilets wafted out across the fields on the third day.

For many of the bands, this early summer fest allowed them to preview material from forthcoming albums, including Jack White's Lazaretto, La Roux's Trouble in Paradise, Spoon's They Want My Soul, Jenny Lewis's The Voyager and Interpol's El Pintor amongst others. Including Outkast's return to NYC (as part of their summer festival reunion shows), there were a few bands who took this as a chance to end a dry spell from touring. TV on the Radio and Interpol hadn't played shows in a few years while The Strokes, minus a warm up gig, basically made this reunion a must-see (their only other scheduled show is in Los Angeles)

Possibly as a result of The Strokes reunion, but just as likely because Skrillex and Jack White were headlining, Saturday tickets had sold out before any other day. The day included other large acts including Disclosure, Childish Gambino and Sleigh Bells and Broken Bells and was the warmest of the three prompting service announcements from the staff to keep hydrated and to give security notice if you or someone else wasn't feeling well.

Sunday started off just as warm, but a late afternoon cloud cover provided relief from heat exhaustion especially during the wild sets from Odd Future's Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator both separately and when they shared a stage. UK based AlunaGeorge pumped up the audience under the tent as they kicked off their set with "Attracting Flies". Just afterwards, Seattle folk rock band The Head and The Heart took the main stage with "Shake" and later went into one of my favorites from 2013 "Another Story", the song about the Newtown school-shooting. For a song so meaningful and political, it was strange to watch people dancing along but hopefully the message made it through flower crowns. They were thrilled to be playing for an audience who was really into music at least.

Back across the field The Kills, Allison Mosshart and Jamie Hince, opened with "U R A Fever", before a rock heavy, low-banter set. James Blake's pulsing bass was bone-rattling and people several feet from the stage plugged their ears to save themselves. Interpol gave their hometown audience "NYC" and other classics alongside several newer songs while Empire of the Sun had one of the most over the top sets under the tent with their costumed dancers in neon outfits and carrying props like oversized guitars.

Finally Sunday-headliner Vampire Weekend played a set spanning the hits off their three albums. Ladies love Ezra Koenig and those lined up at the barricade seemingly reached Randall's Island by 9 am to capture the front spots. Hopefully "Holiday", "Hannah Hunt" and "Ya Hey" got the audience dancingly like crazy as Koenig asked them to do. Those who had stayed just to rock were strolling out while Axwell / Ingrosso played the final beats of the festival, raining the crowd with confetti and setting off extensive fireworks.

The highlight of the festival though had to be Outkast on Friday, when the crowd at the main stage seemed to be the biggest. The festival itself started off at noon but it was a few hours before the volume of people began to pick up. The 1975 had a legion of fans ready to dance. But Electric Lady Janelle Monáe was dazzling a larger crowd at the main stage with her brilliant future R&B and preaching empowerment messages. Phoenix too was superb on the main stage, performing so many hits that kept the crowd dancing and fittingly playing "Love like a Sunset" just as the low-hanging sun shone through the buildings on the other side of the river.

Grimes

La Roux and Grimes had slots under the tent and performed new tracks ("Tropical Chancer" and "Uptight Downtown" from the former and "David", "Sleepwalking" and "Go" from the latter) for a crowd that spilled out way beyond the canopy during the performer's dance parties.

And then unfortunately for Damon Albarn, who was scheduled on a smaller stage, it was Outkast's turn to perform, though he reportedly did bring out some members of De La Soul. A twenty-year history (including their hiatus) between Andre 3000 and Big Boi had produced numerous rap hits that, combined with their charismatic camaraderie resulted in a high octane set blasting off with "Bombs over Baghdad". Outkast sounded revitalized as they continued to drop hits including "Rosa Parks", "So Fresh, So Clean", "ATLiens" and "Skew It on the Bar-B" (lacking an appearance from Raekwon). Janelle Monáe, out of her Mayweather character, refrained from adding to the performance as she had at other festivals and instead just danced along to "Hey Ya!" with aplomb.

Outkast's long hiatus hadn't diminished their capacity to entertain. The triumphant duo's performance was a special treat for the folks attending Governors Ball specifically to shout "Hootie Hoo" or to groove to "The Way You Move". Their set drew an amalgamation of incongruent people onto the island for a party. That is the success which defines Governors Ball.

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Friday June 6th:

The 1975

Washed Out

Washed Out

Julian Casablancas and Voidz

Julian Casablancas and Voidz

Julian Casablancas and Voidz

La Roux

La Roux

Phoenix

Phoenix

Phoenix

Grimes

Grimes

Outkast

Outkast

Outkast

Outkast

Jack White on Saturday June 7th (photo credit: Walter Hooper):

Sunday June 8th:

AlunaGeorge

AlunaGeorge

AlunaGeorge

The Head and The Heart

The Head and The Heart

The Kills

The Kills

James Blake

Interpol

Interpol

Interpol

Interpol

Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun

Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend

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