The festival set: it’s a greater art form than you might think. Music festivals in general are places of great distraction, whether that distraction be in the form of artisanal food trucks, illicit substances you may have snuck into the festival grounds, or the competing noise from a band you weren’t there to see on one of the festival’s other stages. Governors Ball had its distractions, but Saturday and Sunday both laid out prime examples of the festival set done in a number of effective ways. Saturday’s festival sets included:
The Friendly Banter Set:
Although Sharon Van Etten’s songs have the reputation of being heart-breakers, in a live setting her sometimes somber meditations on relationships are undercut by a pluckiness and zeal for audience engagement. Van Etten’s set may have been lacking for bells and whistles as she rarely strayed from her omnichord stand, but she expressed her delight at every chance she got, whether it be excitement over being on the same festival roster as Björk or noting that a baby belonging to one of her band mates had taken its first step that day. There were a notable number of babies to the side of the stage throughout Van Etten’s afternoon set, hopefully still too young to know of the pain conveyed in songs like “Tarifa” and “Your Love is Killing Me”.
The Outsized Set::
Baltimore band Future Islands had a breakthrough year in 2014, with the single “Seasons (Waiting on You)” becoming a huge hit thanks to an instantly classic David Letterman appearance. This new found fame should have been reflected in the size of their designated stage at Governors Ball. Unfortunately, festival goers eager for the Future Islands experience were stuffed under the Gotham Tent — the festival’s smallest stage. The space was so packed that I preferred taking in the set from a mud puddle to the side of the stage, where I could catch glimpses of front man Samuel Herring’s many high kicks.
Even the casual festival goer was in awe of Herring’s famous dance moves, as unanimous cheers broke through the crowd every time he got down on the too small stage. Herring’s many segues from impassioned plaint to aggro-metal grunt brought the tent down as well and should have been ricocheting across the field from the Big Apple Stage instead of the Gotham lair. Future Islands’ success story is endlessly inspiring and, despite those around me not knowing the names of any of their songs, it’s a moment of true justice that those heartfelt songs are being heard by so many.
The Un-Festival Set:
Little Dragon’s set — which preceded Bjork’s — towed the line of this designation a little, with frontwoman Yukimi Nagano performing a number of ritualistic moves that may not have been as enchanting if you were fifteen rows back from the stage. But the electro band’s music — even when it employs some krautrock beats — is still pretty accessible to the average festival goer.
Björk wasn’t into appeasing the average festival goer, and she had every right not to. Instead, she led her full string orchestra through an artistic, passionate journey of heartbreak, with visuals that made the set feel as though it were taking place in the Smithsonian’s Insect Zoo rather than on Randall’s Island. The drama of the set, which was half Vulnicura material, half more well-known fare such as “Army of Me”, was heightened by some economically used pyrotechnics and Björk’s movements, which were made all the more idiosyncratic by her insect inspired costume. I was rapt right up until her “Hyperballad” encore, but then again, I’m not the average festival-goer.
Björk photo credit: Santiago Felipe
Review our Day 1 coverage here and stay tuned for photos and recaps of Marina and the Diamonds GovBall set and aftershow as well as the the third and final day of Governors Ball. Also check out our coverage of “Weird Al”, which was so awesome it merited a separate piece.
Sharon van Etten:
Angus and Julia Stone:
Sennheiser Silent Disco: