Governors Ball 2016: The Killers and M83 Embrace the Rain and Rock the Night
Not even a horrendous rainstorm could hold back Governors Ball from embracing thy inner festival animal.
Governors Ball Day 2City: New York
Venue: Randall's Island
With eardrums still buzzing from the Stroke’s career-spanning triumph the night before, we enter Day Two of Governors Ball with fresh socks and new ink to scribble into our reporter’s notebook. At the start of the day the weather gods were feeling generous as the exposed sun began peeling back layers of applied sunscreen, yet the forthcoming downpour at dusk would inevitably define this day.
Appearing as though she was a foreshadow of things to come, Torres (née Mackenzie Scott) delivered a passionate outpour of thunderous howls within her heart-rending songs and ultimately transformed her Telecaster guitar into lightning rod that captured the ears of fresh attendees as they trickled in from the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. She and her supporting band sported an all-white attire that seemed to simultaneously complement Scott’s Southern roots and the present, sticky humidity. In general, color was on short supply -- minus her turquoise-blue lipstick and a purple bandana that poked out from her back pocket -- but the lack of distraction on stage allowed for her songs off last year’s Splinter to remain center stage.
To see Torres live is to witness a conduit channel pain into melody. During highlight “Honey” (a ghostly beauty released unexpectedly online in early 2013 by a then-unknown Torres), Scott allowed for her entire face to reflect the sorrow and heartbreak. Her cheeks wobbled and her stare grew more intense as she cried: “Heavy are you on my mind!” as the burden of the failed relationship that defines the song was translated into three guitar chords and then swallowed whole in a sea of reverb. Her set closed with the anthemic “Strange Hellos” and before exiting the stage, Scott put her Tele to rest by slamming the axe into the ground.
It may have only been 2:30 in the afternoon, but little could stop emerging duo the Knocks and their infectious electro-dance toe thumpers. Their debut LP 55 is just a few months young and featured production from the likes of Wyclef Jean -- who surprised the Bacardi House Stage by appearing on stage. But the biggest buzz of their set was the out-of-nowhere arrival of Carly Rae Jepsen whose starpower sent a horde of nearby ears to drop what they were doing and cram into the tent.
While Catfish and the Bottlemen seemed to summon all concertgoers born after Y2K, solo Stroke Albert Hammond, Jr. was attracting those in need of a little more rock ‘n’ roll. Walking onto the stage to the sound of a recorded voice “petitioning the lord”, Hammond began with his guitar hung behind his body allowing for maximum Springsteen appeal. He kicked into his 2006 cut “Everyone Gets a Star” converting the originally recorded jangly guitar parts into a heavier, “Baba O’Riley”-style blast as the chorus reached stunning heights.
Supported by seasoned guitarists Hammarsing Kharhmar and Mikey Hart, Hammond’s solo outfit allows for the Strokes second-leading player to access his inner front man. The night before on the big stage, Hammond wore a suit vest but today he looks more like a painter with his white shirt and pants combo. Visibly more relaxed and loose, this solo endeavor gives credit to Hammond’s tight songwriting and technically rich guitar playing. His finger dexterity is highly commendable for many of the riffs he crafts look as though he’s playing variations of the intro to Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child of Mine” with repetitious accuracy.
Initially he was in the shadow of his '70s pop singer father, later destined to be confined to a legacy as a guitarist for the biggest New York Band of the Millennium but on his own Albert Hammond Jr. is having a ball and allowing for those who stopped by his stage to easily join in.
Back at the main stage just as the day began to take its turn into the dark and stormy, the youngest Haim sister (Alana) informed the crowd that the last time her sister act played Governors Ball in 2013, the excessive rain made for one of her all-time favorite shows. Abiding by this call, the hovering clouds poured during the majority of their entire set and the ensuing madness elevated Haim’s performance into best-of-the-day status.
Somewhere out there in the guidelines of festival management there must be a clause that praises crummy weather. Since the first huge pop music festival of this kind (Woodstock, of course), rain has been the great equalizer and a fast-track method for rallying the animal in concertgoers to embrace the insanity and join the party.
Musicians are not immune to this cosmic, soggy phenomenon and middle Haim sister Este decided to join her drenched fans by pouring a full bottle of water all over herself before continuing to play. It was a moment of festival solidarity, which was soon intensified by her “I Would Die 4 U” tribute to Prince. Haim are still touring behind their sole record, 2013’s Days are Gone, but they were gracious enough to give us two new tracks -- both sounding like the Fleetwood Mac-indebted pop rock we expect (and cherish) from them.
All of Saturday’s roads lead to the dual headlining of the Killers and M83 -- the question being: which set first? Stepping onto the Honda Stage, Anthony Gonzalez and his M83 bandmates effortlessly matched the setting’s sparkling set up of neon lights and flashing bulbs with their equally dazzlingly electro-pop anthems. Their recent LP Junk has slipped under most radars but the epic moments courtesy of 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming are still radiant as ever and can make a damp, puddle-filled field feel fresh and fair. M83’s most recent member has been singer/keyboardist Kaela Sinclair and the Dallas musician mastered Zola Jesus’ iconic vocals during the sensational cut “Intro”.
The Killers / Getty Images
Capitalizing on the opportunity to see the Killers live, we move back to the main stage but the mud and dampness had already begun to chisel away at the crowd. (Even the giant letters spelling GovBallNYC that grace the top of the main stage began to lose energy and a few letters went out.)
The Killers treated us to two covers -- Interpol’s “Obstacle 1” and Elvis Presley's “Can't Help Falling in Love” -- but the greatest moments came when those decade-old favorites came out of the cellar. “All These Things That I’ve Done” can still rally the soul out of any discouraged soldier and the throbbing baseline to “Jenny was a Friend of Mine” was audible as far away as Manhattan. The Killers were handed the short stick due to the terrible weather but that didn’t keep the 2000s rock veterans from sending Gov Ball into the night with expert fashion.
Silas Valentino is a freelance music journalist who has written for The Village Voice, LA Weekly, PopMatters and various other publications. He lives and works in New York City. Follow him on Twitter here.