Still fuming because you didn’t get to go to Governor’s Ball? Well wuogger Will Guerin can tell you all about Interpol, Outkast, and of course the Strokes and their borderline cultish fanbase.
More like Governor’s Deci-Balls, right? I can’t take credit for that surprisingly apropos moniker, but it did seem like the sound guys at the festival had it out for the hearing of the crowds. The ‘Governor’ part of the name used to make a lot more sense when the festival was on Governor’s Island. Now it’s on Randall’s Island, which used to be a driving range, and I have two golf ball souvenirs to prove it. The festival organizers skimped on wristbands or personal, paper schedules for fans, but made up with it in the way of the numerous fun facts and groan-worthy jokes that they put up on the Jumbotron (“Why was the Scarecrow given a promotion – Because he was out standing in his field”). What follows is a biased recap of the festival’s proceedings. Note: “Hey Ya” and “Ya Hey” were both performed at this festival.
Kurt Vile and the Violators – 2:15 PM, Friday
When this rough and tumble Philadelphia stoner fell upon the 40 Watt, things were a bit…off (one reviewer might speculate that he was amidst a drug/alcohol coma of sorts). But with the sun shining and the wind blowing his mop of hair this way and that, Kurt was ready for a romp through some quintessential Vile – kicking things off with a quick one-two punch of “Wakin On A Pretty Day” and “Jesus Fever.” I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was probably still pretty high, but he smiled and waved and moved around the stage. The sprawling layout and motorik pulse of “Freak Train” closed out the set and saw Vile at his most animated – convincingly pressing the intensity upon the excellent Childish Prodigy cut.
Janelle Monáe – 3:00 PM, Friday
Hey! Synchronized dancing! Matching outfits! WUOG Song of the Year nominations (looking at you, Brett Bennett)! Fun times were abound on the black topped main stage at Governor’s Ball. With a 45-minute set time, Monáe never really got a chance to settle in, but not for lack of trying . She was dancing and over-singing all over the stage – her perfectly manicured hair bouncing along. My stomach felt like it was going to explode (thanks a lot, Endless Soup, Salad and Breadsticks from Olive Garden), so I wasn’t really having her quasi-inspirational ‘rights for all’ spiel before “Tightrope.” But for a casual fan, Monáe went above the call of duty in providing her contractually obligated block of entertainment.
Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – 4:45 PM, Friday
I had tragically low expectations for this show – what I imagined to be the end result of “Sure, you can have The Strokes, but you gotta let Julian’s band play as well.” One thing everyone waiting for Phoenix learned quickly – fans of The Strokes are batshit insane for anything Casablancas. No panties were thrown on stage, but the amorous cries of ladies and guys alike made things pretty clear. And you know what, it was actually pretty good. Casablancas brought out the vocoder and “covered” Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush” – probably the closest most of the crowd will ever get to hearing the song in proper. No, he didn’t play “11th Dimension” or “Boombox” (okay that last one might have been a long shot), but the new songs from his upcoming LP were strong. His expertly crafted vocal melodies were cutting and catchy, reminding us why an entire generation has a fascination for this leather clad bad boy. And with the most recent Strokes albums channeling more of the same, it was refreshing to hear challenging compositions from Casablancas, who seems ready to step out of his comfort zone. Bonus points were awarded to Casablancas for his backing band, the terribly named “The Voidz,” for their utterly hip attire. One of them even looked like what I imagine Curly Oxide might have looked like back in the day.
Phoenix – 6:50 PM, Friday
Thomas Mars, how I want to hug you (just stop reading right now if you didn’t give Thomas the French pronunciation). Cute? Yes. Adorable? Yes. And it doesn’t really make sense how Mars holds on to this childlike wonder and enthusiasm, while asserting his confidence to regularly crowd surf and walk upon the hands of his disciples. Here is a rock star who walks the line between shy schoolboy and smug superstar – he’ll toss his microphone into the air (superstar) and awkwardly bring it back into his arms in a desperate catch (schoolboy). It’s a divide that echoes Phoenix as a band – big enough to be on the main stage, but forced off after the sun sets for the big boy headliners (in this case, Outkast).
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix got them there, and still rules the roost, with the concert’s most affecting moments originating from the anthemic sing-alongs had to “Lasso,” and “Lisztomania.” And it’s no surprise that “Rome” always gets the nod to close out their shows, with its clever design leading it carefully out of the controlled pop structure into the rollicking, endless chant of “Rome, Rome, Rome.”
TV On The Radio – 8:00 PM, Friday
As the lovable but very drunken guy next to me explained, there is just nobody that sounds like TV on the Radio. You hear that accolade get thrown around a lot, but it holds up pretty well for the Brookyln based rockers. He was quick to point out the originality of the vocal delivery and the juggling of genres (soul, post-punk) the band manages.
It took a little while for things to really get going (a loving tribute was paid to deceased member Gerard Smith, and no, people did not stop talking), but eventually it seemed the part of the crowd interested in dancing all found themselves to the left of the stage. Oh, I was there alright, making my mark along with everyone else. The tipping point at which personal space was disregarded was the resurgence of “Wolf Like Me” after the quiet bridge. I will be forever grateful for the forceful push I received in time with the frenzied return. But the fact that the band doesn’t have to rely on the crutch of “Wolf Like Me” to be the closer is a good sign. They ultimately closed four songs later with a sped-up version of “Staring at the Sun.” And yes, guitarist David Stiek had a wind-chime on his guitar and yes, primary vocalist (and dance soul-mate) did drop prophetic wisdom when he explained “I can’t dance, I just go up and down. But if you believe it, it’s the fucking smoothest thing ever.”
Outkast – 9:15 PM, Friday
I wouldn’t really consider myself an Outkast fan – not to say I don’t like them, because I do. But to call myself a fan would suggest some level of awareness concerning the band that exceeds common knowledge. But I grew up on Outkast. I remember watching the “Roses” music video for the first time in Chris Day’s Lake Louise apartment on a glorious Friday afternoon, when it came on one of those teen music shows; and I remember the thousands of hours spent dancing to “Hey Ya,” a song that still valiantly resists the label of “overplayed.” So I was out there in the field with my contemporaries, miles away from the stage but dancing nonetheless. And I felt my non-existent Atlantan pride bubble ever so lightly (I don’t care if you like Atlanta, it’s a hellish suburban sprawl).
It wasn’t perfect – things could have been more turnt up for “B.O.B.”, and the retrospective commentary of Outkast history lent the show an odd feeling of disconnect from the present. But it was a lot of fun to indulge in the nostalgia of the classic reunion tour. And no one booed. Allegedly.
Tanlines – 2:15 PM, Saturday
“It would be fair to say this set has been marred by technical difficulties. If you’re a writer, marred is the word I would use.” So go the words of Jesse Cohen (the one that doesn’t look like a cross between an old Jewish man and Bradford Cox), bluntly acknowledging the overheated electronics that brought the set to a grinding halt. It’s uncertain whether it was cosmic retribution or technical overload from the amount of bass in the mix – regardless, I quickly found myself switching my description from “bumping” to “nauseating” as I consumed far more bass than I heard (this would be a recurring theme at the Big Apple stage, more on that later). But once you backed away from the stage’s “bass straight down your throat” area, it was a fun little set that was bookended by their most recognizable cuts, “Brothers” and “All Of Me.” The crowd was overly supportive of the “local opener” as the duo grew frustrated with their equipment failures. Even the “overly enthusiastic security guard,” who became a fixture of the stage with his reoccurring roles in leading communal claps, helped them through their set.
Lucius – 3:00 PM, Saturday
It’s fair to bear a prejudice against Lucius – they’ve got that whole multi-percussionist, middle of the road, ‘Band-to-Watch’, indie pop sound going for them. But they do it tastefully, and the set-up doesn’t seem too contrived in practice. For whatever reason, the two women in the band dress the same (a sparkly dress of sorts) and wear matching blonde wigs (okay, they might not be wigs, but they look so fake). One of the dudes, looks like the bassist in Parquet Courts (which one you ask? The one that looks like the bassist from Parquet Courts). If nothing else, it enlightened me on the pronunciation of their album Wildewoman – (not wild woman, but wil-da-woman). They played largely to the Strokes’ waiting room but exceeded what was expected of them.
Broken Bells – 4:45 PM, Saturday
I say without hyperbole, that this abomination of a show was one of the worst I attended in full. I cannot stress that enough. First impression of the duo – these guys are dressed like assholes. James Mercer looked like a slightly hipper version of Kevin Spacey’s character in the movie 21 (winner winner, chicken dinner indeed). And in their business casual attire, they managed to turn in one of the most bored recitals of their meager catalog. I won’t even comment on the quality of the music – that was the least of their concerns. The duo lacked any shred of personality, said almost nothing to the crowd and occasionally pulled out some dance moves that resembled dancing at the DMV to a softly played “Stayin Alive.” And no, nothing really went wrong, it was just so mediocre, so disgustingly average. Why bother making music, and performing said music, if it doesn’t burst out of you, if it isn’t an outlet for your emotional turmoil? To cap things off, after playing through “High Road” with the expressive complexity of corpses, the band stood around and looked ready to play another song, before realizing that of course that was their last song (of course you’re going to close with “High Road.”) At which point, Mercer sheepishly informed the crowd, that’s all she wrote folks. Oh, only if it had come sooner.
The Strokes – 6:45 PM, Saturday
I cannot find the words to describe the diehard fandom of Strokes nation – so I’ll let an anecdote do the trick. The girl next to me, who happened to have traveled up from Florida “just to see The Strokes,” was calmly explaining that some of her friends got to the festival at 6:30 AM to be front row for the show. And no, of course the festival wasn’t open yet, they just waited outside the gates, for the opportunity to make the half-mile sprint over to the main stage when they opened up. And it doesn’t even matter if this story is true, but just the fact that someone would claim “Yeah, I need to get there around sunrise so I can be there a full twelve hours before show time,” gives you an idea of the crowd’s mentality.
With the festival’s lineup announcement signalling the first Strokes show in years, fans from all over the country made the pilgrimage to pay their dues to Casablancas and Hammond Jr. It felt like attending a Strokes convention, a very crowded (the most packed I’ve ever been at a show), sweaty convention held on a sweltering blacktop (an old parking lot?). Maybe what a convention would feel like if it were held in a warring nation, with security patrolling the perimeter, pulling the limp, lifeless bodies from the crowd when they could take no more. I couldn’t even muster the space to pour water on myself at times. And then The Strokes came out, played their songs, and left. It was a blur, a beautiful blur of nostalgia, shouted lyrics and dancing. Everyone was having a moment simultaneously – it felt like one of those shows people, important people, will be talking about for years. And Julian, actually seemed gracious – while maintaining the appropriate amount of sneer (when referring to a Galaga flag that flew above the crowd – “I don’t get it…is that your favorite game or something…Space Invaders?”). After what seemed like an unplanned “New York City Cops” encore, Casablancas looked close to tears when he was bowing to the crowd. Okay, maybe that was just how I saw it, given the state I was in. But doesn’t that say something?
Spoon – 8:15 PM, Saturday
I don’t really understand the fascination that surrounds Spoon, or how they became the famous, critically acclaimed band they are today. It didn’t really seem like the folks that surrounded me in the crowd did either, but Spoon’s frontman kept congratulating the first few rows for their enthusiasm so maybe I just missed out once again on the Spoon train. It was definitely a comedown after the Strokes (maybe a Comedown Machine, get it?), but an enjoyable one nonetheless. They played some new stuff off their album that was “virally” advertised through beach balls that made their way through the festival (does anyone actually like keeping the beach balls up in the air at shows? It feels like a chore to me). And they trotted out the obvious hits like “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” and “The Way We Get By.” I had fun, and probably for the wrong reasons. It’s just hard not to buy into a band’s swagger and charisma, when they are lovingly supported by a solid fan base – and having fun on stage.
Skrillex – 9:30 PM, Saturday
It was weird seeing Skrillex on the smaller, Honda stage, and quite possibly just strange seeing him at Governor’s Ball period. I wouldn’t think the rest of the lineup would be overly appealing to the average Skrillex junkie. But as a spectacle, Skrillex worked quite nicely, roping in everyone who didn’t care to set sail with Jack White (Steady As She Goes). The five-minute countdown clock displayed on the jumbotron drew me in, because who can resist seeing what comes when the clock hits zero. The funny-voiced Sonny Moore is still riding around in his ship, with ridiculous graphics behind him as he moves spastically around the cockpit. There was bass and neon colored concertgoers to be had for all, and everything was merry in Skrillex land.
Earl Sweatshirt – 3:00 PM, Sunday
“I’m going to fuck the freckles of your face, bitch” can be effectively communicated in unison by a crowd of 2,000 “motherfuckers.” This I learned very early on in Earl Sweatshirt’s set. Maybe it was just the heat, but I found it difficult to focus on the actual music, and my attention gravitated more to his between song stage banter. It was a pleasant daze to be in, with Tyler, The Creator called on to the stage about three songs into Earl’s set, where he would remain for most of its duration – “You wanna play before your set, fool?” The crowd dynamics were interesting, because throughout Earl’s set, clusters of folks were heading across the field to get a better position for Tyler’s which was to follow immediately after Earl finished. Earl didn’t seem to notice or care.
Tyler, The Creator – 3:45 PM, Sunday
The Odd Future inspired party rolled on over at Tyler’s stage, and I was introduced to several of Tyler’s obsessions – the weird Golf-Wang chant, and his penchant for the word “awesome,” preferably said in a semi-racist Asian manner. Much like recent collaborator Mac Demarco, Tyler is just mesmerizing to watch – his every moment is transfixing because he’s up there being so, well, odd. When he wasn’t bouncing around the stage spitting out aggressive, sometimes “ignorant,” tirades, he was busy insulting the crowd – he really laid into the guy who had his Go Pro camera affixed a top a stick (a move I thought completely sensible). I never submitted fully to flow of the awkward white people dancing around me, but Tyler tried his hardest to get me to give in.
The Kills – 5:45 PM, Sunday
Here’s another one I didn’t know too much about before the festival. I was pretty surprised to see their stage set up – a horseshoe of four drummers stood behind the band’s fronting duo Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince. It didn’t really seem necessary, and they looked a bit of awkward at times. For a casual listener, the set felt a little long, especially when they pulled the ol’ “we got one more song left ” then played three. But it was enjoyable enough to watch the chemistry between the two as they sauntered around the stage, embodying the confident bravado of the self-assured rock star. I’ve never really been a fan of the riff-heavy sludge The Kills put out, so maybe I’ll just leave this recap here. It was great though to see Hince acknowledging a front-row superfan, telling him, “next year, you should be up here.”
Interpol – 8:00 PM, Sunday
This may have been my most anticipated set of the festival; unfortunately, it felt like a huge let-down. And it had nothing to do with the smooth, classy, elegance of Interpol or their secret agent inspired attire. First off, as per usual at the Big Apple stage, the bass of the kick-drum just overpowered everything in the mix if you were even remotely close to the stage. And secondly, the crowd left a lot to be desired. They meant well, but it seemed like a fairly inexperienced group of concert-goers who fell prey to some questionable behavior. The first half of the show was marred by the ridiculous number of cameras and iPhones held upwards, in an attempt to capture personal, shitty concert videos (“Your video is great Mark, I just love how I can see everyone else’s hands and phones. And the sound is just amazing, who knew the microphone on that thing was so amazing!”). And the second half was held back by the two idiots who kept crowd surfing every two minutes, being removed from the crowd, and then somehow finding their way back up to the front. One of which always seemed to plan his surfing expeditions at the most important moments during the concert, excursions that of course had to be documented by his buddies who videotaped the whole thing (taking flight right before the lyric “It’s up to me now, turn on the bright lights” in “NYC” and near the beginning of “PDA.”) Everyone else probably had a great time, losing their shit to “Slow Hands” and taking in several cuts from the band’s upcoming LP, El Pintor. I just need to get over myself.