The Governors Ball: A Review of Happenings on Randall’s Island
This summer I decided I was going to attend a music festival I had never been to before. And since I’ve only been to Bonnaroo (twice) there were plenty to choose from. Once I scoped the lineup for the Governors Ball in New York City, it took one day for me to purchase my ticket. Still in its infancy stages (this was the second Governors Ball), the festival boasted some big names, and I couldn’t wait to see bands such as Beck and Modest Mouse who I’d been listening to for years. Heck, even my parents listened to Beck. Also factoring into my decision: the fact that I had never been to the Big Apple.
Well, I came, I saw and I conquered. My three girlfriends and I drove eight hours from Kent to NYC and managed to only get lost once in North Jersey. Yeah, that was fun. But the second we arrived in the city, I knew I made the right choice although there are several other festivals I would like to attend. It gets expensive after a while though.
We arrived Friday night around 1:30 AM, got settled and went out for a few drinks. The next morning we tried our luck with the subway. Yeah, that was fun. After walking about 15 blocks, we figured we were fairly close to the ferry we needed to take to Randall’s Island. At least that’s what it seemed like according to our walking directions on my girlfriend’s phone. A 45-minute walk later, we made it to the ferry. Tired and annoyed, we glanced at the ferry line and wanted to scream. It was directly in the sun and the line was horrendous. Nonetheless, that sucker moved fast. So while I wanted to complain about that line, I really can’t. The fact of the matter is it beat waiting in my car outside Bonnaroo for four hours on the side of the road.
The island was gorgeous. The grass was plush, and the people were chill. In fact, the general feeling of this festival was chill and intimate. That was one of my favorite parts of this festival. There was room to walk and breathe, and there were no overlapping sets. The music started around noon, but we didn’t arrive until the end of Penguin Prison, which was the fourth band to play. For the first hour or so, my friends and I were just taking in the festival. We got some beers and checked out both stages. We ended up at the Hype Machine Stage waiting for Santigold to come on. This wasn’t my first time seeing Santigold, but it was the first time for a couple of my girlfriends. I knew they were in for a treat, so we hung out for a good spot.
Santigold came equipped with her usual duo of dancers who kill it every time. Those chicks never show any expressions on their face, and I think that rules. During her 40-minute set, Santigold blazed through an impressive set list of songs including some oldies but goodies and some from her latest album, Master of My Make Believe. My favorites included “Lights Out”, “Disparate Youth” and “Freak Like Me”. I was hoping she would perform “Hold the Line” with Major Lazer, but she at least performed her part, so that was cool.
After Santigold, we grabbed some food and listened from a distance to the Special Disco Version. Then we headed to Major Lazer. The stage was set with two big blow up letters “M” and “L” and I was amped to get my dance on. I read a few reviews of Major Lazer that other people wrote, and they claimed it was nothing special or different. But if you’re seeing him for the first time, it’s exciting. Also exciting, he allowed several people on stage. I will admit that his hype man was a little much for my liking. They were very demanding of the audience, and I think without that we would have been just as energetic.
We checked out the next few bands: Atmosphere, Chromeo and Duck Sauce. Only one really stood out, and that was Duck Sauce. Probably because they had a giant blow up duck behind their DJ stand, but also because I’m not too familiar with the other two. Sure, we’ve all heard Chromeo’s ”Fancy Footwork” and I did enjoy hearing them perform it, but it was just meh. Atmosphere was great, but again, I’m not a huge fan. It seemed as though those who were fans really enjoyed it though. Duck Sauce distributed a ton of duck bills for their show, so during the set many people standing around you had duck bills on. I thought that was pretty fun.
The night ended with Passion Pit and Kid Cudi. I’ve seen both acts before, and I haven’t been as impressed as I hoped I would be. Passion Pit still proved to me that they need a studio to emulate their sound. We did have the pleasure of hearing some new stuff from their new album, Gossamer. They opened their headline set with “Moth’s Wings” and followed it up with their latest single, “Take a Walk”. They ended the show with “Sleepyhead” followed by an encore of “Little Secrets”.
Kid Cudi provided that hip-hop aspect the festival was sort of missing, aside from Atmosphere. I was wondering if we were going to get to see THE Kid Cudi or WZRD. I am happy to report that Cudi kicked it old school and even brought fellow Cleveland rapper, Chip Tha Ripper, on stage for a couple of collaborations. Some of my favorites included “Marijuana”, “Mojo So Dope” and “Memories”. I am an old fan of Cudi, but it was apparent the crowd responded more to some of his newer songs on his album Man on the Moon ll: The Legend of Mr. Rager, so that made those songs more enjoyable. The show ended oddly, and I am not 100% sure what happened but Cudi got cut off. I think it was because of curfew, but I could be wrong. So, the show ended kind of abruptly leaving fans hanging.
We called it a night and fled the island to head out for the night.
Day 2 began differently. Because I was way more excited for this day. Mostly because all of the acts on day 2 I had never seen before. I’m talking some heavy hitters too that I had been vying to see for years: Modest Mouse, Beck and Fiona Apple. These three names are people you rarely see hitting the road, or maybe I rarely see coming through Ohio is more like it.
Again, it was tough to estimate our time of arrival to the island being that we had to take the subway to Grand Central and then catch another train to the bus that goes to Randall’s Island (We decided against the Ferry for the second day). So, we were a little late to the second day as well. I’ll be honest though, we were all dragging a little after only getting about four hours of sleep.
We arrived just in time for what was one of my favorite acts, Phantogram, performing on day 2 (aside from those previously mentioned). I know many people may have passed on seeing this guy and girl electro-rock duo simply because they’re not as “famous”, but for those who missed out, boy, did they miss out. This is a pretty bold statement, but I think these guys were my favorite act of the whole festival. Maybe it’s because they love what they do so much and it shows, or maybe its Sarah Barthel’s stage presence. Either way, I wouldn’t be able to write anything that would do them justice.
The duo+drummer soared through a synth-heavy set, but they didn’t over do it. Barthel’s airy vocals and guitarist/vocalist, Josh Carter’s minimal guitar lines created the perfect concoction of afternoon delight. Some of my favorites included “Turning Into Stone” off this year’s Nightlife EP and “As Far As I Can See” off their debut album, Eyelid Movies, which has always been a favorite song of mine.
After Phantogram was Cults. Cults was another band I was super stoked about, but they didn’t deliver for me as much as Phantogram. There wasn’t much of a connection with the crowd, but I think that’s what they were going for. After all, their music reminds me of a bedroom hangout with a few girlfriends. That being said, they did play on point. Following Cults was Devendra Banhart and Built To Spill. By this time, I needed to refresh and refuel, so we chose to sit on the hillside and listen to both. Which by the way, thank god for the shade. That was another complaint about Bonnaroo: There was hardly anywhere to sit away from the sun.
We headed over to Cage the Elephant at the Honda Stage after relaxing for a couple of hours. When Cage first took the stage, it sounded terrible like he had no voice. When I found out his management had advised him to not even play Governor’s Ball because of it, I was like Fuck Yeah! After that, his raspy voice was out of sight, out of mind because he friggin’ rocked it.
Hopefully I do not catch any slack for this but Fiona Apple was amazing don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know if she’s good for festivals. We checked out her set next, and it was chill. You can tell she puts her heart and soul into her music, and of course who doesn’t love when they hear the beginning of “Criminal” come on. She closed the show out with the fan favorite, but she also played a collection of other great songs including “Fast As You Can” and “Daredevil”.
I hung around the back of Explosions in the Sky, but I really wanted to get a good spot for Modest Mouse. Modest Mouse went on at 8:30. They opened with “Paper Thin Walls” and followed it with one of my faves, ”Bury Me With It”. The band also slowed things down a couple of times playing “Dramamine” (my other fave) and “Bukowski”. Modest Mouse played clean as hell, and I couldn’t have asked for a better set list.
Closing out the festival was Beck. I’ve got two words: Holy Shit. This show was freakin’ awesome. For Beck, it seemed as though the whole crowd connected on an enjoyment level. But maybe that’s because he had the best lineup of songs in the world. Seriously, the best. Check it out:
Soul of a Man
The Golden Age
Where It’s At
See you next year, Governor’s Ball. PS special shoutout to my girlfriend, Cassie Linden, for providing me with some amazing photos. She’s the tall one of the group.