I was in two minds as to whether to make day three of Governors Ball, it was an unpleasant, brisk, and overcast day, threatening rain at any moment. It wasn’t Eminem that got me there in the end. It was Lil Uzi Vert. If there is a better definition of rap as pop art than Lil Uzi Vert, I have yet to meet it. Three lines deep, after arriving 45 minutes early, for the set at American Eagle (easily the smallest stage at Gov Ball), it was clear the producers had underestimated the size of LUV’s fan base.
Up close and personal with the class of 2018, it was the wildest bunch of kids I’ve seen since Odd Future at Terminal 5 in 2011 (here). There was a tiny girl banging into me, there were some hardcore frat boys screaming, there were some Timothée Chalamet lookalikes, tall skinny boys, towering over me, and there was a barely a siteline to be had. Before even the start time the insanely excited audience are chanting for Uzi, and when it does begin what they get is fifteen minutes of DJPForReal (his dad is Prince Paul -who produced De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising) and while I am, as a rule of thumb, vehemently against that tired old waste of time DJs warming up for rappers, I’ll make an exception for a man who could make an already insanely excited bunch of kids completely lose their shit. In the early 1990s I went to see Hole at Roseland and got pushed from one end of the floor to the other in a vicious mosh pit. I wasn’t expecting one at this show but that’s what I got, though less a mosh pit than a wild pogoing and falling call to arms. I hated it of course, but I couldn’t bring myself to move.
This is such a great time for hip hop, and the competition is so insane, but Lil Uzi Vert has to be among the top five musicians in the US. On record, his songs are dark and brooding tracks with Uzi’s sing speak raps on top. Listen to “Do What I Want,” a low key banger, strong enough but not an anthem, now listen to a couple of thousands screaming “Now I do what I want, now I do what I want” at the top of their voices and the skittish beat that tinkles in the back of the recording completely obliterated, it is to note how his fans deform and reform his trap beats and sound collages into a whole other thing. I wasn’t overwhelmed by Lil Uzi’s performance, it was energetic and unapologetic, and he was absolutely the rockstar he claims to be, but with just a PC and a DJ there was a level of indifference not to the songs but to the sounds, to the actual singing, that, while not Broward County rough, was nothing special. “XO Tour Llif3” is a sad song about fame, drugs, Uzi’s break up with his girlfriend, and suicide. On stage it is all about the “All my friends are dead” hook. Stranger, I’ve seen Migos take “Bad And Boujee” very seriously on stage but Uzi, who is the featured artist on the huge single, turns it into another singalong. Perhaps, not worse, it is a different experience, but stranger, Uzi’s heartbreaking masterwork “The Way Life Goes,” which features his single most gorgeous chorus, a song where he should have stopped the set cold and just sing, it was the biggest singalong of the evening. I guess he couldn’t have stopped the kids if he had wanted to. It’s like that now.
I stayed to the end of Lil Uzi and I knew it was gonna fuck up sitelines for Eminem but hey… The first time I saw Shady was in 1999 (a little late, admittedly) though I’ve caught him every time he’s played New York since then so… But I am gonna deal with some other acts before I discuss what I considered a disappointment. I arrived in time for Margo Price, the young country singer, a part of the entire movement and undoubtedly one of the reasons Steve Earle told me that women were the best thing about modern country. On her sophomore album, already, she was old school all the way with a good country rock band behind her and a way with a should be singalong like “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle)”. By the end of the set, she was sitting behind the drums and the band were hard jamming. The all American Teen Khalid was a fun show, with a great voice, shouting out the Class of 2018 (the 20 year old is Class Of 2016). rocking his biggest hits, and rocking a “Son Of Immigrants” tee, Khalid was energetic, a good mover, and lots of fun on biggies like “American Teen,” “Young, Dumb, And Broke” and the current single “OWO”. When he quieted things down on a “Saved” he lost me. It has been six years since “Impregnable Question” and since then Dirty Projector’s Dave Longstreth has broken up with the woman who inspired it Amber Coffman, and while I can see no reason why it should be they have failed to maintain the standard without her in the band, they haven’t managed to. Dirty Projectors’ off key, semi-experimental sound is getting a little old and they were a bore live. N.E.R.D. might want to think they are Funkadelic without the horns, but they are just an iffy dance band though better live than on record… they played “Lemon” twice.
Which leaves me back with Eminem. The word is that the Em and Ree show at MetLife in 2014 wasn’t up to much, I, myself, thought it was terrific (here) and by the second song, “Square Dance” -that shout of “peeepol,” always gets to me, I was ready for a repeat, he cut out after the first verse. He did the same crap with “Kill You”. And so it went, Eminem was in great voice, rapping simply world class, but his new stuff doesn’t cut it and he only gave us tasters of the hits. That, and the fact that if I really wanted to review it I shoulda stayed home and streamed it, left me as cold as the weather. And, during a weekend without many guests anywhere, he brought out 50 Cents?
I hit the road… another year over and done.
Margo Price – B
Khalid – B
Dirty Projectors – C+
N.E.R.D. – C+
Lil Uzi Vert – B+
Eminem – B-
Day 3: B
Governors Ball 2018: B+
I was happier because I knew I was happy
a snapshot of big hits and high tides, mostly high tides.
There is just a lot to love
the sound seemed to erupt from every side of the room
still on top
“danceable music for the end of days”
contracts its world in Nashisms
let’s take what we are offered
It’s the music, stupid