This is the 10th anniversary of Governors Ball and I’ve been there eight times and yesterday was one of the best. Not because it had the best artists, but because it was a better location than Randall’s Island, because the weather was stunning all day long, because New York City was ready for a day like this, because every featured musician gave their all, because it had pretty excellent sightlines, and because I…
Of the artists I saw, I did a run of Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist, Future Islands and Kehlani which was as great as I’ve ever seen and none of whom I have seen before. I’m a huge Future Islands fan, but Freddie never really did it for me and Kehlani was an also ran pop princess. But all three were brilliant yesterday and I didn’t see even one bad set all day (and night).
The vibe was overwhelmingly positive, with maybe 70% female (probably because of Billie), overwhelmingly white, well heeled, and ready for a strong mix of indie rockers and pop stars. The Citi Field parking lot, where Gov Ball 2021 is happening, was all dressed up. I went down the steps of the subway station from the 7 train and it was as though I was stepping back 18 months. Yes, they carefully inspected our vaccination passports but once that was over it was more like the entrance to DisneyWorld than anything human, and the festival was a coming out party for Generation Z; I was one of the few people there born in the 20th Century.
The space was cut in two, with two stages on one side of the parking lot and two on the other, and the musicians setting up on the one while the other stage was being used. That means that all the sets except for the headliners, overlapped. I spent the day dashing between stages and first up for me was white rapper, nineteen year old Bankroll Hayden who performed a fine set of average emo rap from the charming guy, covering much of his debut album Pain Is Temporary (Grade: B), 99 Neighbors are an electronic hip hop collective delving into hits and hooks and rock guitar with one member rocking a Sylvia Plath Tee (Grade: B-); I wish I had spent more time with RMR, the lead singer wears a ski mask and has a great voice, he sounds like Rob Thomas meets Dave Matthews only gruffer, and the set was an exciting splash of urban meets Red States with a “3AM” interlope on “The Wishing Hour” (Grade: B+); I love “Rubber Band” as much as I love “Driver’s License” but Tate McRae stuck between a synth and a bass player, and backing tapes, and two dancers, just isn’t that good (Grade: C+), Tate echoed Halsey’s comment from a coupla years ago, just three years ago she was in the audience, she seemed a little mind blown, as did Sasha Alex Sloan, the sadgirl who was clearly nervous (actually, admittedly nervous) amplified by her parents being in the audience , she was born to play acoustic guitar and cry into the mic but this being 2021 she meets her songs halfway and comes across as a talented winner, “Old” is a great song (Grade: B+); EarthGang were lively and though ten years older than your average bear the Atlanta duo were all over the stage with a fistful of singalongs (Grade: B); Orville Peck is the masked country tenor, think Scotty McCreery, but cooler all around… but I’m not crazy about his songs… he may have played “Born This Way” ) but if he did I missed it (Grade: B). I missed it because Freddie Gibbs is a guy who can clearly rap very, very well and not just flow, he is a prolific rhyming machine and he brought The Alchemist along with him, (they recorded Alfredo together in 2020) and I have no idea how I missed this guy, considering him an art rapper OG and not worth my attention but he wasn’t yesterday, his flow was surreally great and he carried his toddler through “Baby $hit”, and he was a fun and smart performer – I intend to catch him the next time he performs here (Grade: A).
Future Islands’ lead singer Scott Herring did the same thing I did, he went straight from the Freddie Gibbs set to his own, and Future Islands are like a peppier Real Estate with a terrific lead singer and MC who is shockingly energetic and fun on stage and has a back catalog now that he can lean on and a currentish (2020) album, As Long As You Are Here, and a new single “Peaches” which they performed very well (Grade: A-)
I remember seeing Kehlani once, opening somewhere, or maybe a Tidal event, anyway it was a pleasure to see the striking woman again, with tattoos all over her, up to her jawbone, she has something of the badass about her and though she is essentially EDM pop yet exudes so much cool she jumps genres, the set highlights were all songs she is featured on, Zedd’s “Good Thing”, Cardi B’s “Ring” (she shouted out Cardi B who recently had a baby boy), and T-Pain’s “I Like Dat” and otherwise kept to her hits, delivered them with the same passion and excitement every artist exuded (Grade: A-). As for 24Goldn, I’d considered the twenty year old an also ran who hit lucky with “Mood” and has no follow ups. Perhaps he is, but not on stage where he was a lovely presence with overwhelmingly good vibes (as a comparison, I saw A$AP Fergie here a coupla years where his “show us your boobs” shouts were nasty and 1999). The kid is a cool breeze who responded to a tech problem with “I’m gonna sing through it, ain’t nothing gonna stop me”) and his game playing (left side shout “Coco”, right side “Chanel”) brought back something I was sick off five years ago but have no problems with today. It’s just a pity that Governors Ball dumped DaBaby before he expressed his wising up to his homophobia, so we didn’t see them together.
I missed Bartees Strange because I screwed up the stage, and I missed Leon Bridges because he is Leon Bridges, I missed Rufus De Sol because I was tired and had no intention of sitting still for 75 minutes of these guys, and Billie Eilish because I’ve already seen her four times and wasn’t crazy about either her Apple + documentary, nor her Disney+ concert nor her current album (with exceptions, “Billie’s Bossa Nova” is so good). Also, cmon, we’re not kids here: NYC is the biggest market in the country if not the world, she has been holding off adding another show till after Gov Ball (and Sunday’s Global Citizen), but we will see her back here sooner not later. Meanwhile, here is a pix from Billie’s set I didn’t take
But the real reason is that I arrived at one and left at 630 and I’m 64 so color me tired out. Today, I plan to arrive two and a half hours later later and make it AT LEAST till J Balvin, and hopefully till A$AP Rocky. Either way, I had a thoroughly good time and just for organization plus good luck, it was one of the best times I’ve had at the festival.
Governors Ball 2021, Day One – A
24Goldn – B+
Bankroll Hayden – B
EarthGang – B
Freddie Gibbs And The Alchemist – A
Future Islands – A-
Orville Peck – B
RMR – B
Sasha Alex Sloan – B+
Tate McRae – C+
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