A year after torrential rainstorms and thunder and lightning stopped Governors Ball 2013 Day One in its track, and changed the next two days into music for a muddy swampland, the rock and roll gods smiled down on the 400 plus acres of Randall’s Island in Manhattan, and warm sunshine shone on us and all was good.
A perfect day for a music festival had a superb line up of artists to fulfill it, indeed so great that decisions were in constant flux and the main decision was, do you miss one act or sample two acts? For the most part I chose the latter and except for Janelle Monae, Ratking and Jenny Lewis, moved freely between the four stages. Between the Gov Ball app and signposts it was very easy to keep track of who was playing where, security was large but not particularly obtrusive, the opening hours made sitelines (I went VIP) easy, and later, well, less easy. But it wasn’t a jumpy vibe, like Electric Zoo last year. Maybe not mellow, but mellowish…
You should go to Festivals the same way you listen to music in 2014, sample all the goods and then research further. Even bands you really wanna see, headliners Outkast for instance, this might not be the best way to check em out. You’d have to give up too much and wait too long (I figure 90 minutes) to get really great sitelines. That would be, wow, at least four sets.
I arrived at Randall’s Island early, 1230ish, and still missed everything but the last song of Scottish indie band Haerts set. The one song was pretty good, which is more than I can say for Drowners who rushed songs and then tuned up and then rushed, plus they sounded a little off, Drowners are a melodic LES rock band of the old school, schooled in the Strokes and the Ramones, but even “Long Hair” failed to signify.
I’ve seen Killer Mike kill on stage and El-P is an excellent rapper, but I was less than thrilled by their set and cut across for Jason Isbell, who brought out Candi Staton for “I Ain’t Easy To Love” and misspoke when he claimed to have never performed “Elephant” in the sunlight before. I pulled him on it when I spoke to him during Neko Case’s set. Which reminds me, this was a perfect place to see Neko: by the time she has started to really bore with her acoustic twang, you’re gone.
Ratking gave the first great show of the day, a young three piece rap band who can get too neo and weed-y on record, were a thrill ride live with a saxophone going No Wave on their ass and joined by Wavy Spice on the showstopping penultimate “Puerto Rican Judo”. They were so good I passed on Kurt Vile to complete the Ratking show (plus I was pissed at Kurt for rudely turning down our request for an interview last year -at least lie and say you’re too busy). Washed Out were also a pleasant surprise, I wasn’t really overwhelmed by the new album but they are a fine live band and the psychedelic beauty final song of the set was very strong. I had left Bastille early, and not necessarily to see Washed Out but to not see the egotistical synth duo; a lucky move as it turns out.
Between Ratking and Bastille was Janelle Monae and while I am a fan of sorts, I’ve always felt she was a little overrated. I missed her in December 2012 to see the Rolling Stones at Prudential Center, but I really wanted this one and after catching her show it is simple: she is one of the best live performers around. Michael Jackson meets James Brown, the woman is a superb dancer, a constant whirl of motion and dance-stops. Plus she has a great band with lotsa funky horns and she sailed through her 45 minute show. It was one long showstopper but… “Electric Lady” and “Tightrope”, placed in the middle and at the end, were from another planet. She needs to record an album that matches her live show. Perhaps she should stop producing herself and ask Prince to handle the duties.
“We’re gonna play new songs from our September release” Julian Casablancas warned ten minutes into his set. “If you don’t like it there are lots of other things you can see.” So I took him at his word and left. He wasn’t bad, well, the first two songs with a vocoder weren’t bad (one on a cover of “Instant Crush”) and the band are so hard they are almost metal on a couple of other songs, but he wasn’t capturing my attention. So I went to check out Jenny Lewis and she looked… great but so what? She sounded terrific, the new songs seemed pretty good but even the stuff like “Acid Tongue” sounded much better than I remembered and, yes folks, a great “A Man/Me/Then Jim”. “Sweet to play that one”, Jenny said after the song was over, as though she hadn’t played it in a long while., though she has been playing on tour.
I had been really excited to see La Roux but the sitelines completely fucking sucked, so I hightailed it to Neko Case and became buddies with Jason Isbell. And now it was time to start in on the heavy duty first tier bands. Phoenix proved the French can rock with a high energy set, fun but going through the numbers and Damian Marley kept covering his daddy’s songs, not a bad idea (better than his own songs, that’s for damn sure) but his voice is too gruff.
This is the third time I’ve seen TV On The Radio, who haven’t been around for awhile anyway, and this was actually the best. The Central Park gig was ruined by rain and the Radio City Music Hall hurt by the death of bassist Gerard Smith from cancer. This was the one. Tunde Adebimpe was big time and the band were not the experimental didgeridoo dahs they can be, this was a hard rock funk conglomeration. I still left to check out Grimes, who was also loud, and had dancers, and gave her all but the “Gotham Tent” (La Roux played their as well) is the worst of the stages and I finished off at TV On The Radio.
The “GovBallNYC Stage” had been running 15 minutes late since the Run The Jewels set, and since I never even considered missing TV On The Radio and Grimes to wait for Outkast, I caught the start of the Damon Albarn, “Lonely Press Play” and “Everyday Robots” -two songs off the new album, both of which I actively dislike, yet… Albarn walked to the edge of the stage and joined his (relatively) tiny audience (everybody was at Outkast) . It was a good move, reminded you why Damon is so good on stage. Even sucky material he can bring to live. I remember him doing the same thing with Blur at Roseland, the difficult 13 should have been a disaster but he completely pulled it off.
Two songs were enough and so I headed to Outkast only to discover I’d lost my only set of keys, I rushed around Randall’s Island looking for a tiny set of keys among 400 acres and 70,000 people and hassling Helen Bach to call a locksmith. Finally, a Hail Mary if there ever was one, I went to Lost And Found and they were there. But it means I missed more of Outkast than I had planned to do. I got there for a terrific “Ms. Jackson” and also in time for the solo draggy stuff. Andre 3000 claimed to be already losing his voice. I stayed through “Hey Ya” and headed home, not quite thrilled enough with what I’d seen, but not close to disappointed. Much like the day as a whole.
Day One: A-
Haerts – B
Drowners – C
Jason Isbell – B
Run The Jewels – C
Ratking – A-
Janelle Monae – A
Bastille – D+
Washed Out – B
Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – C+
Jenny Lewis – A-
La Roux – B
Neko Case – C+
Phoenix – C+
Damian Marley – C
TV On The Radio – B+
Grimes – B-
Damon ALbarn – B-
Outkast – B-
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