CONCERT REVIEW: Governors Ball is better and better each year

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First Posted: 6/9/2014

Governors Ball has consistently outdone itself each year, in the best possible way. Self-contained on New York City’s Randall’s Island, the festival offers three days of contemporary music, outdoor activities, and NYC’s best food vendors from June 6-8. Accessible through public transportation, bike paths, and a festival-run bus and ferry system, the event draws both a local and national crowd.

After last year’s unfortunate weather, Randall’s Island managed to be more or less restored from the island-wide mud puddle that was the 2013 festival. 2014 apparently cashed in on some good weather karma for what turned out to be a gorgeous three days under the nearly summer sun that shined all weekend on this year’s sold-out crowd. And it was a good weekend to be part of that crowd, including a roster of fantastically eccentric acts.

Outkast celebrated their 20th anniversary of stanking up speakerboxxxes by closing out the first night of the fest. André 3000 is known for his for his eccentricity, from his zany lyrics to his phenomenal stage presence to his impossibly delightful wardrobe aesthetic. Three Stacks himself was everything Friday night in a platinum wig, an exaggerated price tag hanging from his black jumpsuit, and a tee reading the question on everyone’s mind — “ART OR FART?”

Big Boi dazzled in a suit of every other color across the spectrum while the two glided, bounced, and spun through an incredible show. The ATLiens opened their hit-riddled set with an explosive “B.O.B.,” followed by crowd thrillers like “Rosa Parks,” “Ms. Jackson,” “The Way You Move,” “Hey Ya!,” “Hootie Hoo,” “So Fresh So Clean,” and a finale-tastic “The Whole World.”

Past Big Boi collaborators also contributed to Friday’s lineup of eccentric artists. El-P and Killer Mike are rounding out their first year as Run the Jewels, a nod to an LL Cool J lyric. Run the Jewels paired their complimentary hip-hop styles to deliver an 808-rich, steady bounce during their Friday afternoon set.

The consistently spectacular Janelle Monáe teased the audience with her toe-tapping single, “Tightrope,” sans Big Boi — but the crowd didn’t even miss Big’s booming voice as the Electric Lady herself pranced and strutted through an impeccably spot-on performance.

Jenny Lewis returned in her sunny Cali girl style after a bit of a hiatus following the split of Rilo Kiley and the release of Jenny and Johnny’s “I’m Having Fun Now.” Decked out in the very same Rainbow Brite, ice-cream-dream suit from the cover of her new album, “The Voyager,” Lewis cruised through a set list shining with crowd favorites from the Rilo Kiley days, solo work from “Acid Tongue,” and a taste of her latest LP. Many of Lewis’ crowd crossed the field to the Big Apple stage for Neko Case’s set. Case played across her discography, with the occasional punky or banjo-tinged twist on certain songs. Tapping her toes in skeleton-bone leggings, Case kept the crowd laughing with her clever, crass sense of humor, which was recently showcased on Comedy Central’s @midnight, an improv comedy panel show.

Grimes brought her spooky cuteness, an appropriately ethereal light show, and ribbon dancers to the Gotham Stage. An artificial breeze played with her hair throughout her dancing, key configuring, and siren songs, giving off the vibe of a saccharine sea witch.

Saturday brought even more madness with equally killer sets by a super sharp lineup, including recording quality rock from New York partyboys The Strokes, a full band backing Broken Bells — the always-on brainchild of James Mercer and Danger Mouse — and Austin rockers Spoon, teasing with new cut “Knock Knock Knock” from their forthcoming album.

Chance the Rapper wooed his crowd with endearing banter between his smooth beats and even more endearing delivery. Sleigh Bells ran their anthemic hits, keeping the crowd active as the sun sunk beneath the sky. The audience then parted ways to either dance until they saw stars with spaceship DJ Skrillex or to swoon in the twilight of Jack White’s blue moon.

White’s set, backed by a band with a distinct Third Man Records aesthetic, ran through several old favorites, incorporating songs by The White Stripes and The Raconteurs in addition to several tracks from his first solo LP, “Blunderbuss,” and a few from the most recent release, “Lazaretto.” Each rendition tasted of bluegrass tinged with White’s frantic vocals and frenzied riffs.

In an exceptionally good mood, White even waxed poetic for a moment, recalling the sunset behind the stage as he crossed the bridge to Randall’s Island from Manhattan, wrapping up his tangent with, “Usually, I don’t like festivals. But this felt good.”

During a bit of offstage time, the crowd began chanting an onomatopoeic string of “oh”s in time to the bassline in the White Stripe’s megahit, “Seven Nation Army.” White, whose set lists are decided organically onstage, ended the night by honoring the subtle song request and blasting the speakers with the 2003 hit. Afterward, Jack paused to thank both Broken Bells and The Strokes, crediting Julian Casablancas for choosing the floral print button-down he sported beneath his suspenders.

“Icky Thump,” the White Stripes song that thudded over the field Saturday night, made its way back to Randall’s Island Sunday afternoon, receiving a bump in the lyrics of Earl Sweatshirt’s “Molasses.” Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All, a.k.a. Odd Future, also operating under the alias of Golf Wang, et al, was represented by both Earl Sweatshirt and by the scowling face of the OFWGKTA collective himself, Tyler, the Creator.

Earl’s set on the Honda Stage warmed up the rusty crowd and prepped them to run across to the Big Apple tent for part two with Tyler. The Odd Future crew got the crowd to rush the stage as they dipped into songs from their duo, EarlWolf, before Tyler announced, “If you want s—t to continue, I’m gonna be on that stage in three minutes. Let’s go!”

Both Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator invited each other onstage for what appeared to be just a couple’a besties improvising. Earl mistook a pair of panties thrown onstage for a bandage. Tyler, the Creator called out the VIP section for being entitled while Earl approached the general admission crowd, happily shouting, “Hello, regular Americans!” The guys of OFWGKTA have a reputation for shockingly abrasive, dismissive lyrics, but their self-aware sense of humor was evident. “All right,” preempted the guys, “these next four songs — we’re going to hell, Governors Ball. We’re going to a bad place.” The crowd followed along happily.

The Governors Ball stage buzzed and bounced with sunshiny bands Sunday evening, including indie folk sweethearts The Head and the Heart and pumped-up kickers Foster the People, before welcoming the festival’s closing band, New York City’s own Vampire Weekend. With a set list that answered the prayers of fans new and old — featuring everything from “Holiday” to “Diane Young” to “Diplomat’s Son” to “Oxford Comma” to “Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)” — and a beautifully bourgeois stage setup reflecting their album art, the quartet tied a static-electric satin ribbon around the pretty package of Governors Ball 2014.

As most festivalgoers can attest, even with an amazing lineup, great eats, and fun promo games, the fest experience can be overwhelming — but not with Governors Ball. The app improved an already positive event experience, keeping fans up to date and informed regarding everything from food options to popular choices in the day’s bands. Guests could curate a schedule with a constantly running reminder of who was taking or leaving the four stages. As many events are wont to include, there was also a streaming Instagram feed displaying all the smiling, painted, and sunburned faces of the happy crowd dancing, playing games, schmoozing, boozing, and just plain vibing the tunes and the June sun.

If you haven’t yet, check the website at, download the app, and watch out for next year’s tickets before they’re sold out for what promises to be an amazing festival.