The 2013 Governor's Ball will be remembered for it's epic performances (Someone named Yeezus West played) and it's equally epic weather on Friday, with a storm so intense that the headliners were cancelled and traversing the festival grounds for the rest of the weekend would become about as precarious as possible. Had the weather been anywhere near not terrible on Friday, the fest would have been basically perfectly set up. Set times provided very few really bad conflicts and the staff was courteous and tried to be as helpful as they could be, from helping folks out of the vast ocean of mud, to making our drinks were properly strong to ensure... warmth.
Despite New York City receiving the second most rain it has ever received on a June day due to Tropical Storm Andrea hovering directly overhead all Friday, things got off to quite a start as most of the festival's attendees seemed a share a sense of "us vs. nature" camaraderie. Dance-heavy acts like Polica and Holy Ghost! did their damnedest to lift people's spirits and get them moving, and both played fantastic sets, even if there was more drunken falling down in the bog than actual dancing.
For all the negativity that the weather brought out in some cases, one band that had their ear-shattering performance accentuated nicely by the hellish storm was Canadian duo Crystal Castles. Ethan Kath and Alice Glass are basically a hellish storm on their own and songs like "Wrath Of God" seemed perfectly suited for the near-hurricane like atmosphere. There was no stage banter, just Kath intensely playing drums or keys and Alice Glass' wild gyrating that made her seem like a woman possessed... even more so than usual. It was literally raining sideways during their set and the Castles seemed to feed off the chaotic are-we-gonna-make-it-out-alive vibe in the air. In a weekend full of intense and passionate performances, Crystal Castles definitely stood out.
As I walked (stumbled) dazed from the rubble of Crystal Castles' intense set towards Feist's performance I began to noticed that people's smiles were quickly becoming hardened, $10 beer fueled scowls as the novelty of the rain quickly wore off for those of us not on Molly. As trenchfoot began to set in and my shoes started to come off with every step I took, I began wondering how much longer Randall's Island could take this, much less the audience. Supposedly the vast sea of hellish mud was a driving range before the festival... that was no longer the case as people were literally losing and then abandoning their shoes deep in the muddy abyss left and right. Lesile Feist was a trooper, but things at this point had reached an absurd level with mud and who knows what else now up to calf levels with each step, and I'd decided I'd had enough. My sentiments were echoed my many of my fellow festival goers who bravely fought the weather for as long as possible before finally letting out a collective "Fuck this!!" and heading for the gates.
Unsurprisingly by the time I reached the festival's exit Governor's Ball sent out a cell phone alert letting people know that King of Leon and Pretty Lights were going to be canceled due to the weather, and this decision was certainly for the best. KoL actually rescheduled their set for the next afternoon, which was very cool for their fans who were excited to see them, and not cool at all for people like me who now had to choose between seeing Divine Fits or The Dirty Projectors due to the schedule adjustments, but what're you gonna do?
Friday's experience left me waking on Saturday feeling like I'd fell down some stairs the night before, but the fellas in Divine Fits and Mr. John Jameson had spirits high again very quickly. Seeing as Divine Fits is a side project, I decided that the logical thing to do was catch their set, but it was very difficult not to succumb to Amber Coffman's siren song in the now beautiful Saturday afternoon. Divine Fits did not disappoint, playing most of their small but fantastic catalog, along with fun covers of Tom Petty and Frank Ocean.
After Divine Fits' set ended we were sent once more into the fray and spent the next 20 minutes or so walking like Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo through the mud and the muck to get to the other side of the fest to catch Alt-J, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Kendrick Lamar. Alt-J's unique mix of dubby electronic music and folk is apparently very popular with the bros, as it was far more packed with folks than I expected, and most of them seemed to be socializing rather listening, but such is the nature of a festival. Not wanting to hear any more jibber-jabber about the social lives of said bros and bro-ettes, we headed across the way for Edward Sharpe's absolutely on point set.
Sharpe's band is made up of not only crack back-up players, but fantastic singers as well, and Sharpe does a great job exposing all of their talents in the live setting. The massive ensemble is seemingly a perfect festival band and had folks dancing (attempting to at least given the mud) joyously to hits like "Home" and the newly released "Better Days" (watch the latter's video here). Affable frontman Alex Ebert even passed the mic to gal in the audience during "Home" and asked her to tell a story, cuteness ensued:
Next up was Kendrick Lamar's set and the MC instantly showed why he is the hottest thing in hip hop right now, delivering a blistering set that saw him deftly delivering his rhymes with a vehement and effortless flow that was impossible not to be enthralled by. Songs like "Swimming Pool (Drank)" were performed fantastically (watch the performance below), and the only thing that threatened to kill my vibe was a super-bro whipping out his tallywhacker and peeing in the middle of the packed crowd in the general direction of my friend, who was concentrating intently on rolling a joint when the splashes began. We pushed this idiot back and he went stumbling, sending a wild torrent of urine soaring into the air and angering pretty much everyone. Had Kendrick not just walked onstage this fellow probably would have received quite a beating from someone, but we had our dranks and had our music, so dude was given a pass I guess... unless someone ended up beating his ass and hiding the body in the mud, which is entirely possible.
I was incredibly excited for Animal Collective's set, as the last time I had a chance to see them at Williamsburg Park last October the show was canceled hours before showtime due to Panda Bear developing laryngitis. The band seemed in a even more exploratory mood than usual, really fleshing out several tracks to their most hypnotic and psychedelic (which is obviously saying something). While this was very cool to listen to, the beloved Brooklyn group seemed to get a little too out there, having to abort "What Would I Want? Sky" due to sound problems causing the band to drift off key as well as "The Purple Bottle" which ended the show and was cut short by the same issues, providing a couple of very strange points to an otherwise very interesting set.
Nas and Axl Rose's wax sculpture closed out Saturday, with Guns N Roses (well not actually GnR, but you know) playing a hit filled set backed by insane pyrotechnics and all of the overblown theatrics you'd expect from Madame Tussauds' only living exhibit. Native son Nas had the other half of the festival bobbing and weaving as well, and I would have loved to have seen more, but was positively exhausted by the time we lurched our way the subway like zombie extras on The Walking Dead.
Sunday we were greeted by the best weather yet, which is slightly ironic considering the storm of anticipation that was brewing about the most talked about set of the weekend by that Yeezus fellow. Upstart band Roadkill Ghost Choir was a perfect lead off act for a Sunday afternoon and no doubt the band (whom we are very into, check out all our profile of them right here and their acoustic performance in our office right here) garnered quite a few new followers with a very nice set. The trek over to Freddie Gibbs wasn't as bad as it had been the past two days with most of the ground now dried up and the concert ground only kinda smelling like barn at this point.
Next up for us were Deerhunter and their set prominently featured material from their newest record Monomania, which was written and recorded here in Brooklyn. Bradford Cox and company's latest record was prominently influenced by the likes of Bo Diddley and went surprisingly well with the afternoon sun and although I was a tad disappointed Connie Lungpin didn't show up, the Atlanta band still had plenty of weirdness in store for the audience.
The summery guitar vibes continued as we then caught a little of Gary Clarke Jr., who played his usual blues-guitar driven set to a sea of sun-drenched onlooker with smiling faces. The change in the mud situation certainly helped everyone's attitudes as exhausted (and most probably stoned) smiles covered the faces of folks traversing from stage to stage, which we soon did for Yaysayer, another of the several acts with New York ties. The Brooklyn-based psyche band kept the party atmosphere alive with a hot set consisting primarily of tracks from their dance-heavy latest LP Fragrant World, and folks took full advantage of the dry-ish mud covered dancefloor.
From what I was told by those in areas more conducive to fully experiencing the band's minimalistic sound, The XX was a fantastic, sweaty, romantic dance party, but the folks I was with weren't willing to traverse the packed out area in front of the stage, so unfortunately I only truly heard a few snippets... serious bummer. Not so much of a bummer was the gorgeous dancing blonde who gave me a whiskey soaked smile and beckoned to me to come talk to her me like some glorious indie rock siren during "Intro"... but that's another story for another time.
Next up for us was another "Home Team" in Grizzly Bear and they performed with their usual whip sharp precision, effortlessly flowing through a wonderful set of what felt like a greatest hits show considering the amount of folks singing along. The smiles and relaxed joking manner of the band were a great closeout to the afternoon and completely and utterly in contrast with the wrath of Yeezus that was about to reign down upon the island.
Aaaaannndddd then Mr. West came out. Whew. Everyone was looking forward to this set for months, and the recent revelations of West's upcoming new record Yeezus only heightened the excitement to beyond a fever pitch. All the buildup and hype came to a head as West emerged from his massive and intricate setup and launched directly into foreboding opener "Black Skinhead". The massive crowd instantly lost it to the jarring opening notes and the song's industrial sounding noise-hop (trademark pending) sound seems to be the prevailing tone for the entire new record. The huge projections of hooded figures in reverse KKK grab and a massive light show only added to the ominousness of the scene and set the vibe for the entire set.
People are going to very, very divided on the new material, I cannot stress enough how sinister and industrial the whole thing sounded. Intense, cold synths and very hard driving beats fill every song, and West's angry delivery will be very off putting for some and endlessly intriguing for others. Imagine that: Kanye West being divisive.
Perhaps knowing that everyone was happy just to still be standing at this point in the long weekend, West did a great job of mixing his setlist and combining the intense, jaw dropping new material with some of his many hits, providing just the right mix to keep the crowd spellbound throughout. West only started one real "rant" during "Clique" and by his standards it was more of an explanation for the new sounds than it was a confounding tirade against such sinister topics as Taylor Swift:
“This is the part of the show where I start complaining about shit— justify shit, you know how it is, I’m just happy to be making music, happy to be able to perform that shit for y’all. You know with this album we ain’t drop no single to radio, we ain’t got no big NBA campaign or nothing like that. Shit, we ain’t got no cover. We just made some real music and you know like, back when I used to make albums and shit. You know like, back when i used to make albums and shit like couple years ago, three years ago, four years ago we’d go away and work on our album for five months or so, and we’d have to hold the album to like, August or September or ’til the perfect moment and shit, being like, ‘I think you’re gonna sell more because you have more audience and radio and shit.’ Well honestly, when I listen to radio, that ain’t where I wanna be no more. Honestly, at this point, I could give a fuck about selling a million records as long as I put out an album this summer that y’all can rock to all motherf***ing summer. And I don’t give a fuck that the label’s saying I can sell more records. And at this point, I don’t really give a fuck about outside opinions. All I give a fuck about is my motherfucking clique."
"I Am A God"
"Send It Up"
Kanye West Setlist:
Can't Tell Me Nothing
I Am A God
Say You Will
All of the Lights
I Don't Like (Chief Keef Remix)
Send It Up
All Falls Down
Diamonds (Rihanna cover/remix)
Black Skinhead (Different version)
Like I said: whew.