New York has seemingly been cursed in regards to big music festivals. For a state that produced the most iconic music festival ever, the city so nice they named it twice has not been able to get its festival on. There was the failed attempt to bring Britain’s Field Day a decade ago, which ended up at Giants Stadium with half of the artists intended (though that still included the likes of Radiohead, Beastie Boys, and Blur…). Coachella tried to come east in 2008 with All Points West (QRO ‘08 photos), which only lasted two years at Liberty State Park in New Jersey (difficulty in getting there and ridiculous alcohol restrictions didn’t help). In 2011, Music To Know Festival in the Hamptons was canned before it could happen, thanks to poor ticket sales (QRO preview of what would have been). That same year’s Governors Ball (QRO ’11 recap) had to move off of Governors Island the next summer to Randall’s (QRO ’12 recap), and its fellow Randaller that year, Catalpa (QRO recap), never came back. Oh, and there were also drug scares at Camp Bisco upstate in 2013 (QRO recap) that have caused it not to return this year, while actual drug deaths on Randall’s at Electric Zoo last September cancelled the final day.
And then, last year, even as Governors grew from one to two to a massive three-day event, it was hit by the city’s biggest storm since Sandy on Day One, forcing that day to close early, and leaving Randall’s a sea of mud for the final two (QRO recap). One could have been forgiven to just tell all tri-state area residents to give up on staying local, and just pack their camping gear for Coachella or Bonnaroo (or worse, visit Chicago, for Lollapalooza).
But instead, Governors Ball returned in 2014 in a major flourish – and major sun! Yes, it was hot on Randall’s Island all the way through, but that island was dry so you couldn’t complain. It was also still easy to get to (go from the busiest island in the world to a grassy festival with just a five-minute shuttle ride), and had four stages of great music, Friday-to-Sunday, June 6th to 8th:
Under the hot sun of the final day of Governors Ball, SKATERS closed their Strokes-sounding set, though with some harder/wilder breakdowns. The rays worked in favor of the sunnier Caribbean sounds of Wild Belle. In particular favor of Wild Belle live in general is that they know how to handle saxophone solos from sax/keyboardist Elliott Bergmann – singer/guitar/sister Natalie Bergmann (QRO interview with both) takes a step back while Elliott leaves his keys, picks up his sax, steps forward, and crowd cheers.
(less of a cause for the crowd to cheer? Saw a fan get his about-to-be-lit joint taken away by a spotter/narc in security…)
The heart of the afternoon had competing sets by artists with mostly very different fan bases. While Frank Turner mixed between sounding like Celtic-rock or Coldplay, at the same time Earl Sweatshirt sweated to some beats. Those Sweatshirt fans (and Earl himself) migrated en masse from the Honda Stage to the Big Apple Stage for fellow Odd Future (QRO live review) member Tyler, the Creator, who did what Tyler, the Creator does (so many pale white arms in the air…). Meanwhile there was a dance party under the Gotham Tent for AlunaGeorge, which was followed up at the main stage by the sweet, if not exactly gripping Americana of The Head and The Heart (or J. Cole back on the Honda Stage).
Saturday might have had Jack White, but Sunday had The Kills! While Mr. White has gone full-on guitar god, Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart have stayed truer to their roots (and stayed in their duo, though Mosshart’s worked with White in The Dead Weather – QRO album review). The visceral set saw Mosshart jerk and whip her bleach blonde hair (with dark roots), though her sleeves managed to stay rolled up this time. Of special note were the foursome of drummers on floor toms behind the band (in addition to the ‘regular’ drum kit), who would each put their sticks up in an ‘X’ any moment not drumming – it’s a particularly interesting move live, because one focuses on Hince & Mosshart, so only gradually notices the background sight.
Sunday skewed younger, at least in the acts on the main stage, as the band in the slot there before the headliner was Foster the People, who’ve apparently made it as far as Phoenix or The Strokes based on just two albums (and some hit singles). Still, it was a large, engaged crowd, and the band’s good songs sounded great, even if the other songs sounded a little filler-y.
The best in indie-rock at Governors was reserved for the Big Apple Stage on the other side of the festival, which closed out ’14 with New York’s Interpol. Maybe they’ve never quite matched breakthrough Turn On the Bright Lights, but when has anyone ever matched their breakthrough? They did start with old songs, thank you, but also had some new ones from their upcoming fall release, and they sounded vital – indeed, the whole set did. Interpol have been accused of resting on their too-cool-for-school laurels, but now very post-Carlos D. (their former bassist, who at times seemed too cool for anything…), they’re embracing action – guitarist Daniel Alexander Kessler seemed active and even enjoying himself on stage.
The first band to return to the four-year-old Governors Ball, Empire of the Sun of course brought their spectacle again (QRO photos at Governors Ball ’11), even under the Gotham Tent, with costumes & dancers & everything.
Ending Governors Ball ’14 was Vampire Weekend, and ooh, everyone was excited. The Ivy-pop band might not be Jack White or OutKast, but Sunday had been for newer acts (and calling White & ‘Kast ‘old’ is a highly relative statement). And they were certainly fun for their many, many fans – and cousins.
-words: Ted Chase
-photos: Gloria Lee & Ted Chase