Words by Audra Tracy | Photos by Michel Dussack
Cheers to fresh starts. After the mudfest at Governors Ball 2013 nearly destroyed the lush green grounds of Randall’s Island Park last year, some fans were worried about the fate of the music festival. But not only did the event’s organizers fully restore the landscaping, they came back swinging this year by booking one of the summer’s best line-ups. From Jack White to The Strokes to The Kills, it was the kind of roster that would make some music lovers run a full-on a victory lap. And this time around, the universe granted us three gloriously sunny days to take it all in.
Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer my live music to be laptop-free. You know, the kind made in real time by living, breathing human beings. The kind of performances that find artists climbing up the rafters, falling to their knees to shred a guitar solo, and knocking over mic stands in fits of rock n roll passion. Because, remember kids, computers don’t have souls.
Luckily, Governors Ball catered to my discerning taste this year with a near-perfect schedule of acts. No, they didn’t make me choose between seeing The Strokes and Jack White, because the event organizers are also living, breathing human beings that realize what a cruel move that would be. With basically every rock band pitted against an EDM or hip hop act in the same time slot, the 2014 schedule made most game-time decisions pretty damn easy.
And so, ladies and gents, here’s a breakdown of the top 10 rock performances of Governors Ball 2014:
You just can’t write a top ten rock act list without mentioning at least one British artist. Damon Albarn has endured through the decades for a reason – he knows how to put on one hell of a show! Armed with songs from his new solo album, Everyday Robots, as well as tunes from his days in Blur and Gorillaz, Albarn definitely gave OutKast some competition during Friday night’s headlining throwdown. For good measure, he even invited De La Soul to the Honda Stage to help him out on the Demon Days hit, ‘Feel Good Inc’.
Catfish & The Bottlemen
These road warriors from Wales kicked off Day 2 with a list-worthy performance at the Honda Stage on Saturday. A favorite of BBC Radio 1 taste-maker Zane Lowe, the four-piece made their mark on New York in true rock n roll fashion – dressed all in black. Middle fingers ablaze, frontman Van McCann led his band through a scathing set of rough & tumble tracks like their latest single, ‘Kathleen’. Get CATB on your radar, and find them on the Communion label, which is also home to Edward Sharpe, Caveman, Gotye, and Bad Suns.
These punks from Nashville may be new to most festival-goers, but by the second or third song into their Saturday set, Diarrhea Planet’s antics quickly drew a crowd of curious onlookers to the Big Apple Stage. A mosh-pit surged as two of the three guitarists competed for the audience’s admiration, one-upping each other by any means necessary. When one was soloing on top of the speakers, the other started rolling on the ground, soloing like a maniac. When one jumped into the crowd, the other scaled up the stage rig, recklessly reaching for punk rock glory. It’s true, Diarrhea Planet were as sick as their name.
How can you talk shop about today’s rock n roll scene without raising a lighter to Danger Mouse? When he’s not producing albums for the likes of The Black Keys, Beck, and Portugal. The Man, the Mouse with the Midas touch is making his own killer records with James Mercer of The Shins. Together Mouse + Mercer brought their band Broken Bells to the main stage for a Saturday set in the sunshine. Dressed to the nines in classy suit jackets, the duo grooved their way through ethereal compositions like ‘The Ghost Inside’ and ‘Medicine’.
Aside from their warm-up gig at Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre on May 31st, The Strokes hadn’t played a New York show since 2011. So fans were hungry. I mean, really hungry. Hungry enough to start squeezing in front of the Gov Ball Stage long before the hometown heroes were even scheduled to play. By the time The Strokes kicked off their set with ‘Barely Legal’, it felt like the entire festival had gathered to take witness. And when they pulled out the arena-ready ‘Reptilia’, all that pent up intensity came pouring out in an eruption of spraying water bottles, uncontrollable female squeals, and crowd-surfing die-hards. The faithful sang their asses off to songs from across the band’s storied catalog, including ‘Hard to Explain’, ‘Automatic Stop’,’Heart in a Cage’, ‘Machu Picchu’, and ‘Welcome to Japan’. They may have drawn the biggest crowd all weekend, and the only thing missing was Julian’s signature Ray Bans…
Saturday’s headlining set was to be Jack White’s only New York show on his summer tour, and it had the makings of every White Stripes fan’s wet dream. ‘Hotel Yorba’, ‘Icky Thump’, ‘The Hardest Button To Button’, and ‘Seven Nation Army’ were just a few of the classics that made the cut, each maintaining the edge of its original while putting a little Nashville spin on it, care of White’s steadfast backing band. With a solo record due out just a few days later, the guitar god seized the opportunity to shred our beating hearts to pieces with fresh material like the super-charged title track ‘Lazaretto’ and the scorching instrumental ‘High Ball Stepper’. Yes, White did what he does best – restore our faith in the future of rock n roll. And he somehow pulled it off while wearing a floral dress shirt and suspenders.
“Thank you so much for coming to see a band that’s only released two songs”, Jack Antonoff said to his afternoon audience at the main stage on Sunday. The guitarist from fun. and Steel Train has only played a few gigs as Bleachers, but his charismatic stage presence proved he’s an animal no matter what band he happens to be in at the moment. Antonoff egged on his audience throughout his set, managing to keep the main stage engaged despite playing songs that won’t hit the streets for another month. So naturally when Bleachers ended their set with the hit single ‘I Wanna Get Better’, fans reciprocated his unbridled energy tenfold.
The last place you were gonna find a laptop at Governors Ball was probably Frank Turner’s set on Sunday. That’s because the folk rocker from Winchester played songs from the gut, not from the motherboard. With an acoustic guitar on his back and his heart on his sleeve, Turner led his backing band The Sleeping Souls through sing-alongs about day-drinking and soul-searching. During ‘Recovery’ he tested the “advanced participation” skills of his audience, convincing the crowd to do jumping jacks in sync with the tune’s chorus. His endearing stage banter and genuine love for his trade made such a strong connection with the audience that it’s easy to see why Turner has some of the most devoted fans in the scene.
If you’re a rock fan and you’ve never heard of The Kills, you’re doing it wrong. The duo brought some serious street cred to Governors Ball this year, and their Sunday set was a definite highlight of the festival. With a team of percussionists in tow, Alison Mosshart (vox/guitar) and Jamie Hince (guitar/vox) showed New York just what a band can do with a drum machine and a little sexual tension. Amid rumors of an album in the works, The Kills kept the new riffs under wraps and instead seduced the crowd with songs from their 2011 effort, Blood Pressures, including ‘DNA’, ‘Future Starts Slow’, and the always haunting ‘Satellite’.
Foster the People
These LA rockers may only have two albums under their belt, but what they lacked in a discography they made up for in sheer enthusiasm during their Sunday evening performance. Foster the People just released Supermodel, the follow-up to their platinum debut album, and the band was eager to test out the tunes before a festival crowd. New material like ‘Ask Yourself’, ‘Coming of Age’, and ‘Best Friend’ helped fuel the all-out dance party taking place on the pavement in front of the main stage. Yes, the trio has so much more to offer than their radio smash ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, and they made sure everyone within earshot knew it.
Thank you Governors Ball, see you next year!!!
TheWaster.com | Gov Ball 2014