Beck performs at the Governor's Ball at Randall's Island in New York.
Governor’s Ball 2012, Randall’s Island, New York, NY, June 23rd & 24th, 2012
Beck, Fiona Apple, Modest Mouse, Passion Pit, Phantogram & more,
Jul 13, 2012
Photography by Robert Kidd Web Exclusive
Randall's Island, situated in the East River just between Queens and The Bronx, was at one time home to an asylum, an orphanage, a potter's field, a juvenile reform school, and a rest home for Civil War vets. Now joined with nearby Ward's Island by landfill, it's the site of picturesque parks, the Icahn track stadium, various public facilities and athletic fields, and the 2012 Governor's Ball. Named for Governor's Island, this year's festival had outgrown its previous site and moved to the more conveniently-reachable Randall's Island to the North. With a full weekend of music spread across two stages with no overlapping sets, chances were there would be at least a few bands one would be eager to see, as well as a few surprises.
Saturday kicked off a day of dance, electronic music, and hip-hop. Despite muggy temperatures hovering near 90 degrees, the first day saw the most pumped crowds, who arrived ready to jump around regardless of sun and heat. Santigold braved through an unspecified illness to speed through a high-energy set, mixing in cuts such as "L.E.S. Artistes" and "Creator" from her first album with a selection from this spring's Master of My Make-Believe. She took the stage with a pair of hard-working back-up dancers, who underwent a mid-set costume change, slung around prop sledgehammers, and at one point danced with two crew members sharing a single horse costume. Santigold set the bar high for the day's stage shows, and would only be topped by Major Lazer (here, Diplo plus Walshy Fire and Jillionaire), who had their own wild dancers in tow, as well as one of those Flaming Lips bubbles for walking out over the audience.
The day's loudest performance came in the form of a DJ set by James Murphy and Pat Mahoney's Special Disco Version. The former LCD Soundsystem frontman and drummer set out to create a block party atmosphere for their mid-afternoon set, requesting that their sound people turn up their volume until the bass was rattling audience members half way across the festival grounds. Their 45-minute show was a first-day festival highlight, spinning together a wide variety of vinyl bin-diving finds, from weird Italo disco cuts to obscure Talking Heads covers.
Passion Pit were the evening's headliners—though, strangely, not the last act of the night—playing old tracks and previewing new ones ("I'll Be Alright," "Take A Walk") from the upcoming Gossamer. Despite some minor sound issues, the band put on a crowd-pleasing set of sugary dance-pop under cotton candy-colored lights. Other late-Saturday performers included electro-funk act Chromeo, hip-hop unit Atmosphere, DJ duo Duck Sauce, and rapper Kid Cudi (who seemed to be cut off by surprise when the house turned up the lights and pumped in music on the PA system during his performance).
Day two featured an assortment of bands oriented more on the indie rock and mainstream ends of the spectrum. Early in the afternoon, electronic rock duo Phantogram played a very loud set that included all four of their singles ("When I'm Small," "Don't Move," "As Far As I Can See," "Mouthful of Diamonds") and an unnamed new song. A now short-haired Devendra Banhart played later before a lazy Sunday afternoon crowd, many of whom were content to take in his mostly-mellow selection of tunes while lounging on beach towels across the festival grounds. This laid-back vibe changed as soon as the Honda Stage was taken over by Cage the Elephant, whose singer didn't let an extremely hoarse voice stop him from screaming his way through what he said would be their final show of the year.
Fiona Apple opened with a little bit of dancing before diving into her early evening set, which included early classics ("Criminal," "Sleep to Dream") and three songs from her excellent new Idler Wheel... ("Daredevil," "Anything We Want," "Every Single Night"). Judging purely by the number of people in the audience singing along to every song, Apple probably drew the second most fans to the festival specifically to see her, only after Modest Mouse. Isaac Brock and crew managed to blaze through 14 songs in just over an hour, touching on each of their five albums ("Dashboard" was an energetic high point) and sending their many fans in the crowd—at times, it felt like at least one in five clothed attendees was wearing a Modest Mouse T-shirt—into a frenzy. The only ones who may have gone home unsatisfied were a small contingent of audience members off stage right continuously requesting "Float On" at the top of their lungs, but whose wish was not granted. Other Saturday performances included indie vets Built to Spill, instrumental rockers Explosions in the Sky, and gauzy, girl group-influenced duo Cults.
Beck headlined night two, which had cooled down to an almost-chilly temperature and picked up a steady rainfall. Playing his first NYC show since the Modern Guilt tour, his set was heavy on Odelay—seven full songs, including a recently-uncommon performance of "Hotwax"—and his post-2000 albums, particularly Guero ("Black Tambourine," "Girl," "E-Pro") and Modern Guilt ("Soul of a Man," "Modern Guilt," "Gamma Ray"). Beck also acknowledged 2012 as the 10th anniversary of Sea Change, who he was proud to have recorded with his current touring band (Justin Meldal-Johnson, Joey Waronker, Smokey Hormel, Roger Manning), and played "Lose Cause," "The Golden Age," and "Sunday Sun" from that album. He may not dance as much as he used to, and his strange banter may have died down a bit, but it was a very satisfying set that touched a lot of bases; even the non-fans who stuck around were able to get down and sing along in Spanish when Beck broke into "Loser." Beck's set was a perfect cap for a long, diverse weekend of music, and I doubt many attendees really minded walking home in the pouring rain after it ended.