Governors Ball 2016: Highlights & Observations | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Father John Misty, HAIM, M83, Beck

Governors Ball 2016: Highlights & Observations,

Jun 06, 2016 Web Exclusive
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Weather is almost always the headliner of any outdoor music festival. With New York’s Governors Ball—situated on a thin strip of land in the East River known as Randall’s Island—this seems to be especially true. (I have a hard time recalling which acts played during the grand deluge of 2013’s festival, but I distinctly remember our photographer emerging from a flooded photo pit like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now.)

This year’s festivities were no exception. After a beautiful opening day on Friday, heavy downpours sent revelers running for what little shelter the grounds provided. Worse yet, Sunday’s attendees spent their mornings anxiously refreshing the GovBall website for updates, only to find the entire day’s activities canceled shortly following the strike of noon. It was certainly a bummer—especially for people excited to catch Sunday’s particularly stacked lineup, which included Courtney Barnett, CHVRCHES, Bat For Lashes, surprise guests Prophets of Rage, and Death Cab for Cutie (not to mention headliner Kanye West, who—judging by merch sales alone—was by far the fest’s primary draw.)

Of course, the festival is not at fault for the crappy weather. Governors Ball did the right thing by pulling the plug when the forecast looked dangerous, while the possibility of someone being struck by lightning during “Touch the Sky” looked very real. No one wants to go out that way. (Probably no one.) Credit card refunds are being issued to those who purchased tickets, except for those poor schmoes who purchased from scalpers, who it seems will be getting a bonus payday. (Don’t solicit scalpers, kids. You’re only encouraging them.)

Below you’ll find photos and highlights from a truncated Governors Ball 2016.

Beck pays tribute to Prince, Bowie… and Kraftwerk (!?)

I’ve had the good fortune of seeing Beck nearly a dozen times since the late ‘90s, and I can’t recall a bad show in the bunch. He curates his set lists very well, grabbing hits as well as deeper cuts from nearly era of his career, meaning there should be something to satisfy fans of every age and caliber. (This was my ten-month-old daughter’s first rock show, and she danced as hard to “Hell Yes” as the crowds who flipped out to the opening slide riff of “Loser.”) Beck took an emotional time out mid-set to share the story of his on-stage hug with Prince during last year’s Grammy ceremony. He followed that tale with a cover “Raspberry Beret,” complete with audience sing-along.

The covers didn’t stop there, though; his band introductions somehow morphed into a loose medley of cover songs, with snippets of Prince’s “1999,” Bowie’s “China Girl,” and Kraftwerk’s “Computer World.” I was expecting to hear his latest single, “Wow”—released the day before his performance—but it was a no-show. (He did play “Dreams,” though.) At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if that electronic, rocking spiritual successor to Odelay he’s been teasing for years now is what we’ve been hearing parceled out as these orphan singles such as “Wow,” “Defriended,” “Timebomb,” and “Dreams.”

Action Bronson introduces special guest star Mario Batali

Those arriving early on Friday to catch an afternoon set from Queens rapper Action Bronson couldn’t have found a better way to kick off their two-day summer festival. I can’t vouch for whether he was cranking up his energy levels as a special treat for his hometown audience or if his shows are just this insane everywhere he goes, but the guy’s performance was just nuts—bellowing through high-octane hits like “Actin’ Crazy” and “Strictly 4 My Jeeps” and even going full Gallagher and smashing a watermelon that somehow found its way on stage.

Partway into his show, he brought Mario Batali onstage and personally endorsed the celebrity chef’s fancy grilled cheese stand, Mario by Mary, which was set up near the East Gate. (I’d planned on grabbing the buffalo grilled cheese sandwich there for lunch on Sunday, but rain spoiled those intentions, too. THANKS, WEATHER.) I’d trust Action Bronson’s food recommendations any day, what with his F*ck, That’s Delicious cookbook coming out sometime next year.

Father John Misty struts like a champ

Father John Misty is a performer I somehow haven’t managed to catch since his Fleet Foxes days, despite both of his records being near the top of my favorite albums lists during their respective release years. Watching him strut, drop to his knees, and swing his microphone about like a nunchuk throughout his entire set makes it difficult to imagine how this guy was ever able to share a stage with others—he’s such a ham, and obvious frontman material.

De La Soul thanks the old guys, shames the photo pit

Like Action Bronson the day before them, De La Soul knew how to work their hometown audience. Maseo opened the show by thanking the fans in the audience who’d been supporting them since 1989—which were mostly a few older guys somewhere in the back of the crowd—before Dave and Posdnuos joined him for a set which spanned their entire career.

It got a little awkward in the photo pit when De La Soul cut off their second song multiple times because one of my fellow photographers wouldn’t put down his camera to bounce his hands in the air—they were definitely serious about not continuing until everyone joined the party, which led to opened bottles of Vitamin Water—I hope it was Vitamin Water—being chucked into the photo area. (C’mon, man. If bona fide hip hop legends stop their song to personally ask you to bounce your hands, you gotta bounce ‘em, dude!)

HAIM go HAM despite the showers

Those masses gathered for HAIM’s early evening performance witnessed an odd meteorological phenomenon, as rain seemed to begin just as they began, and end as soon as they were done playing. (Este Haim made a nice gesture of dumping a water bottle over her head out of solidarity with her soaked fans.) Like Beck, the sisters paid tribute to the late Prince with a great cover of “I Would Die 4 U,” which was only topped by the audience’s bonkers reaction to Days Are Gone hit “The Wire.”

As with a few recent tour stops, they used the crowd as a test audience for a few new songs, including “Nothing’s Wrong” and “Give Me Just A Little of Your Love.” As I’m the type who prefers to wait for an official release over listening to a blown-out cell phone recording uploaded to YouTube, it was my first time experiencing the new material. (If you’re not the waiting type, just about every live performance of the tunes so far seem to be online.) A new album can’t come soon enough.

M83 close out Saturday night with a colorful dance party

Current Under the Radar cover star Anthony Gonzalez took the stage with M83 to close out the second (and unexpectedly final) night of Governors Ball 2016. By the time his set began at 9pm it had been raining heavily on and off for more than an hour, turning the festival grounds into a muddy mess and creating more than a few huge, impassable puddles across the grassy field. (It was nowhere near as bad as 2013, however.) The weather, combined with a set opposite The Killers, meant a crowd that felt a good deal smaller than M83 probably would have drawn under normal circumstances, but that didn’t diminish their performance at all.

M83 played a set heavy on cuts from their breakout record Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, but with highlights from their underrated new album Junk (“Do It, Try It,” “Go!” and others) and a pair of songs from Saturdays = Youth. This was all backed by a light show which I’m best able to describe as looking like a Duran Duran music video had a baby with a Good ‘n’ Plenty advertisement: an explosion of pink light strips, fog machines and brightly-colored spotlights. “Midnight City” was the obvious audience hit, inspiring more than a few wet dance routines through ankle-deep waters. 

(www.governorsballmusicfestival.com)




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