Jack White, Jenny Lewis, Janelle Monáe, Grimes, Damon Albarn, Childish Gambino
Governors Ball: Jack White, Grimes, Jenny Lewis, Damon Albarn and more, June 6th - 8th, 2014,
In its third year on Randall’s Island, New York’s Governors Ball—named for its previous setting, on Governors Island—seems to have finally found steady footing. GovBall 2014 was a huge improvement over last year’s disastrous showing, in which a rain storm canceled many of the first day’s performances and flooded the festival site, leaving attendees miserable and barely able to wade from stage to stage for the rest of the weekend. (The festival took measures to make sure that wouldn’t happen again, including installing drainage throughout the grounds.) Although the weather held out for this year’s show, the more careful planning could be appreciated elsewhere: stretches of fresh sod had been laid in areas that had been occupied by swampy, smelly mud pits a year ago, and buses and ferries deposited concert-goers on the island at regular, reliable intervals.
This year’s festival had a strong lineup, but had a few doozies when it came to conflicting schedules. For example, you had to pick either TV On The Radio or Grimes, and those who stayed for Spoon’s whole set missed Sleigh Bells entirely. Childish Gambino had the misfortune of trying to draw a crowd against The Strokes, while Interpol overlapped with Empire of the Sun. The schedule felt heavily weighted toward Friday, where artists like Janelle Monáe, Jenny Lewis, and Neko Case played unusually early sets. The biggest scheduling conundrum came when Damon Albarn was billed against Outkast for their late Friday night performance, which forced the former Blur frontman to play a mix of new and old songs to a crowd sparse enough to play Frisbee near the stage.
Highlight: Grimes played three new songs—including “Go,” originally written for Rihanna—during her Friday evening performance. Minutes after her set ended—and much of her audience had dispersed—she rushed back onstage and hurriedly apologized for forgetting to play “Genesis.” She launched into a rendition of her breakthrough hit that felt loose and a bit rushed, but more spontaneous and less canned than it would have had it been included in the normal set list. (The thinned crowd provided a little more room for dancing in the Gotham tent, of which the stragglers—including this guy—took full advantage.)
Highlight: Jack White updated more than a handful of White Stripes tracks to fit his full band setup. Headlining Saturday night’s festivities, the guitarist played a few tracks from his new solo record Lazaretto, but seemed particularly generous with his willingness to dig into the back catalogue for the big crowd-pleasers. Hearing these familiar tunes extrapolated from their drum-and-guitar original versions to full band arrangements offered a copasetic bridge between Old White and New. His updated rendition of “Hotel Yorba” managed to sound more ramshackle and wild than the original in its new, countrified version, and hearing the familiar solo from “Icky Thump” transposed to a synthesizer was a blast. (Other old favorites played included “Seven Nation Army,” “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “The Hardest Button to Button,” and The Raconteurs’ “Steady As She Goes.”)
Highlight: Speaking of digging into back catalogues, Jenny Lewis played five Rilo Kiley songs during her mid-afternoon set (“Silver Lining,” “Close Call,” “The Moneymaker,” “A Man/Me/Then Jim,” and “A Better Son/Daughter.”) She played almost as many songs from her upcoming record, The Voyager: “Just One of the Guys,” “Head Underwater,” “Love U Forever,” and “She’s Not Me.” If the live arrangements were any indication, the album may have a bit of a Fleetwood Mac vibe to it.
Highlight: Childish Gambino sort-of announced his new collaboration with Chance the Rapper during his Saturday performance. Chance joined him onstage toward the tail end of his set to perform a verse that played off Outkast lyrics. (Andre 3000 was sitting in the photo pit during Childish Gambino’s show.) Gambino’s since confirmed on Twitter that he and Chance are working together on an EP. His set wasn’t as joke-y and fun as the one we caught at Rock the Bells in 2011, but we’ve got to give him credit for putting on probably the second-most energetic show at this year’s fest. The award for the most energetic show goes to…
Highlight: … Janelle Monáe, who was wheeled onto the stage—Hannibal Lecter-style—wearing a straight jacket. Sweet smoke and sassafras, what a performer! Like we mentioned earlier, it’s a shame she had to play a Friday afternoon set, when so many concert-goers were still at work and the venue was at relatively low capacity. (Her set had the potential to blow so many more minds, had it been slated during the evening or on the weekend…) Not only does Janelle dance like a maniac, and her dancers dance like they’re maniacs, but her entire band got in on the crazy dancing action. I found myself watching her keyboard player do a version of the robot—while still playing. Every bit of the performance was impressive: not just Janelle, but everyone she shared the stage with.