As I peeled off my mud-caked Sambas and deposited them into a trash can outside of Grand Central Station, I refreshingly slipped on a pair of sandals and wondered two things; was all of the anguish included with attending all three days of the 2013 Governors Ball really worth it? And would somebody think they saw me doing something and then say something? Yes and hopefully not.
It takes a very special sort of endurance, enthusiasm, or insanity to make it through a music festival that opened with a Tropical Storm that churned up the once grassy grounds of Randall’s Island. Cell service was sparse, shoes were lost, and the mud made every step feel like three. Cut Copy frontman Dan Whitford had already made the Glastonbury comparison during his band’s set on Saturday, but one would have to figure Governors Ball was looking for more of a Coachella or Bonnaroo feel in establishing itself as the New York festival of choice.
So what about the festival’s culminating day of performances topped by its biggest individual star? The Sun baked the mud into a hardened clay while patches of wet mud still made things interesting, and smell like shit. That being said, it was a hide-saving final bow with attendees sharing the similar sigh of “if only the other days were like this”.
Sister act trio HAIM invited those just entering to make the trek across the muddy wasteland separating the Main Stage and the Skyy Vodka Stage or traverse the well traveled hilly slope that served as a crowded passageway for a large percentage of people. Their infectious energy poured out across their end of the grounds while The Vaccines could be heard clearly causing a hard rock ruckus at the opposite.
Afterwards and in the middle came rapper Freddie Gibbs who showcased his tight flow with a series of A capella freestyles and a made sure to expound his feelings about the police (fuck them).
Portugal. The Man went up against Cold War Kids in the next round of tough decision making as the former took full, loud advantage of their main stage sound, while the latter charmed and packed in The Honda Stage. “Hang Me Up To Dry” is a fail safe in getting asses moving in the summer sun.
Over at the You’re Doing Great Stage, Deerhunter drew a large, curious crowd as Bradford Cox made sure not to miss his opportunity to tell everyone that he just learned how fuel is made. From there the three pronged guitar approach behind the raw power material from latest LP Monomania truly shined as the band churned and wailed through extended passages. This left just enough time to catch Twin Shadow close with a re-worked “Castles Made of Snow” and a shimmering rendition of “At My Heels” both off the leather loving crooner’s debut.
Back over on the Main Stage, the Oxford indie rock outfit Foals struck out with something to prove as the sinister undertones that mark their latest Holy Fire cuts had plenty of swing voters just looking for a comfortable place to stand or sit writing down and mispronouncing their name. Then it was back to the other side of the grounds for some delicious pizza and equally as tasty guitar licks from axe aficionado Gary Clark Jr. who closed his Honda Stage set with “Bright Lights, Big City” with the upper east side of Manhattan in the distance.
Then one was tasked with the choice between the delicate instrumentations of Beirut and the frantic, otherworldly, fusion dance-rock of adopted hometown heroes Yeasayer. Although Beirut managed to enrapture their dedicated, sing-a-long crowd, Yeasayer extended way beyond the limits of their Skyy Vodka platform as the first signs of hula hoop girls and ecstatic, non-sensical, mud moving moves were busted to the beats of “Ambling Alp” and “O.N.E.”
One of the real triumphs of the weekend was Grizzly Bear’s pre-headlining slot on the Main Stage which featured the best of last year’s stellar Shields and classics in “Knife” and festival highlight “Two Weeks”. The back and forth lead vocal dynamic of Edward Droste and Daniel Rossen set against ethereal, hushed tones, and newfound bombast present in the newer material made for the perfect sun-down set.
WARNING: All videos in this post were taken from my phone. The sound sucks and in more than one of them you’ll see me and my friend Jaclyn having festival fun. Watch if you dare!
While catching Bloc Party quake, shake, and eviscerate the Skyy tent, it became staggeringly clear that the time was drawing near for the coming of Yeezus as a mass exodus made its way over to the main stage to secure a good spot over an hour in advance. As ten minutes late became twenty, the weary legged crowd did their best to keep spirits high in the face of what appeared to be some errors present in Mr. West’s elaborate visual set up. Fortunately, not much more of a wait was required as the house lights went down and the crowd blew up with excitement.
Ushered in by a barking Cerberus, Kanye West took the stage backed by a live band and tore into a sensory overload version of new track “Black Skinhead” before weaving seamlessly into “New Slaves” which featured the same extreme close up of his face as in his “Saturday Night Live” performance. Backed by a large screen and several banks of multi-colored spotlights, Kanye distorted the image of his always discussed celebrity further by performing a large portion of the show on a platform in the middle of the crowd in front of the soundboard, making him hidden to the majority of the crowd. This was backed up by distorted, psychedelic shots of him and an ever present Jet taking off and flying.
Although Kanye wasn’t manning the decks, every classic beat of his was beefed up and extrapolated to its loudest, wildest nth degree while “I Am A God” and as yet to be officially titled Yeezus forays hinted at the new progression the ever evolving artist has undertaken. West took some time out to go on a classic rant, but pre-faced it as such making sure that the crowd knew that he no longer desires to work within the industry release cycle system or be on the radio. He just wants to give us some music to get down to all summer long.
The only real hiccup of the set was Kanye scrapping “Good Life” after forgetting the second verse which launched into the ear splitting, raucous remix of Chief Keef’s “Don’t Like”. But even that minor fuck up couldn’t deter from the jarring, effusive “king holding court” style artistic experimentation that was Kanye West’s emotionally tumultuous headlining set Sunday. The performance, bookended by “Black Skinhead”, was a front to back masterwork in live concert design and song arrangement with West tasked with providing tortured screams and his signature flow. All from a small, largely obfuscated platform in the middle of the audience.
As the gates closed on Governors Ball 2013, many were left wondering if the festival would be permitted to return in 2014 after the utter decimation of the Randall’s Island fields. If Sunday was left to serve as an effort towards a profitable pardon, then perhaps all we’ll have to do is pray for better weather next year. Yeezus did bring the goods on stage and weather wise after all.