Governors Ball 2015: 10 Best Performances at the New York Festival

Governors Ball Top Ten Performances: Drake, St. Vincent, Florence and the Machine
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Governors Ball returned to New York this weekend (June 5-7), which meant there was plenty of mud, music and marijuana on Randall's Island. Weathering light rain and more persistent sound issues, veterans and newcomers from the worlds of rock, dance, rap and pop turned in sets that made us feel lucky to be there. These are our 10 favorite performances from Gov Ball 2015.

Big Gigantic

While the Honda Stage’s muddy sound did them no favors, the hybrid live/electronic outfit kept its sizable crowd moving with a spirited performance that showcased the strength of their musical marriage between live funk instruments and Colorado bass wubs. Flanked by complementary horn players, saxophonist Dominic Lalli (who regularly took to the mic to pump up the crowd) and drummer Jeremy Salken enthralled their enthusiastic audience -- some of whom showed their support with “Sax Drums & Big Gigantic” shirts while tossing toilet paper rolls skywards like arcing white comets. Set highlights included funky favorites like “The Night is Young,” featuring a guest appearance by Nashville duo Cherub, and an extended jam on moombahton-tinged single “Get On Up."

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The Black Keys

Although EDM has overtaken rock at festivals, The Black Keys more than held their own in a sea of youngsters looking to dance on Randall's Island on Sunday night. The band's blues-garage-rock vibe delighted the crowd and their set of songs appeased the casual and diehard fans alike. The duo's riffs and licks filled the chilly New York City air, closing out Governors Ball to remind everyone that rock n' roll is still here.


The start of the Canadian producer’s set was plagued by power issues that caused the sound to stutter and cut out repeatedly, but the often mercurial artist admirably kept his cool -- bounding to the front of the stage to do push-ups and give fans something to laugh about. Once the issues were solved, deadmau5 debuted his new geodesic dome stage show with an unimpeachable soundtrack comprised mostly of his strongest material -- from a mesmerizing mix of sci-fi story ballad “The Veldt” to a set-crowning performance of marathon masterpiece “Strobe.” In typical trickster fashion, the Toronto native parodied Katy Perry’s half-time show to provide a lighthearted finish to a show that had begun with frustration -- complete with a dancing palm tree and a celebrated cameo by Left Shark.


Drake tore up the crowd on Friday night with a set that spanned his six years of hits -- from "Take Care" to "The Motto" to an earth-shaking rendition of "Know Yourself" -- "I should prolly sign to Hit-Boy cause I got all the hits, boy" has never rung more true. All alone on stage for the entirety of his almost hour-and-a-half long set, Aubrey's intensity never let up as he implored the crowd to give more and do more – he was as much life coach practicing positive reinforcement as bravado-filled rapper. "If you're here with your real friends and not your fake friends make some noise," he said at one point. Judging by the roar of 20,000 people (and their woes), the whole squad was indeed "on that real shit."

Florence + the Machine

Having spent nearly two months nursing a broken ankle thanks to an unhinged Coachella performance, Florence Welch was once again unleashed on the festival world early Friday evening at Gov Ball. Prowling the stage like a wild cat held in captivity too long, Welch beckoned a fan sporting a "hug?" sign to join her onstage. After obliging the request, she chided the girl for asking in the first place: "There's no need for a question mark at the end of 'hug.'"


Flume stopped by the Billboard lounge and mentioned that he "didn't write this music to be played at festivals." But the young Australian producer nevertheless had one of the most packed sets of the entire weekend at the Big Apple stage on Saturday night, shortly before Deadmau5 took on the main stage. He cycled through "Drop The Game" and "On Top," the latter of which features rapper T.Shirt. During his mega-hit "Holdin' On," a group of fans cracked open bags of marshmallows and started throwing the little white balls into the crowd (Much to our relief, they weren't golf balls from the course next-door).

Men on Computers Fare Better Than Rock Bands at Gov Ball 2015

Future Islands

"Let's get fucking raw!" Samuel T. Herring, the Future Islands frontman you can't keep your eyes off, didn't say that till half way through the Baltimore new waver's Saturday afternoon set, but it served as a good mission statement. He embodied the group's songs about heartbreak by slapping himself in the forehead, beating himself on the chest, growling, grunting, and dancing -- kicking like a Rockette one minute, feeling himself up like Rihanna the next.

St. Vincent

St. Vincent is a rock star. She's also a killer dancer, and a master performer with a great touch for putting together a stage show. Playing Friday near sundown, Annie Clark played a set heavy on songs from her 2014 self-titled album to a wildly devoted crowd. To match her own fancy footwork, a pair of dancers manned a platform behind Clark and brought some of the set's more boisterous songs to life. There were big slimy beats, big guitar riffs, and big time dance moves from all involved. Are we sure Clark isn't a visitor from the future? 

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Tame Impala

For an hour on Sunday afternoon, Kevin Parker and his Tame Impala cohorts brought Governors Ball back to the '60s. There were trippy neon visuals and clouds of marijuana smoke, to be sure, but also blistering guitar rock that sounded surprisingly refreshing and even exciting. Tame Impala's live staples "Elephant" and "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" were expected delights, but new tracks "'Cause I'm a Man" and "Let It Happen" exploded in the festival setting, echoing across the main stage field with an urgency heretofore unseen from the Australian act. Tame Impala sound like they're from another era, but they've carved out an impressive niche within this one.

"Weird Al" Yankovic

And now for something completely different: in between overly serious (albeit impressive) performances from artists like the War On Drugs, Tame Impala and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, "Weird Al" Yankovic arrived with accordion-and-polka versions of Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Thrift Shop." The parody songs and fat suits didn't fool anybody, though: Yankovic's performance was among the most technically breathtaking of the weekend, and the legendary goofball the most self-assured frontman of Sunday's musical offering. Those who dared to be stupid were more than satisfied.


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