With Friday’s rain long gone and Saturday’s mud settled, Governors Ball wrapped Sunday (June 9) with a day of perfect weather that culminated with Kanye West unleashing new tunes for an eager crowd that had already been treated to sets from Grizzly Bear, Haim, the Lumineers, The xx and The Avett Brothers and many more. Here’s what got them moving on New York’s Randall’s Island Sunday.
Night three headliner Kanye West‘s set was a clear reminder of how much of a superstar he is. As the clock inched towards 10 p.m., thousands crammed in front of the Gov Ball NYC main stage to witness West premiere ferocious new songs from his forthcoming album “Yeezus” amid a slew of his past smashes. He opened with “Black Skinhead,” the Marilyn Manson-sampling track he first let loose on “SNL” recently, as viscous dogs barked and growled on the screens. “New Slaves” followed as “Not For Sale” signs flashed behind him.
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“I just talked to Jesus,” West proclaimed while performing “I Am a God,” another new one. “He said ‘What up, Yeezus.'” Brash and comical, Kanye’s still Kanye. Ironically (and fittingly?), “Jesus Walks” followed next. A bevy of jams the crowd knew word-for-word bounced through – “Heartless,” “Flashing Lights,” “All of the Lights,” and “Clique. ” But of course, it wouldn’t be a Kanye concert, without a rant. This time, he offered up some insight into the quiet approach he’s taken to the rollout of “Yeezus,” (there’s been no single released and the album is due next week!). Onstage Sunday, he said that the radio airwaves “ain’t where I wanna be no more. I could give a f**k about selling a million records… I don’t really give a f**k about outside opinion.” What else is new? But that’s why many love him, and enjoyed the show.
Before Kanye took over the night from one end of the festivities while the Avett Brothers simultaneously brought a rootsy counterpoint on the Honda stage, the xx owned the sunset slot. At 8:20 p.m., just as the sun started to fade on the muddy island, the U.K. trio took the stage to play highlights from their albums “xx” and “Coexist.” The latter set’s hushed ballad “Angels” worked surprisingly well on the You’re Doing Great stage, which was tucked just far enough away from Bloc Party’s barnstorming set in the Skyy Vodka Tent to maintain its intimacy. Throughout, vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim maintained a quiet, conversational vibe, building to a thrilling climax with fan favorite “Crystalised,” one of the band’s more rhythmic cuts and a fitting send-off before half the island traveled to the mainstage for Kanye.
The Lumineers, who played in the early evening, have come a long way since releasing their self-titled 2012 debut, with a surprise hit song in “Ho Hey” and a Billboard cover already to their names. But their sound seemed not quite ready for the massive crowd at the Honda Stage, as their mellow folk songs failed to make much of an impression beyond the closest reaches. Matters picked up when they played hits “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love,” though the band is going to need to develop more charismatic, festival-ready songs to win an audience like this over for a whole set.
Meanwhile, Grizzly Bear took to the Gov Ball NYC main stage with eerie grooves that rang freely in the open air. “Sleeping Ute” from 2012 album “Shields” was a highlight of the Brooklyn crew’s 6:45 p.m. set. But as expected, 2009’s indie smash “Two Weeks,” with its twinkling keys chiming in from jump, easily got the greatest response.
But long before dark, a number of acts vied for – and won – ears on Governors Island. Here are some of Sunday’s daytime highlights:
— With little more than a few officially released tracks and videos, the three sisters which together compose the California-based rock group HAIM drew an unmistakably large and energetic crowd for their 1:30 set at the Gov Ball NYC main stage. Lead guitarist Danielle’s crisp, almost Michael Jackson-like vocals punctuated the melodies of crowd favorites “The Wire,” and “Falling.” “You are all such a beautiful crowd,” called Este, the bassist with a superb knack for developing an amiable rapport with the crowd. “I’m taking off my shades so that not even glass will be between us.” Alanna was seen often frantically switching between keyboard, guitar, and even a giant floor tom throughout the set – an amount of coordination demonstrative of an extreme amount of preparation and rehearsal. The set wrapped with “Let Me Go,” right after a request to the crowd to “Save us a spot up front for Kanye!”
–They’re five albums into a strong career, but Deerhunter shows still tend to focus around the antics of amicable, sometimes outburst-prone frontman Bradford Cox. Their Governors Ball set started no different, as Cox took the stage with, “I wonder what kind of bacteria are on this island?” He went on to muse about how oil is made from “our dead ancestors” and how they, in a way, would be powering the afternoon’s show. With that out of the way, the five-piece rocked through a set that drew heavily from their new LP “Monomania” and also included “Halcyon Digest” standouts like “Don’t Cry” and “Desire Lines.” They appropriately went off in a sea of amps-cranked guitar squalor to the title track from “Monomania.”
— A chance for the audience to crowd surf with a shredding guitar player, UK Indie rockers Foals brought an incredible amount of energy to the Gov Ball NYC main stage for their 4:45 set. Frontman Yannis Philippakis climbed on stage first to a wildly applauding audience, building their sound as the rest filed in behind him to serenade the crowd with jams like “Total Life Forever” and “Olympic Airways,” cuts from the groups earlier albums. “We’ve been on tour for about ten months now, and this is one of our last shows. We f**king love New York! Thanks for coming out,” were the words Philippakis joyously exchanged with the crowd before launching into the frantic guitar fingerpicking involved in “My Number.” At this point in the day they had opened up the center aisle down the middle of the audience, and Philippakis used the opportunity during “Red Socks Pugie” to take his guitar solo from the center of the crowd, and again during “Providence,” leaping into the crowd during the song’s wild shout chorus.
— George Lewis Jr.’s indie new wave project Twin Shadow can be frustrating to experience live. A gracious master of ceremonies with some fine-tuned anthems in his back pocket, Lewis tends to sap the energy out of his crowd with oddly constructed set lists, and Sunday afternoon was no different. Despite front-loading the performance by playing “Confess” standouts “5 Seconds” and “Golden Light” within the first five songs, Lewis — wielding a cherry-red guitar and wearing a baggy gray coat — nevertheless provoked the crowd at the Skyy Vodka Tent several instances of clap-alongs. He also nodded to the overwhelming stench from the rain-soaked ground beneath his audience: “When I got here, I was a little worried about the smell of the mud,” Lewis admitted, “but now it seems like it’s a little piece of every one of you. It’s nice.”
— Portugal. The Man played a handful of tracks from their Danger Mouse-produced album “Evil Friends,” released this past Tuesday. Highlights included the infectious lead single “Purple Yellow Red & Blue” and the kinetic title track, which weaves pop hooks with pounding drums and impressive guitar work in a live setting. The Alaska natives were among the acts doing double festival duty this week, as they’re set to play Bonnaroo next weekend as well (other acts heading to Tennessee after playing Gov Ball include Nas, The XX and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros.)
–At a time that might still be considered the early in the day (especially for grueling, three day festivals), Freddie Gibbs wasted no time in encouraging the audience to light up and hot box the Skyy Vodka Tent during this 2:15 set. Gibbs demonstrates an incredibly adept lyricism, as usual, often letting the beat drop out to make sure the crowd hears he can rap every single word without missing a beat – a feat he accomplished when he performed “National Anthem.” He frequently uttered rejection of authority, with frequent utterances of “F**k the police!” during a set highlighted by a performance of “BFK,” which had the audience bumping.
Reporting by William Gruger, Andrew Hampp, Jason Lipshutz, Chris Payne and Brad Wete