25 Best Things We Saw at Governors Ball 2015 - Rolling Stone
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25 Best Things We Saw at Governors Ball 2015

Drake, the Black Keys, Dead Mau5, Lana Del Rey and more highlights from the Northeast’s premiere music festival

My Morning Jacket and Florence and the Machine

My Morning Jacket and Florence and the Machine

Kyle Dean Reinford; Nicole Fara Silver

The fifth annual Governors Ball was a triumphant riposte to the long-held belief that you can’t hold a successful summer festival in New York City. Sure it was technically late spring, but huge acts like Drake, the Black Keys, Deadmau5, Florence and the Machine and Björk emerged and fans ferried into Randall's Island for a weekend of music, sun and lawn games. Here are the 25 best things we experienced.

Noel Gallagher

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Nineties Nostalgia: Noel Gallagher

The promise of 1995 (or maybe the dream of the Sixties) was alive at Governors Ball in the form of Noel Gallagher in sunglasses, strumming his acoustic guitar. From sunny day stomper "Dream On" to "Everybody on the Run," which remains cool 20 years later, his was a strong set – though many missed it, the main stage area revealing far more pavement than at any other point in the festival. But then Gallagher said the magic words – "This one's for the mums and dads in the back" – and "Champagne Supernova" swam through the speakers. Gen X was in the building! The crowd immediately doubled in size; the idea of singing along to "we were getting high, we were getting high. . ." proving to be incredibly relevant in 2015.

St. Vincent

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Choreography: St. Vincent

St. Vincent continues to reinvent what a rock show can feel like and look like. There are reminders of Kraftwerk, Gumby and Charles Sheeler in her performances, but there’s also a unique understanding of grace and movement. At Governors Ball, she used her guitar as a literal axe during “Marrow,” then let her body flow outward (ending in jazz hands) on “Rattlesnake,” as her feet tapped nervously beneath. At one point, she completely flipped Robert Palmer’s masturbation fantasy, handing off her guitar with arm outstretched, never breaking her concentration to the back row. Her back-up dancers echoed what she did while crawling over a Devo hat of a ziggurat, but no one moves quite like St. Vincent.

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams performs at the Honda Stage during the second day of Governors Ball in New York on June 6th, 2015

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Onstage Beef: Ryan Adams

As Ryan Adams closed out Saturday night's festivities on the Honda Stage, so too did Deadmau5 in the main breezeway. Annoyed by the bass bleeding through the air, the rocker fired off a couple of shots: "Try to make this song on your fucking iPhone. Fuck you. It's like we're living in a Terminator nightmare." He took a breath. "This song ['Oh My Sweet Carolina'] is not going to match the robot music over there. . . It's like we're living in a fucking Terminator nightmare!" It should be noted that a peace flag hung quietly behind Adams the entire time. The electronic musician responded later, tweeting, "I guess Ryan Adams wasn't feeling it. No biggie. Sorry for bass? Whatever. Nice seeing you again too. *shrug* back to my iPod."

Royal Blood

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: Mike Kerr of Royal Blood performs on day 3 of Governors Ball festival at Randall's Island Park on June 7, 2015 in New York, United States (Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns via Getty Images)

Burak Cingi/Getty

Best Real-Deal Rock & Roll: Royal Blood

Eminem blared from the PA Sunday afternoon as drummer Ben Thatcher, outfitted in a Brooklyn Nets jersey, walked to the center of the stage, held his beef can aloft in salute and took his place behind the kit. Seconds later, singer-guitarist Mike Kerr joined him and it was on: The pair unleashed a frenzy of blues and psych rock that marched across the field until everyone in earshot had wandered over to check out the scene. This was some of Gov Ball's best raw rock & roll, scorching songs that sounded like Queens of the Stone Age had devoured the Black Keys. Kerr, feeling the moment, even made an attempt at arena-rock crowd teasing, wailing on his guitar and ordering fans to raise their arms in time. Within moments, everyone had happily complied.


chromeo (david macklovitch)

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Assist From Famous Friend: Chromeo

Just half a day after bringing down the house at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theatre, Montreal's funk brothers were onstage at Governors Ball surprising fans with a celebrity guest, Ezra Koenig. The Vampire Weekend singer and Fool's Gold holiday party guest strolled out to help his longtime pals cover "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," changing "Peter Gabriel" to a friendly Chromeo shout-out.


Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Fans: Flume

All the best characters were there for Australian DJ Flume: the guy dressed as a piñata, the seven men running around in Dream Team uniforms, the Baywatch twins, a group of young girls near the back Snapchatting themselves, the stage just a blurry speck behind a guy in a Jamaican Deadmau5 mask.

Tame Impala

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Psychedelic Dance Party: Tame Impala

The sun was still as high as the bros vaping in the crowd when the Aussie psych-rock crew took the stage Sunday afternoon. Kevin Parker's band droned, vamped and grooved, but when they gave the crowd a taste of their latest album (the forthcoming Currents) via the boppy "Let It Happen," the dance fans and psych folks found a place to happily unite. Tame Impala evoked Eighties pop on " 'Cause I'm a Man" and blissful Sixties vibes on "Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind" before closing on the pounding "Apocalypse Dreams," sending fest-goers off to Weird Al with confusing visions in their heads. 


Nicole Fara Silver

Best Call-and-Response: Future

With mixtape after mixtape, Future is arguably hotter right now than at any point after the release of 2014's Honest. At Governor's Ball he was killing "Peacoat" and "Commas" in a black cowboy hat, and made sure people were checking for his voluminous output. "Who's fucking with that Beast Mode?" he asked, to cheers. "Who's fucking with that Monster?" The volume somehow went up. "Who's fucking with that 56 Nights?" The crowd screamed, and the rain — still at a drizzle — stopped.

Hot Chip

Alexis Taylor & Al Doyle

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Classic Cover: Hot Chip

While Governors Ball's set list was filled with electronic producers and EDM genre hit-makers like deadmau5, Flume, SBTRKT and more, Hot Chip brought a little something different to the dance-music table. The English band played a mix of new material from its latest record, Coming on Strong, plus a few old hits like "Ready for the Floor" and "Flutes," the latter of which got a little synchronized dance routine from the group. But it was Hot Chip's stellar finale track, a bubbly, synth-pop rendering of Bruce Springsteen’s "Dancing in the Dark" played just as the sun went down, that served as the perfect cherry on top of Hot Chip's set.

Rae Sremmurd

Aaquil "Slim Jimmy" Brown of rae sremmurd

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Reaction in an Emergency: Rae Sremmurd

Mississippi twosome Rae Sremmurd had already run through "We," "No Flex Zone," "Illest Walking," turn-up anthems each and all. They're young, running all over the stage; there's a lot of jumping, whipping and crashing around. But midway through their set — on Friday afternoon, with rain still coming down steady — things took a different, less-fun direction. Slim Jimmy slid into a stage light, the glass tearing his leg wide open. At first harrowing and scary, soon enough Jimmy was being tended to while urging everyone with footage to "upload it to Instagram." Swae Lee finished the set solo, saying, "We always tell Jim not to do shit like this, but he never listens. He'll be good, we'll be back."

Future Islands

Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands performs at the Honda Stage during the second day of Governors Ball in New York on June 6th, 2015

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Escape from the Sun: Future Islands

The Gotham Tent couldn't hold everyone inside, so big was the crowd to see one of David Letterman's favorite acts. Future Islands singer Samuel T. Herring's performance style is one of legend – he is a human GIF machine, perfect for every Hump Day post – and droves came to see. When he dances, it's like all five Temptations are inside, trying to fight their way out: sometimes he's Russell Crowe, flexing; not seconds later, he's a ballet dancer, soft toes and fluttering hands. He twerked! The crowd screamed, so he stopped and wagged his finger at them, before doing something completely different. All eyes deserve to be on him. But there are songs, too: He sings in volcanic rumbles, sometimes pounding his chest like a silverback in order to force the words (or really, sounds) out. He said, "Let’s celebrate this – what a beautiful fucking day. Fuck!" What a beautiful day, indeed. Fuck.

Marina and the Diamonds

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Sing-Along: Marina and the Diamonds

Even though Marina Diamandis has shed her kitschy Electra Heart persona, opting to mine emotional material from her own life on her new record Froot, it was clear at her performance that the fans really miss the Welsh singer's silver-haired character and the bubblegum-pop anthems she belted. While invitations from Diamandis for audience members to join in on new songs were met with little response or mumbled words, the entire massive crowd’s rendition of her 2012 hit "Primadonna" was so insanely pitch-perfect and glorious that it felt staged.


Kyle Dean Reinford

Best ‘The Grind’ Throwback: Kiesza

Kiesza took it back to the days of '94, doing the butterfly into a popped-out squat, throwing in a couple of donkey kicks for good measure. Backed by two dancers — wearing generic Rock N' Jock-style softball jerseys, of course number "1994" — she seemed thrilled to be in her second home of New York. It's almost like she bleeds out WKTU weekend playlists and decided to throw everyone a cookout. "I want to know everyone's name," she said. "I know it's slightly impossible, but shout it out anyway."

In the middle of her set, she said, "I want to know everyone’s name. I know it's slightly impossible, but shout it out anyway.: She seemed genuinely pleased, saying, "I feel so much closer to you all," even if she just heard a keyboard smash of noise.

Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten performs at the Big Apple Stage during the second day of Governors Ball in New York on June 6th, 2015

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Enthusiasm: Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten is known for deeply emotional, scar-baring break-up music, but her stage presence at Governor's Ball was downright joyful. She spoke in funny voices, gave a shout-out to mom and dad, and even gushed over one particular performer. "I never even dreamed of doing a show Björk would be playing at," she told the crowd excitedly. "This is my high school dream come true."


Andrew Bailey & Zachary Cole Smith

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Rain Remedy: DIIV

With an early set plagued by rain showers, DIIV's dreamy, bass-heavy songs and relaxed performance were actually well suited for the weather and perfect fare for festivalgoers easing into Governors Ball. Sometimes the band's laid-back posture may have been too laid-back, particularly in how the band played over a handful of new songs yet named none. "This is 'Untitled. . . Five'?" Zachary Cole-Smith mumbled into the microphone. Still, for the fans just getting hyped for a long day at the grounds, the smooth, melancholy sounds of DIIV were perfect.

White Lung

Mish Way of White Lung performs at the Honda Stage during the second day of Governors Ball in New York on June 6th, 2015

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Pet Peeves: White Lung

After a few technical hiccups during her furious punk band's set, White Lung lead singer Mish Way took a brief break to vent. "The music sounds fucked," she said before requesting different levels for vocals and guitar. She then took general issue with multi-day mega-concerts like Governors Ball: "See, this is always what happens at festivals," Way proclaimed. "Now we're exposing it!" But that wasn't the only topic on the frontwoman's agenda: She also jokingly (or maybe not) commented how much she dislikes seeing bare legs in the summer, especially those of men. This is a woman with standards.


a-trak performs his second set of the day at the samsung lounge at governors ball on june 7th, 2015

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Secret Show: A-Trak at the Samsung Space

Just a couple of hours after playing in front of thousands at the Honda stage, A-Trak set up shop for a few dozen in the Samsung stage. "I already played a dance set. . . Who wants to hear a hip-hop set?" the Fool's Gold general asked, then led off with Kanye's "All Day," which bled into "My Way" and "Flicka Da Wrist." The fans in the crowd – the 40 or so who weren't professional photographers, publicists or Samsung employees – danced like festivalgoers do, waving their Miller Lite cans around. Security practically tackled anyone who tried to sneak in, including a poor girl with dirty knees and a "That Shirt Cray" tee.

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