30 Best Things We Saw at Governors Ball 2014 - Rolling Stone
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30 Best Things We Saw at Governors Ball 2014

Outkast, Jack White, the Strokes and more highlights from the Northeast’s premiere music festival

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Nicole Fara Silver; Griffin Lotz

Rain nearly spoiled last year's Governors Ball, a muddy weekend ultimately redeemed by a closing set by Kanye West. This year's acts didn't have to battle Mother Nature for attendees' attention: Festival-goers were treated to three days of beautiful sun and loud music, featuring headlining sets from Outkast, the Strokes and Jack White. Here are the 30 best things that caught our eyes and ears, featuring everything from hip-hop buddy comedies and nostalgia-triggering rock bands to cuddly R&B and Madonna-approved EDM. By Cady Drell, Claire Lobenfeld and Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Homecoming: The Strokes

Over a decade after the release of Is This It, the Strokes are still as New York as Zabar's and the Empire State Building. But before Governor's Ball, it remained to be seen whether they still had the same chops after going three years without playing live together. Though a show at the small-capacity Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, at the end of May served as a warm-up, this performance felt like both a reunion and a homecoming. After opening with "Barely Legal," the band played a hit-packed set – complete with audience participation – that included "Razorblade," "12:51" and "Someday." They closed with the perennially cool "Last Nite," and encored with B-side "New York City Cops." Julian Casablancas' vocals radiated emotional intensity, even when it kind of looked like he'd forgotten some of the words. Judging by how much the crowd was screaming along, New York is mostly just glad to have them back. C.D.

Taylor Hill/WireImage for Governors Ball Music Festival

Best Reason to Skip the Strokes: Childish Gambino

The Strokes' performance on the Governor's Ball mainstage was packed to the gills, but there was still a sizable group of people who did not give a nan about these New Yorkers: Childish Gambino fans. For many rap critics, Gambino is considered a somewhat baffling outlier, a sort of backpacky, not-great hip-hop project of a man whose dayjob is a comedian, but for his fans, he is on par with God and Neil deGrasse Tyson, worth seeing regardless of his unfortunate timeslot. They are young, they are wild, they are carefree, they are Childish Gambino's gigantic fanbase. They are our future. J.E.S.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best in Show: Outkast

Are they together or aren't they? We're just going to bank on the fact that New York audiences will likely never again get to see reunited Outkast in our hometown, particularly on the Governor's Ball scale, but oh, was it a glorious send-off. They opened with "Bombs Over Baghdad" opened with it! and did not let up for a good hour and a half, impeccably running through hits from every album and seeming extremely happy to do it. The duo traded single tracks from Speakerboxx/The Love Below and seemed to be aware they were weeding out the true fans when Three Stacks dropped "Hey Ya" halfway through the set, with Janelle Monáe appearing onstage as a backup dancer.

Some people left after that pop sing-along, but more stayed, and when Killer Mike came out for Big Boi's perennial club banger "Kryptonite," everyone still on the island lost their minds. Not a hit went unturned: "Elevators (Me & You)," "Player's Ball," "ATLiens," "Ms. Jackson," "Hootie Hoo," etc, with a surprise appearance by forever-underrated R&B giant Sleepy Brown, who sang the "Way You Move" hook in silk pajamas. Andre 3000 reminded us of the 1995 Source Awards incident in which they were booed for not being from New York, back when regionalism still mattered, but to this crowd of New Yorkers going bananas and rapping back every bar, it was clear Atlanta is always welcome at the table. They ended on the brilliant "Int'l Players Anthem" and "The Whole World," an epic outro and that felt like a giant hug. Bye, Outkast. Come back again some time. J.E.S.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Introduction of New Material: Spoon

The problem with introducing new material at a festival is that a band can never be entirely sure how many of their die-hard fans – the ones that actually care to preview this stuff  are in the crowd. Just a few days after announcing that their first album in four years, They Want My Soul, will be released on August 5th, Spoon figured out how to please everyone: In the middle of a hits-packed set that included career-spanning tracks like "Don't You Evah" and "The Way We Get By," Britt Daniel and Co. slipped the chugging, slightly psychedelic, undeniably catchy "Rainy Taxi" into the mix, then they went right back into the hits, playing "Turn My Camera On" as if they were wrapping a bow around the whole set. C.D.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Buddy Comedy: Run the Jewels

"I don't wanna say we're icons," El-P said in the middle of Run the Jewels' Friday afternoon set, but he and Killer Mike represent something deeper than a buzzworthy rap duo: They're the guys who have stuck with what they love forever, located their artistic soulmates and attracted more attention than ever before. 

But that's last year's story. The two were already bursting with collaborative chemistry when they started touring as Run the Jewels, and a year later, that machine is well oiled and unflappable. These days, they not only rap more intently and with higher energy, they goof off more, high-fiving during the "high-five!" ad-lib and Riverdancing during "36" Chain." The performance included one new track, likely their upcoming song for the Adult Swim Summer Singles Program (El announced that it was not from Run the Jewels 2), and the tune was proof the their potency increases the more they work together. Let's hope there's more than just a sequel. C.L.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Cuddle Moment: Janelle Monae

Janelle is known for her blistering live sets: Her band is tight, her backup singers can wail, and she has a swaggering groove that guides the whole vibrant ship. Singles like "Electric Lady" and "Tightrope" turned the Gov Ball into the kind of party that makes you wonder why she isn't selling out stadiums like Bruno Mars, particularly because her music is wholly her own. But even when she took the energy level down to perform the Pixies-inflected love song "Primetime" (without Miguel), there was an unshaken buoyancy throughout the crowd. "This is a song for lovers," she said as the band began. "And if you don't have a lover, I'll be your lover." It was one of the only appropriate times at the festival to nuzzle your mate or, with Monáe's olive branch to the lonely, to feel some kind of love. Even the broiest of bros were swaying their hips as she belted the words. C.L.

Griffin Lotz

Best Madonna-Filled Dance Party: Disclosure

Why? Because Madonna was actually there. After hitting up their DJ set at Williamsburg dance club Output the night before, the Queen of Pop visited Randall’s Island to watch the brothers Lawrence perform their live show, leading many to believe that a collaboration might be in the works. It would make sense, as the group worked with Mary J. Blige, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, for the "F For You" remix that they used to open their set.

It's interesting seeing Disclosure become so huge in the States – the bros in the crowd singing along with Aluna Francis when she appeared for "White Noise" were a strange sight indeed – but at gigs like this they probably win over some new fans by playing their tracks live with rototoms, electric drums and bass guitar, demystifying dance music for people who aren't that into dance music. (Or for people who think house is just nerds on laptops.) Of course, it doesn't hurt that they're two attractive young men with good ears for pop hooks. J.E.S.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Homage to a Headliner: Diarrhea Planet

The morning after Outkast’s set, Nashville rockers Diarrhea Planet got the day off to a frenzied  and disgustingly named – start. The foursome played tracks off of 2013’s very good I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams with the intensity of a punk show, and ended with eloquent fan-favorite "Ghost With a Boner." Toward the end of the song, however, the band shifted into a killer version of Outkast’s "Hey Ya." It’s worth noting that D.P. did the same thing at Alabama’s Hangout Fest in May, where Outkast were also headlining, but no word yet on which headliner they’ll cover at Bonnaroo, where Outkast will not be performing. Fingers-crossed that they take a whack at an Elton John ballad. C.D.

Griffin Lotz

Best Rainbow Pantsuit: Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis is known for her killer thrift store finds and well-put-together looks, but she may have topped herself this time: For her Friday daytime slot the singer-songwriter donned a white pantsuit that seemed to be custom-painted with gradient rainbows and stars from shoulder-to-waist, with starry pink boots and blue cat-eye sunglasses to match. The look signified her every dreamy intent, driven home when she took to the keyboards to play "Head Under Water," the first song from her new solo record. It was a sweet pop hook with a longing pre-chorus: "There's a little magic, everybody has it," she sang. "There's a little bit of fight left in me, yeah." Couldn't see her eyes, but no doubt they were twinkling. J.E.S.

Griffin Lotz

Best Sing-Alongs: Jack White

After opening with a particularly heady take on the White Stripes track "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" that turned into Lazaretto single "High Ball Stepper" mid-way through, White's headlining set dove into long stretches where snarling guitar solos nearly entered jam session territory and Lillie Mae Rische mesmerized with her violin and mandolin accompaniment. A twangy "Hotel Yorba" incited so much excited jumping that the ground shook, and "We're Going to Be Friends," performed as a duet with Rische, had most of the audience singing along in perfect unison, with White acting as encouraging bandleader. The setlist itself wasn't a huge departure from that of his last tour, yet its execution post-Lazaretto represents a new high-water mark – bluesier, friendlier and more experimental, all at the same time. C.D.

Griffin Lotz

Best-Dressed Bearer of New York Rock Nostalgia: Interpol

Placing the Strokes and Interpol in second-tier headlining positions provided a firm reminder that about 15 years ago, New York was still a beacon of rock & roll innovation. Julian Casablancas wearing a Hawaiian shirt on Saturday night was a stark reminder that those days are over, but Paul Banks rocking a black suit at Sunday's Interpol set made it feel like they never left. A Vampire Weekend-anticipating crowd had thinned out the audience for Interpol's encore, but even in an ocean of tired festival-goers, their 2002 cut "PDA" still felt brand new. C.L.

Alex Pines

Best Synchronized Drumming: The Kills

The Kills' Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince are reliably cool no matter what they're doing, but on Sunday afternoon the duo outdid themselves, keeping chatter to a minimum – kind of their M.O., lest they ruin the mystique – and playing in the middle of the stage, flanked by two sets of percussionists who, when not hitting their single respective drums, held their sticks in an "X" shape above their heads. It looked ominous, which is probably what they were going for. C.D.

Griffin Lotz

Best Reason to Be Late For the Ferry: Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend checked every box on the "Good Headliner" form and played a varied, occasionally exciting and consistently strong set on Sunday. Playing to their hometown fans like they knew them well, they even laughed when two girls jumped up onstage and started dancing during the encore of "One (Blake's Got a New Face)," with frontman Ezra Koenig telling a security guard in pursuit that it was alright. They played flawlessly, if a little predictably, and ended with the upbeat fan-favorite "Walcott," what Koenig described as a "goodbye song." Then everyone sprinted away so as not to wait in line for the ferry, because that thing took hours. C.D.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Rihanna Impression: Grimes

Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes, has never been shy about her love of pop music. Her breakout full-length, Visions, was beaming with off-kilter, skittering production pre-dating the alt-pop she has helped make popular. With hula-hoopers and mimes on stage, Boucher delivered three new cuts: "David," "Sleepwalking" and "Go," a track she and fellow Canadian producer Blood Diamonds crafted together for Rihanna. All three suggested that the singer is ready to embrace a more mainstream sound, but "Go," like "We Can't Stop" before it, sounded exactly like what it is: A Rihanna reject. While clearly not the point, it was bizarre proof that Rih's perfectionism is often underestimated: Her attitude and seeming frivolity must make people believe that she hasn't cared to re-up on the fucks she supposedly ran out of so many years ago. Grimes provided, at best, dancehall pantomime that wasn't sharp-tongued enough for the bad gyal.

This is a good thing, though. While not right for Rihanna, it's possibly the song that could help Grimes completely crossover. It's hard to keep things that someone else turns down, but for Boucher, the confidence to release this herself might make all the difference. C.L.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Festival DJ (of All Time?): Skrillex

It's not just because he plays from the inside of a spaceship: Skrillex really does not get enough credit for being the nuanced, open-eared music fan that he is. Of course the former emo screamer coats everything in hefty globs of his addictive wobble, but he pays respect to the origins of dubstep in ways that many of its big-name creators have abandoned, playing a mix of dub, dancehall, jungle and UK garage  wait, was that a snippet of Jeff Mills' "Changes of Life"? Blink and you'll miss his references, which also include Miami bass, trap, R&B, his own extreme bangers and, improbably, happy hardcore. Skrillex is one of music's finest polyglots, and he gets better with every set. Anyone who still denies it is, quite simply, missing out. J.E.S.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Album Preview: Axwell^Ingrosso

Axwell and Ingrosso, formerly of Swedish House Mafia, opened their flashily visual set with a new song that let fans know their exact intent. An ethereal voice from the speakers proclaimed: "This time we can't go home, it's a new beginning." A 3D puff of smoke pulsed behind the Stockholm-bred producers, and in came the style of glossy, strobe-ready thump that has made them world-famous: progressive house music with a slight pop bent, but throbby enough to vibe out to.

That first song was titled, as you might have guessed, "This Time We Can't Go Home," but they also brought a whole host of new tracks from their forthcoming album, including the excellently titled "We Come, We Rave, We Love," "Musique Doing Doing" and "Sun Is Shining and So Are You," interspersed with older Swedish House Mafia tracks (and Steve Angello's "Payback," no beef!). They also gave us a taste of "Hold Us Down" and "On My Way" from the new album, which means that Gov Ball festivalgoers probably got to hear a good quarter of their forthcoming release – one of the perks to being truly about that #ravelife and staying out late on a Sunday. J.E.S.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Rendition of a Children’s Show Theme Song: Chance the Rapper

Every act at Governors Ball could rely on a contingency of their fans to show up and sing along during their set, but Chicago MC Chance the Rapper packed the entire Gotham Tent with mega-supporters –a crowd comprised predominantly of women in their late-teens and early-20s who even sang along to particularly verbose mixtape cuts like "Paranoia" and "Juice." The energy in the tent was infectious, and Chance kept bursting into impromptu dance breaks so intense that he had to start to removing layers, eventually ending up shirtless.

Halfway through, though, he played one song that the audience didn't recognize immediately. Hearing saccharine lyrics like, "Every day when you're walking down the street/And everybody that you meet/Has an original point of view." The crowd was at first confused but then realized that they were hearing a jazzed-up version of the theme song from the long-running PBS children's show Arthur. When it dawned on them that they had actually known the lyrics to the track for at least a decade, the people in the crowd swayed to that, too. C.D.

Dana Distortion

Best Stage Banter (Pt. 1): Earl Sweatshirt

It's not for everyone, but if it is in fact your bag, the Odd Future contingent never ceases to please and entertain. And because Earl Sweatshirt played a set on the Honda Stage one hour before Tyler, the Creator took to the Big Apple stage directly across the field, Gov Ball fans were treated to what was essentially a two-hour Golf Wang concert. Earl was great, playing mostly tracks from Doris, and he brought so many jokes: After beseeching the crowd to chant "I'ma fuck your freckles off your face bitch," the least agreeable line from "Molasses," he quipped, "Now Governor's Ball has AIDS, bro." He beseeched the crowd to "have a festival-ass moment" in which the crowd should "wave your hands from side to side like somebody died." Then he informed us of his hydration levels: "Check this out: I'm about to drink water." And it continued… J.E.S.

Griffin Lotz

Best Stage Banter (Pt. 2): Tyler, the Creator

Here's a small selection from Tyler's set: "I didn't even know this festival existed until last month when I found out I had to come here to play it. I don't really like festivals because people aren't always there to see me but you all seem like nice people. I'm Tyler. I think I have less than an hour to yell onstage. It smells like dookie so bad." Situated close to the porta-potties on the breeziest day of the weekend, the rapper-producer wasn't lying. Later, before launching into brutal breakup song "IFHY," Tyler, announced, "We're gonna get really depressed and sad real quick so everyone pace yourselves," and Earl had some choice words for someone in the crowd with his mounted Go-Pro camera: "Are you Gandalf? Did you smoke crack?" But there was love for some other festival ephemera, with Tyler freaking out over a Dora the Explorer balloon. C.L.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Way to Undermine a Few Nice Gestures: Reed-Basquiat-Koch

Aside from celebrating the music and food scenes of New York City, Gov Ball also made sure to celebrate a few carefully selected local icons. Of all the free-standing paintings placed throughout the festival, the most bizarre was this mural. Reed and Basquiat together make sense, but the jury is still out on why Koch belongs in between them. C.L.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Surprise Woodwind: Ratking

With a messy approach to melodies and charismatic on-stage tension, performances by New York City hip-hop crew Ratking are always slightly unhinged, and the addition of live saxophone player Isaiah Barr, a local bandleader who guested on the crew's "Snow Beach," added free-jazz-levels of happy unwieldiness to their Gov Ball set. Rapper/toaster Wiki remains a compelling frontman thanks to his pure physical aggression and punk approach to rapping, but the additional brass underscored that sometimes his dancing is almost what you'd find in a ska mosh pit. Imagine the Operation Ivy logo come to life and you're almost there. J.E.S.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Way to Alienate a Crowd: Bastille

British pop band Bastille has become wildly popular, largely due to their somnambulist, blank-faced single "Pompeii." I know this, and can accept this. But once they covered TLC, it got personal: Their milktoast, Celtic-flair rendition of "No Scrubs," complete with lead singer Dan Smith gesticulating with "rap hands," totally neutered one of pop's biggest-ever hits about female empowerment. A perfect example that #NotAllMen should kowtow to their every artistic impulse. J.E.S.

Dana Distortion

Best Group Falsetto: La Roux and co.

Strutting about with an ever-crimson shock of bangs and wiry frame, LaRoux's Elly Jackson is always a strong performer, notable for her pitch-perfect, airy soprano. She sings in a register that most mortals cannot comfortably reach, so when a huge swath of her fans attempted to sing along to hit single "In For the Kill," it was a study in falsetto, diaphragm work and how comfortable some people are with singing in public. That's the best kind of fan: so lost in the moment they've no inhibition. Good efforts, team. J.E.S.

Griffin Lotz

Best Semi-Comeback: TV on the Radio

In a weekend stacked with comeback shows from locals who repped post-9/11 New York the Strokes and Interpol, anyone? that fact that it included TV on the Radio's first NYC show in over a year felt the most surprising. Opening with the forcefield that is "Young Liars," the band started out in top form and never wavered, going through a set that seemed propelled by need and showing how original a band they still are: No matter how many solo albums and production credits individual members rack up, it's this particular magic that clicks the best. Of the two songs they played from their forthcoming album their first in three years, since the death of bassist Gerard Smith – one was a sweet, melancholy lullaby, the other a quietly seething rock number in which Tunde Adebimpe sang the line "thought you were my best friend, now I couldn't care less." Also, their trumpeter looked like white Jesus, which was cool. J.E.S.

Griffin Lotz

Best Reason to Wear Earplugs: Deafheaven

In the small and acoustically challenging Gotham Tent, San Francisco black metal outfit Deafheaven played a highly anticipated early-afternoon set. For those less familiar with last year's Sunbather, it was completely unanticipated how loud the band would be. As a rowdy pit formed toward the front of the stage, it was shocking that everyone's ears weren't bleeding. Then again, with a name like Deafheaven, we can't say they didn't warn us. C.D.

Burak Cingi/Redferns via Getty Images

Best Meek-Voiced Singer: Banks

Whereas some of Banks' recorded material sounds almost too submerged in its production aesthetics, on stage, her sleepy, soulful break-up meditations come to life. Bangers like "This is What It Feels Like" seemed much more formidable in person, and the singer's vibrato was strong while her band played with neo-soul levels of tightness. Even though Aaliyah's legacy has been mined to the point of fatigue, Banks found unlikely success with an "Are You That Somebody?" cover, nailing a chorus that often stumps lesser artists. J.E.S.

Taylor Hill/WireImage for Governors Ball Music Festival

Best (and Worst) Sunset: Neko Case

Neko Case played during the first day's sunset, the night's sky gorgeously sneaking up behind her and her band as they played her country-tinged songs. But the retreating sun was only mood-setting for the crowd, as it continuously blinded singer all through her performance. Fans sweetly offered to give her sunglasses, but she said her head is too big to wear them. Either way, in terms of wearables, Case's skeleton pants kind of owned the festival. C.L.

Nicole Fara Silver

Best Save: Tanlines

Throughout most of the weekend, sound on the Big Apple Stage left a lot to be desired. Kurt Vile and his band wafted into the breeze and for a while, it seemed like every act was getting lost inside of muted instruments. Brooklyn's Tanlines had it the worst. By the time they got to their triptych of semi-hits ("Real Life," "Not the Same" and "All of Me"), the speakers were crackling so badly that they had to stop and start the finale three times. Ultimately, they got through it and one half of the duo, Jesse Cohen, graciously thanked the audience for sticking around despite the disruptively crunchy beginning. C.L.

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