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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 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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