Crashed by bouts of torrential rain and thunder, this year's Governors Ball was a three-day face-off between music-lovers and Mother Nature. Sunday's shows were entirely canceled, leaving musicians no choice but to scatter across the boroughs in search of dry, indoor venues to play. Still, most acts managed to rock Randall's Island without a hitch. Here are some of our favorites.
The Killers charged out the gates with "Mr. Brightside," the group's debut single and still their biggest hit. The track shines as brightly today as it did in 2003, with brisk pacing, a sterling pair of pre-hooks, and a breathlessly imperialistic chorus. The Killers are a Vegas band, so a certain sense of hammy theatricality percolates through their DNA. Singer Brandon Flowers conveyed this through his dramatic poses — the way he held the mic at a distance and pushed his neck forward; his easy, Ethan Hawke-like grins; his magenta blazer; and, most of all, through an unexpected cover of "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You," originally popularized by Elvis Presley.
Hometown heroes the Strokes didn't disappoint on Friday night, despite being a fashionable, yet anxiety-inducing, half-hour late. Nevertheless, the band promptly ran through a number of hits, some material from the brand new EP, Future Present Past, and even a very rare showing of "Electricityscape," a deep cut off 2006's First Impressions of Earth. While guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. swapped some blistering solos, Julian Casablancas was ever the comedian, infusing their set with endearingly dorky stage banter. "The old Governor's balls," Casablancas muttered into the mic. "On and on until the break of dawn!" he continued. "But what if you start making Sweet L at 10 p.m.? That's like, nine straight hours of … it's too much. Well, maybe not for you guys. Okey dokey, back to business!"
Casablancas shared some kind words about the late art director Brett Kilroe, the mastermind behind the band's iconic artwork over the years. Kilroe died of cancer in late March. "My wife said something really cool," said Casablancas, "[Kilroe] knew everybody better than they knew themselves." The band proceeded to bang out a cover of "Clampdown" by the Clash, followed by Number One crowd pleaser, "Reptilia." Most remarkably, they even emerged for an encore: "They booed us the other night when we didn't do an encore," said Casablancas, "Boo to them, right? YOLO!" The band eased into "You Only Live Once," sending off New York City with a fittingly bombastic fireworks display.
After Sunday was cancelled, a rescheduled Prophets of Rage show in Brooklyn's 1,000-capacity Warsaw represented the group's east coast debut. Anticipation to hear the supergroup — the three musicians in Rage Against the Machine, Chuck D and DJ Lord from Public Enemy and B-Real from Cypress Hill — was palpable. "I feel like they're all really good artists — they know people want hear them," one fan explained to his friend, before adding, "They want to hear themselves!" Soon after Prophets took the stage, the group launched into a mash-up of the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" and Public Enemy's "Fight the Power." Fan excitement quickly translated into visceral movement, and a mosh pit formed near the front of the stage. After their performance ended, the crowd turned to file out of the venue, but progress was halted momentarily as people realized that celebrity fan Chris Rock was standing in the balcony.
His 1993 breakout hit, "Loser," is older than many of this weekend's festivalgoers; yet there was no denying Beck's timeless cool on Friday evening at the Gov Ball stage. Opening with "Devil's Haircut," Beck and his band provided an evening of throwbacks and quirky tributes to heroes past. His 2006 single "I Think I'm in Love" became fused with Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," and he delivered Prince's "Raspberry Beret" with a smoky timbre. Beck later relayed a story from the 2015 Grammy Awards, in which he notably beat out Beyoncé for Album of the Year – and even got a hug from the Purple One himself. Beck described the scene as one of the "strangest, most amazing moments" of his life. The band would also intersperse their closer, "Where It's At" with surprise covers of "1999" and Bowie's "China Girl."
The first of several bouts of heavy rain fell during Haim's set, changing the crowd's energy — it's more difficult to appreciate the lengthy drum solo segment when you're soaked. But Este acknowledged the weather, announcing, "I'm gonna get wet just like you guys," and walked out from the cover of the stage to experience the precipitation.
Mac Miller's most recent album, GO:OD AM, included valuable contributions from a number of big names, including Miguel, who was scheduled to play Governors Ball on Saturday not long after Miller. It was easy to imagine that the pair would team up to perform their relaxed collaboration, "Weekend." Sure enough, before Miller performed the track, an onstage camera showed Miguel backstage. But the singer didn't care to do much — Miller handled almost the entire song by himself, and Miguel came out to sing a scrap of the final hook.
Several artists, including Beck and Haim, chose to honor Prince this weekend with covers. Against Me! instead performed a rendition of the Clash's "Train in Vain," fleshing out the original's peppy skeleton with muscular, distorted guitars. The selection also served a purpose in the set aside from dutiful homage — following the cover, Against Me! locked into a focused, raucous groove, and the small crowd clapped along furiously to the beat.
At a festival where the bands skew young and the audience even younger, De La Soul offered a veteran presence. During the group's boisterous, commanding set, the crowd was enthusiastic and trusting, happy to follow instructions from the stage — raise hands, spin around, and of course, jump. De La Soul didn't limit themselves to the oldies, choosing to perform "Dilla Plugged In," which appeared on 2014's Smell The D.A.I.S.Y.
Brit dance-pop outfit Years & Years brought their breezy tropical splendor to an otherwise dreary day at the Honda Stage. Fortified by a soulful team of backup singers, the band regaled the audience with tunes from 2015's Communion, including U.K. Number One single "King." The highlight was their undoubtedly sexy take on Drake's "Hotline Bling," accentuated by frontman Olly Alexander's slouchy little pirouettes (and curly frosted tips, courtesy of Justin Timberlake circa 1999). Alexander closed out the set by leading the audience into a chorus of "Happy Birthday" to bashful keyboardist Emre Türkmen.
Outkast's Big Boi and his vampy collaborators Phantogram coasted effortlessly through their smoky self-titled EP. Donning a spidery, metallic contraption around her neck, vocalist Sarah Barthel supplied breathy positive reinforcements, periodically gasping "I love this song!" Just as the audience was starting to slacken their enthusiasm, the band eased into a cleverly executed mash-up of their respective hits — Outkast's "Ms. Jackson" with Phantogram's "Mouthful of Diamonds" — charming the crowd and reaping the triumphant return of the sunshine.
The Knocks are NYC natives, and they weren't afraid to show it: "We're the Knocks, and we're from here." The duo traffics in house-lite, a musical space that is dominated by English acts, including Duke Dumont, Disclosure and Gorgon City. But the Knocks offered a reminder that New York played an integral role in the creation of the house music canon.
Thundercat's bass playing has anchored records from Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Jhene Aiko, Childish Gambino and Flying Lotus. But he's also an impressive singer, with a lissome, malleable voice. His set on Saturday was casual, funky, meandering — many listeners chatted through it — and it was shot with moments of elegant beauty that centered around the voice. During "Tron Song," the drummer joined the bassist for ravishing high harmony before gliding to a soft landing. When it came time to play "Heartbreaks + Setbacks," Thundercat's approximation of a pop song, his voice climbed the scale and seemed on the verge of floating away.
The rain didn't hold up Nashville's Bully, currently touring in support of their 2015 debut, Feels Like. "This weather is perfect!" shouted frontwoman Alicia Bognanno, before diving into singles like "Trying" and "Milkman." Bognanno briefly ditched her mint green guitar to shout out a gritty rendition of McLusky's "Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues." Her voice was as prickly as the pineapple getting tossed haphazardly around the pit.
Marian Hill has enjoyed exploiting the contrast between unforgiving electronic beats and the shiny sound of a lone saxophone since it released the Play EP in 2014. At Governors Ball, the woodwind showed up on the group's second song, "One Time." Here the horn unfurled focused lines; later, the sax player sluiced notes around a thunderous post-Neptunes beat. The resulting music approximates lounge-trap with a hint of squawking dissonance.
Nothing's set started a few minutes after its scheduled time, and lead singer Domenic Palermo was not pleased, blaming "that awful band across the way" for playing too long. His mood picked up as soon the band ripped into their set. Soon he was congratulating the crowd for making it out — "It's early as fuck!" — and sharing amusing reflections on the release of the group's new album, Tired of Tomorrow: "Even my mom has heard of the band now, it's pretty crazy." The music stayed sludgy, squalling and unhurried.