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Governors Ball 2018: 20 Best Things We Saw

Highlights from New York’s biggest summer bash, including Pusha T’s surprise set and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ heartrending comeback

Governors Ball 2018: 20 Best Things We Saw

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Each year thousands of New Yorkers touch down on Randall’s Island for the annual Governors Ball – still, few festival goers come prepared for what’s usually a wet fest. The torrential downpour on Sunday almost generated Woodstock ’94 proportions of mud, but headliner Eminem powered through until the end. In spite of its all-male headliners, the festival paid some respect to a cultural shift in light of the #MeToo movement: Gov Ball organizers formally declared a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment or discrimination on their website, and the Sober Ball tent offered refuge for clean and sober music fans. Even with increasing safety measures, there was plenty of fun to be had. Here are some of this year’s highlights.

Best Worst Gov Ball 2018

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Best Last-Minute Save: Pusha T

Just days before they were slated to play Gov Ball’s American Eagle stage, L.A. hip-hop collective Brockhampton dropped out of this year’s fest to privately contend with sexual misconduct allegations against ex-member Ameer Vann. But thanks to some savvy festival organizers, Gov Ball roped in the buzziest possible replacement Saturday afternoon – and, fresh off a highly-publicized beef with Drake, Pusha T delivered one memorable show. Throwbacks from his Clipse days such as “Grindin'” were peppered among cuts from his new solo album, Daytona, which he performed for the first time live this weekend – including “Infrared,” his Molotov cocktail of a diss against Drizzy. Chants of “Fuck Drake” resounded across a sea of sunburnt college students (and some ride-or-die fans, too). King Push calmed the ruckus by raising his hands up and walking out 15 minutes early, like a boss. S.E.

Best Worst Gov Ball 2018

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Most Intimate Set: Moses Sumney

Establishing a sense of intimacy is difficult within any festival setting, but Moses Sumney’s neo-jazz and soul-inspired atmospheric sounds hypnotized audience members – and signaled raucous onlookers to put up, or shut up. Grasping the harmonic capabilities and limitations of the body was the through line of Sumney’s set. Sumney’s versatile live band spotlighted classical instruments such as the violin and clarinet, and Sumney illustrated the body’s percussive capabilities via loop pedal, hitting his microphone, clapping, and snapping to form his own live backing track. He ended the afternoon set with “Plastic,” singing solo with his electric guitar. “My wings are made of plastic,” he sang in his delicate falsetto, reckoning with his own fragility onstage and sharing a quietly fervid connection with his fans. N.B.

Wolf Alice

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Best Brit Band: Wolf Alice

Despite playing a relatively early set, British alt-rock group Wolf Alice managed to transport the energy of a London punk gig to the field on on Friday afternoon. Performing a wide array of tracks from their dynamite albums, including standouts like Visions of a Life‘s odyssey of a title track and their riotous breakout song “Yuk Foo,” the rebellious four-piece reveled in reverb and bombastic guitar solos. Singer Ellie Rowsell led them from lullaby-like laments (“Don’t Delete the Kisses”) to screams that incited a circle pit led solely by teenage girls – true to Wolf Alice’s essence. During the song “You’re a Germ,” Rowsell sneered, “You ain’t going to heaven, no – ’cause I’m dragging you down to hell!” It’s clear that in hell with Wolf Alice is the place to be. S.B.

Best Worst Gov Ball 2018

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Best Stage Presence: LANY

In spite of their minimal aesthetic, indie pop group LANY held down the main stage on Saturday afternoon with confidence – and came off cooler than just about anybody else at the fest. Leading with sparkling Eighties guitar tones and drum machines, LANY regaled the crowd with fan favorites such as “4EVER!” and “ILYSB,” as well as releases from their 2017 self-titled LP. Enigmatic frontman Paul Jason Klein carried the sea of fans through his passionate delivery of the starry-eyed, gushy pop tracks, losing himself in smooth dance breaks and even climbing onto the audience barricade for a pseudo-crowd surf during “Made in Hollywood.” LANY’s star power was both out-of-this-world and incredibly effortless. S.B.

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Best Rock Revival: Jack White

Holding court on the main stage Friday was Jack White and his noble band, shredding the night away and winning over new young fans in the process. White spanned nearly 20 years’ worth of songs, throwing in some Raconteurs and White Stripes cuts between his new songs. Olds and newbs alike rejoiced at the White Stripes’ fight song “Seven Nation Army,” but it wasn’t all nostalgic: There was some righteous rage, too. White redubbed their 2004 single, “Icky Thump” to “Icky Trump,” calling out the president mid-lyric. “White Americans,” he sang, “Nothing better to do/Why don’t you kick yourself out/You’re an immigrant too! … That’s for you, Trump!” S.E.

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Best Cover: Shawn Mendes Sings “Use Somebody”

In the middle of his set, Shawn Mendes wailed the emotive intro to Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” stunning a vast majority of the crowd and leaving a handful of younger fans who were unfamiliar with the track confused. Nevertheless, it was a short and sweet tribute to one of Mendes’ favorite groups, and it highlighted the teen star’s pop-rock capabilities and vocal chops. Along with performances of hits like “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” and recent singles like “In My Blood,” the Canadian singer-songwriter proved that, while he was “totally” intimidated to play the fest, he had nothing to worry about. “This is really cool for me because this was one of the first festivals I went to and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, it would be cool to be on that stage,’ and now I’m on that stage,” he told the crowd. S.B.

Best Band-Audience Bond: Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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Best Band-Audience Bond: Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Dozens of Yeah Yeah Yeahs fans who secured spots near the barricades got up close with frontwoman Karen O, who offered them her microphone to sing the ooh‘s of “Cheated Hearts,” off 2006’s Show Your Bones. The singer strung her microphone towards the audience and along the barricades, giving turns to as many fans as possible. This stunt resulted in some frequency-defying renditions of the song’s melody – including a kazoo version. Before the band broke out into their performance of “Maps,” Karen O dedicated the song to all the lovers in the crowd – lovers who have lost, lovers they have loved more than life itself, and their mothers, too. After the song ended, she tugged down her shirt to press her mic against her chest, twisting and turning it inward to where her heart rests. The audience felt the love. N.B.

Best Worst Gov Ball 2018

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Best Singalong: Third Eye Blind

“I’m sick as fuck!” shouted Third Eye Blind frontman Stephen Jenkins, who’d been battling a bout of bronchitis in the days leading up to the fest. “They shot my neck up with steroids,” he added. “But I could still use your help!” Fans from Generation X to Z happily obliged in singalongs, duly carrying all the high notes in “Jumper” and “How’s It Going to Be.” Jenkins also championed this weekend’s protest against gun violence, organized by the non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety. Wearing an orange guitar strap and wristband, Jenkins proclaimed, “We don’t have to cower and submit to those who perpetuate gun violence!” The band followed a fittingly sloppy cover of Babyshambles’ “Fuck Forever” with an extended, soul-quenching performance of “Semi-Charmed Life.” S.E.

Best After Dark Performance: Margo Price

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Best After Dark Performance: Margo Price

Having just played three sold out nights at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Margo Price is a rare country music phenomenon. And although she played a significantly smaller show at Brooklyn Bowl Saturday night, as part of the Governors Ball After Dark series, Price’s set was nothing short of a honky-tonk barnburner. She riled up the crowd from the beginning with “Don’t Say It” – from last year’s excellent All American Made – and took the show into an unapologetically nostalgic direction, with rowdy covers of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and Bob Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine).” During stomper “Hurtin’ on the Bottle,” she even worked in verses from “Whiskey River,” and Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” But the highlight of the set was Price’s own “Cocaine Cowboys,” a gem off her new album about guys she wishes she could stay away from. Price eventually put down her guitar and got behind a second drum kit, pounding away through an intrepid, psychedelic rock excursion. Perhaps it was a hint of where she might take her sound next. P.D.

Silk City Best Worst Gov Ball 2018

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Best Collaboration: Silk City (Diplo and Mark Ronson)

English hitmaker Mark Ronson and EDM party boy Diplo took their fans somewhere new on Saturday evening’s set: Silk City. The duo premiered their new collaborative effort live, debuting a calculated project of funk, disco, house, and old school hip-hop – a club-hopper’s dream come true. The two took turns spinning decks, curating a DJ session that graduated from flipped 2000s R&B numbers to contemporary hits, such as a dance-friendly version of Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” led by a groovy guitar line. With its funk foundation, few drops overtook the set besides an amplified “Do the Hustle” – but never-heard-before cuts from the pair offered fresh sounds to move to. If Ronson and Diplo had it their way and Silk City really existed, it would probably be some swanky Seventies night club, perhaps located just outside Miami, or Manhattan, or somewhere in outer space. S.B.

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Best Onstage Show of Solidarity: Halsey

Around the same time that the sun began to set on Randall’s Island on Saturday night, festival goers rushed to the main stage to the sight of pyrotechnics and the sound of Halsey’s opening performance of “Eyes Closed.” The “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom” singer was celebrating the one-year anniversary of her sophomore album that night, but she also used the performance as an opportunity to kick-off LGBTQ Pride Month before performing “Strangers,” her ode to queer relationships. “June is pride month. If you are a proud member of the LGBT community, or a proud friend of someone who is, you gotta, you gotta: Dance!” she shouted. While performing hits like “Bad in Love” and the Chainsmokers’ “Closer,” Halsey also wore orange – sporting a neon bikini top and iridescent cargo pants – as part of the Wear Orange campaign to show support for the movement in support of gun violence prevention. D.T.

Best Merch: Travis Scott

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Best Merch: Travis Scott

The lines for exorbitantly priced merchandise are some of the
longest at the fest. But to be fair, standout merch has become an
album rollout staple. While talking up his upcoming album, Astroworld – inspired by the now-defunct theme park in Houston, Texas – Travis Scott dropped his latest line of merch at the fest, including a T-shirt he wore with the words “Wish You Were Here” emblazoned on the back. Additional merch included hoodies covered in rainbows and printed with what looked like a roller coaster plummeting into the underworld. Travis Scott reassured the crowd that the album would arrive soon, but he had even more to say about the Astroworld tour. “Building an amusement park in the arena is not easy, but I’m gonna fucking do it,” Scott stated as lights flashed behind him. “Every night on fucking tour is gonna be the best fucking ride of your fucking life.” Although Scott’s Gov Ball exclusives stood out among the rest of the tees, Post Malone’s gas-station-attendant-chic streetwear line – AKA “Posty Co” – did come in a close second. S.B., N.B.

Trippiest Set: Cuco

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Trippiest Set: Cuco

Cuco – the moniker for the California-based stoner pop artist Omar Banos – set Gov Ball ablaze on early Saturday afternoon. With neon, kaleidoscopic graphics and R&B psychedelia, the California up-and-comer in his majority-adolescent crowd. The Chicano teen dream was backed by a fabulous six-piece band who showcased their range of chillwave-infused sounds, indulging ineverything from unhurried Spanglish rap in “Summertime Hightime,” and kicking off a psychedelic time warp in “Sunnyside” – completely subverting genre and appealing to the more omnivorous Spotify generation of fans. S.B.

Best Teen Heartthrob: Khalid

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Best Teen Heartthrob: Khalid

Ironically having just turned 20, Khalid, mastermind behind Grammy-nominated
record American Teen, catered his Sunday
evening performance on the main stage to his massive audience of actual teens. He
kicked off his set by quoting a lyric from his song, “8TEEN”– “Let’s
do all the stupid shit young kids do” – and shouted out recent high school
graduates in saying, “I want to congratulate the class of 2018!” While his band and backup dancers were almost robotically airtight, Khalid exuded
a natural sense of tenderness towards his fans, especially as he wrapped up
with his 2017 hit, “Young Dumb & Broke.” The
thousands of American teens in the crowd were rapt under the spell of their
young king. S.B.

Best Early Bird Act: The Regrettes

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Best Early Bird Act: The Regrettes

“I know it’s early but… Do you guys know what a mosh pit is? I feel like that should happen,” suggested The Regrettes’ lead singer Lydia Night on Saturday afternoon, during the festival’s earliest time slot. Those who showed up for the L.A. band absorbed enough of their high-octane energy to survive the rest of the sweltering day. Night, whose hot pink hair matched the hue of her guitar, invited young women in the audience to the front of the stage for a defiant performance of their song, “A Living Human Girl.” The Regrettes closed their set with an incisive cover of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” – a middle finger to their cock-rock predecessors. N.B.

Best Mosh Pit: Lil Uzi Vert

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Best Mosh Pit: Lil Uzi Vert

“How many people in the crowd believe that Uzi is a real rock star?” Asked Lil Uzi Vert a few songs into his set – just a day after his altercation with rapper Rich The Kid – inside a Philadelphia Starbucks, no less. The audience roared with unanimous approval before Uzi burst into his song, “Real Rockstar.” Apart from his aesthetic throwbacks to early Aughts Hot Topic, the emo rap-rocker brought a gritty punk rock edge that was missing from the rest of the weekend, prompting the crowd to mosh, body surf, and “make some noise you if you don’t give a shit and you a real rager!” Pleased with the crowd’s reaction to his rendition of “Bad and Boujee,” Uzi concluded, “This ain’t no bitch-ass crowd.” D.T.

Best Worst Gov Ball 2018

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Best Headliner: Eminem

About halfway through his headlining set, Eminem decided to intensify his recent public flirtation with Nicki Minaj: “I just wanna give a shout-out to wifey,” he said, lying down in the center of the stage. “Nicki, let’s do this,” he said, adding, “She don’t even know we go together.” This baiting move was a reminder of the feisty hellraiser that Eminem was when he first broke through two decades ago. His Sunday night set highlighted the struggle between that risk-taking genius of the Nineties and the polished pop hitmaker he’s become in the last decade. The best moments channeled the former – for an audience teeming with kids born well after he released 1999’s Slim Shady LP, the rapper led huge singalongs of classics like “Kill You” and “Stan” for an enthusiastic Sunday night crowd. A special highlight was “The Way I Am,” during which Eminem bounced around as a live band with strings elevated the song to new peaks. After that Eminem gave the floor to surprise guest 50 Cent, who flashed his huge grin through a fun throwback set that included his 2003 anthem, “In Da Club.” Vocalist Skylar Grey appeared, ethereal as ever, for “Walk on Water” and “Love the Way You Lie,” before Eminem segued into some newer tracks. But by then it had started to pour – and those songs felt a little damp too. P.D.

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