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Recapping Governors Ball 2013

- June 12th, 2013

We hope you packed your galoshes! The remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea drenched New York City this past weekend, creating a muddy environment for the thousands of fans that attended the Governors Ball music festival, a three-day extravaganza at NYC’s Randall’s Island.

“I’m not scared of mud…where we’re from, every festival’s covered in mud,” said Bloc Party’s Keke Orkele to the crowd on Sunday night, referencing the U.K.’s tradition of soggy events (those fans at Glastonbury always seem to be having fun, right?).

Aside from the weather issues, the weekend went well for organizers Founders Entertainment, who grew the festival significantly from last year’s two-day edition, with help from 2013 headliners Kanye West, Kings of Leon and Guns N’ Roses.

While we couldn’t see all the acts – music festivals are all about choices, aren’t they? – here are some brief thoughts on the bands that we did check out.

DAY ONE

DINOSAUR JR. – Light rain couldn’t dampen Dinosaur Jr’s eternal alt-rock spirit, as J Mascis and co. stood in front of a wall of booming amps and ripped through a number of fan favourites – plus their trademark cover of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven.

BEST COAST – The California surf poppers generated a fairly big crowd, even though the weather continued to worsen. The Only Thing earned the loudest applause, with singer Bethany Cosentino telling fans that the sunny tune would momentarily transport them away from their wet shoes and onto a California shoreline. Cosentino’s strong vocals sounded great as they echoed across the damp fields.

DILLON FRANCIS – Dillon Francis sipped Red Bull and chuckled as he wiped rain away from his gear. The Los Angeles-based EDM musician mixed originals like Masta Blasta and I.D.G.A.F.O.S. with remixes of songs like Justin Timberlake’s Suit & Tie to create a rainy dance party, with fans throwing down in the mud while holding inflatable kangaroos and other quirky props.

FEIST – Feist bounded onto the stage, encouraging fans to embrace the weather and toss off their ponchos. She struggled to get through one song, as the heavy winds shifted the rain sideways and onto the equipment. The tiny singer stood tough against Mother Nature – defiantly blowing into a conch shell at a few points – but the weather won, with organizers stepping in to cancel the rest of her set. “I’m sorry,” she told the crowd, “but we don’t want to get electrocuted”. Kings of Leon and Pretty Lights also had their sets cancelled – much to the chagrin of the festivalsgoers arriving late to the event.

DAY TWO

RUBY VELLE AND THE SOULPHONICS – Frontwoman Ruby Velle joked about being one of the first acts to perform, but her band’s soulful, big-band sound had the dedicated crowd moving. The Atlanta-based musicians even brought the dancing onstage, with the horn section stepping in choreographed routines.

ROBERT DeLONG – DeLong proved himself as a true one-man band, as he combined indie rock vocal melodies with electronic music elements – utilizing loop pedals and samping his own voice – to create a sound that had many potential new fans bobbing their heads. At one point, he used a joystick to commandeer a dubstep-influenced bass drop, swerving onstage as if he was manoeuvring through towers of synthesizers.

GRIZ – The lanky Detroit-based EDM musician swayed onstage, seemingly stirring himself into a trance. He surprised the youthful audience by sprinkles samples of songs like Jump Around and Tequila into his bass-heavy performance. The biggest surprise, however, came when he ripped into a saxophone solo. This guy knows how to party.

JAPANDROIDS – Despite getting shifted to an earlier set time, the Vancouver rock duo brought a lot of energy and humour to their set, getting the biggest fan response from The House that Heaven Built and The Nights of Wine and Roses. Were Brian King’s vocals perfect? Nope, but his Guns N’ Roses jokes were on-point.

ALT-J – The English indie rockers sounded exactly like their recorded output, with stellar, atmospheric renditions of songs like Matilda, Fitzpleasure and Taro. The sun came out for the first time during this set.

KINGS OF LEON – “We’re 21 hours late,” said frontman Caleb Followill, referencing how the weather forced his band to play a day later than planned. “We’re just happy to be here.” He then promised the crowd that the band would deliver the best performance they could, despite the fact that they were supposed to be packing for London and didn’t have all of their own equipment. They played a solid, professional set, sequencing older songs like Taper Jean Girl, The Bucket and Molly’s Chambers with catchy radio hits like Use Somebody and Sex on Fire. They even debuted a new song, Super Soaker, from their upcoming album Mechanical Bull.

DAY THREE

THE VACCINES – The British rockers opened with No Hope in front of a small crowd of hardcore followers. “Thanks for coming out so early,” said frontman Jason Young, before blistering through songs like Teenage Icon, Aftershave Ocean, Post Break-Up Sex and If You Wanna. The group seemed to be having fun as they played little pranks on one another, such as when drummer Freddie Cowan encouraged the crowd to clap in the wrong tempo, messing up a solo performance by bassist Arni Arnason.

COLD WAR KIDS – It wasn’t until the third song – new single Miracle Mile – that the California quintet was able to win over the audience. They continued to hold the crowd’s interest with solid renditions of Hang Me Up to Dry – fans roared at the song’s opening riff – and Louder Than Ever.

BEIRUT – “It’s nice to play at home again,” said Beirut mastermind Zach Condon, referencing his band’s adopted home of New York. Condon’s group, dressed in blazers and dress shirts, was the best-dressed of the festival. Fans embraced the group’s world music-influenced sound as Condon shielded his face from the sun, singing songs like Vagabond, The Akara and Port of Call.

BLOC PARTY – Bloc Party’s tight, passionate performance – plus frontman Keke Orkele’s happy-to-be-there persona – resulted in one of the best sets of the festival. Orkele said the festival visit was the band’s last stop on its American tour, and called New York his “home away from home.” The British indie rockers pummeled through the heavier tracks on their new album, and treated fans to a brand new song called Montreal. Their encore included the mosh-pit-inducing Helicopter and This Modern Love, which left fans sweaty and satisfied once the lights came up.

KANYE WEST – Sunday’s headliner kept fans waiting for 20 minutes, but it seemed like the wait was worth it, as Kanye West treated fans to five new songs from his upcoming album Yeezus. The rapper performed on a fairly minimal stage setup, occasionally using the video screens to show close-ups of his face or an airstrip background. Fans responded best to older tracks like Power, Jesus Walks and All of the Lights, and even West’s awkward a cappella rendition of the Heartless chorus – did he have to do it four times? – couldn’t kill the vibe. Toward the end of the set, he ranted about the music industry, and boasted that his new album wouldn’t have a single on the radio. “At this point, when I listen to radio, that ain’t where I want to be right now,” he said, his voice growing in intensity. “At this point, I don’t really give a f— about outside opinions.”

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