Now that the last ferry has long since departed from Randalls Island, the balloon arches have been popped and the crushed-to-blithereens Miller Lite cans have been swept up along with the rest of the festival’s evidence, it’s time to look back on the best music moments at Governors Ball 2015. From the return of DIIV to St. Vincent’s face-melting prowess to Kiesza’s house domination, here are the Gov Ball sets that’ll tide us over until the next music marathon shebang.
KIESZA A Kiesza performance is very simple: When you’re present for one, you dance. She is there to pump, pump you up, pump the jams while your feet are stomping. It’s all very Nineties. Move it, move it, if you will. On Saturday afternoon, Kiesza rocked an enormous crowd at the tented stage in the center of Randalls Island Park. It was a youthful showing, full of festival patrons far too young to remember prancing around to Ace of Base or head-bobbing along to Night at the Roxbury or wearing out Jock Jams cassettes. Aerobic party pop, it turns out, is timeless. Maybe not so much was Kiesza’s wardrobe, a confusing mishmash of vaguely athletic garments that had her looking like a goth Lucille Ball.
Few artists draw from a particular era’s aesthetic so blatantly and so unapologetically as Kiesza. Any description of her sound will inevitably include “Nineties,” probably somewhere in the first few words. But she owns it, and it’s fucking awesome. Removed from the context of all of our Space Jam associations, her music is energetic, fun, and danceable as hell. When she played her hit “Hideaway” toward the end of her set, the party spilled well outside the bounds of the tent she was performing under. It was hard not to get swept up in the energy, and it didn’t matter if it was because you were feeling nostalgic for the music you grew up on, or if you just wanted to dance. — Ryan Bort
FLORENCE + THE MACHINE You already know we’re obsessed. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is a stunning record, and Florence + the Machine’s Governors Ball set just after the drop of the album was nothing short of spectacular. It made for an excellent kick-off to the festival, and few met Flo & co. on their level as far as artistry, stage banter, and entertainment were concerned. — Hilary Hughes
WHITE LUNG “It’s too early in the day!” Even though White Lung’s Mish Way was more than right during their early set on Saturday, not an ounce of exhaustion or restraint seemed to linger over the Canadian punk outfit’s explosive performance.
Every song played was presented with undeniable brutality. Even though it took a few tracks to get their sound compatible with the stage (“This is what happens at festivals!”), White Lung were relentless in their attack. Way was in full rock form, loosing venous howls. Way sported a T-shirt emblazoned with the faces of the Gallagher brothers, and while Oasis aren’t the first band that comes to mind when considering White Lung’s punk tendencies, festival band camaraderie is always a hoot. (Now, if only Noel and White Lung had played Gov Ball on the same day…) Considering they played Gov Ball not twelve hours after a packed show in Brooklyn the night before, White Lung get nothing but accolades for setting the relentlessly rocking bar high halfway through the fest. — Silas Valentino
DIIV “[Is this] wet enough for ya?” posed DIIV’s Zachary Cole Smith to the soggy crowd after playing the band’s first jangly, droning tune during a drizzly Friday-afternoon performance. The set comprised a majority of new songs from their forthcoming album, Is the Is Are, which sounds like a sophomore effort that’ll beat the dread slump when released later this fall. Devin Ruben Perez’s Gibson Firebird thumped out consistent, rhythmic grooves and was the beacon guiding his band into prosperous pop territory — but center stage belonged to Smith. Looking as though he was just ripped off a Montage of Heck subway poster, Smith offered haunting vocals that soared above the happy-go-lucky distorted meditations his band was churning out around him. Often he would harmonize with keyboardist Colin Caulfield, their dual vocals a joint, gloomy reverberation.
Controversy and blog headlines have lurked behind this band since their debut, 2012’s Oshin, but if this Governors Ball set was any indication of where they’re heading to next, DIIV will be just fine — as long as the rain doesn’t short their circuits. — Silas Valentino
CHROMEO A festival lineup that doesn’t boast the nickel-plated, obligatory dance party helmed by Chromeo is at this point an unwelcome rarity, and Canada’s best beat-churners showed up to Gov Ball to do what they do best: groove. Tracks off 2014’s White Women were just as fresh to those present on Randalls Island as they were for the handfuls of other festival crowds they’ve played to since the drop of the record, with “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” a noticeable standout. To shake things up, Dave 1 started riffing on Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” only to have Ezra Koenig join them and take his own tune to task. It’s nice that Chromeo have more or less made a festival main stage their natural habitat at this point. It’s even nicer that they continue to push the envelope and bring different challenges into the mix to keep things interesting. — Hilary Hughes
BENJAMIN BOOKER For three short minutes, Bessie Smith’s “Muddy Water (A Mississippi Moan)” served as the opener for Benjamin Booker’s early Friday set. This cool NOLA-jazz number slogged on before the band took the stage with Booker in tow, a cigarette in hand — his first of three for the show.
Just about every rock track from his sole, self-titled release was turned over and subject for review, from his furious single about erotic asphyxiation (“Violent Shiver”) to the calm valleys of “I Thought I Heard You Screaming.” Once or twice during the show Booker’s inner guitar demon poked its head through his black denim jacket — adorned with a graphic of a clenched fist — and inspired spurts of spastic rock-out moments where Booker would bicycle-kick his red Vans into the air.
The strongest moment of his set — and possibly one of the better moments of the weekend — came when Booker put down his guitar and his bassist and drummer traded up for a fiddle and a mandolin. Soon a playful folk number began to brew featuring echoic, minimalistic percussion and contained fiddle feedback fleeting from the monitors. But it was Booker, standing center with his arms clasped behind his back, who stood as the leader of this acoustic solidarity, even though he sang with his eyes completely shut. — Silas Valentino
ST. VINCENT St. Vincent is a dream. She exists in a realm unfamiliar to most of us, and certainly to your typical summer music festival patron. Her set Friday evening to a crowded (but not crowded enough) Big Apple stage audience was unlike any other live set you will see, because, again, St. Vincent is unlike any other artist. Though the stage was smaller than what St. Vincent could have easily handled, it was on higher ground, which meant the field was dry enough to dance on without worry.
St. Vincent’s model-girlfriend Cara Delevingne didn’t have to worry about mud from the rain earlier in the day, though; she was lazily swaying back and forth and singing along from the sound booth that faced the stage. While Delevingne was in front of St. Vincent, behind the guitarist were two backup dancers in silver bodysuits, contorting themselves on a pedestal as she ripped through some favorites. The dancers were robotic in how they moved, seeming almost like wind-up dolls powered by guitar riffs instead of the turn of a key. As St. Vincent would shred, they’d scuttle around, or churn their arms in slow motion, or run through bizarrely choreographed routines.
At one point St. Vincent paused the show to recite a poem of sorts. “Special welcome goes out to the queers and miscreants and dominatrixes,” she began before going on to tell us things like, “You find that all babies are born psychic and that freaks you the fuck out!” After what seemed like five minutes of proclamation, she closed with, “You went back to your life, pretending to be yourself.” This would prove correct, but not until the set was over. — Ryan Bort
SHARON VAN ETTEN After a powerful hour wherein 2014’s Are We There and the upcoming I Don’t Want to Let You Down EP had been put on dazzling display, Sharon Van Etten quickly doodled on her keyboard, searching for the right string of notes to play for the next song’s opening notes. “Got it!” she exclaimed after her keyboardist Heather Woods Broderick gave her some quick pointers. “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” started to seep out, and eventually the crowd joyfully recognized it and started swaying in time.
Van Etten is no stranger to the festival stage. She’s been working the circuit for the past few seasons, and with this heavy experience comes a flawless set. The beautifully revealing songs of Are We There flowed smoothly with the new material, thanks in no small part to her excellent band.
During one song’s break she gave a shout-out to fellow Saturday performer Björk and acknowledged her parents, who were somewhere in the audience. Later, during “Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” when Van Etten sang, “I washed your dishes/Then I shit in your bathroom,” she slipped in a quick “Sorry, Mom!” to remedy any potential parental recoil from her cursing. — Silas Valentino
CONOR OBERST It has to be said: Conor Oberst’s eyes rolling back into his head made for a creepy, creeeeepy vibe from the outset of his performance, but that’s the one remotely negative thing that can be attributed to the indie rock ‘n’ folk giant’s Saturday-afternoon set at Gov Ball. Hell, that’s not even all too much of a gripe — if anything, Oberst’s trance-like state just proves he’s that intensely into his performance. Tracks from Upside Down Mountain, Oberst’s 2014 solo record, provided the more rollicking moments of the set (namely with “Time Forgot” and “Hundreds of Ways”), but Bright Eyes fans were sated with cuts from the catalog of Nebraska’s iconic indie export with “Classic Cars,” “Old Soul Song (For the New World Order),” and more. As long as Oberst keeps stunning with his live show, who cares if he’s in the middle of an out-of-body experience or not? — Hilary Hughes
FUTURE ISLANDS “Seasons (Waiting on You)” was not only the number one song of 2014 for a certain year-end analysis, it was also the exact amount of time (3:46, to be precise) it took to propel Future Islands into instant stardom after their 2014 performance on Letterman. You’d think this would be the kind of song the band might feel compelled to perform, but it’s clear passion is the fuel for Future Islands. This Baltimore synthpop foursome is a force to be reckoned with as they shepherd you onto the dance floor.
“Seasons” was the swan song after a set heavily anchored to their breakthrough LP, Singles. Lead singer Samuel T. Herring introduced each number with a quick explanation, tying up each aural gift with a pretty little bow. Before leading into “Seasons,” he explained how it’s a song detailing the uncertain search for your soul mate and expressed hope that there were examples of true love present in his audience.
Herring must have been a drama kid growing up, his stage persona is larger than life itself. His now-trademark moves are what made Letterman cheer, but Herring is not some one-trick pony. He pounded his chest, offered sparkling stage theatrics, and commanded his band with pure moxie. Plus, this man can sing. He scaled octaves with aplomb and at times adopted a gruesome growl, which sounded as if we were hearing — in real time — the transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. — Silas Valentino