Governors Ball @ Randall’s Island, 6/23 & 24/2012

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[slideshow id=4]Last weekend, the second annual Governors Ball took place at Randall’s Island Park (not Governors Island). Founders Entertainment, an independent festival promotion company based in New York City, received much credit for the superior organization and many improvements to this year’s festival. While last year’s festival lasted one day, this year’s lasted two and boasted two stages with non-overlapping sets. The first day’s music covered more of the hip-hop and electronic genres, while, as my friend puts it, the second day attracted a lot more “guys with beards,” AKA late 20s to early 30s who listened to those major acts popular in the 90s. The group migrations of tens of thousands to opposite stages every forty-five minutes and unfortunately-long commute to the festival’s official after-parties at the Brooklyn Bowl were some of the minor frustrations of an altogether great weekend of nearly-perfect 80-degree sunny weather. From the beginning to the end and in between the music, there were plenty of interesting (and healthy) food options and drinks, refreshing hydration stations, entertaining and nostalgic lawn games, a “silent disco” tent, and fun sponsor contests/freebies. The grounds contained many beautiful trees and some hilly spots to boot.

Here are my top five from that weekend.

1. Phantogram
These guys, who hail from Saratoga Springs, NY, just recently moved to New York City. Their performance contains a very well-balanced combination of strong male and female vocals backed by solid drumming. Together, this trio embodies both musical talent and subdued coolness. Guitarist/vocalist Josh Carter creates intrigue with the way he expressively moves his hands to reflect the lyrics, while keyboardist/vocalist Sarah Barthel delicately sings, head bangs, and dances herself to breathlessness. Bathel’s voice calls to mind so many women with beautiful voices, namely Marissa Nadler, Bjork, Beth Gibbons, and Isabel Monteiro. The emotive inflection of her vocal style juxtaposes the darkness of some of the music. Their words to the audience were characteristic of any band’s words to any audience at any show, but at least we know that they love New York. During the song “Don’t Move,” it became apparent that an actual trumpet onstage would take this band’s set up a notch.

2. Chromeo
Chromeo played an energetic set of synth-pop at perhaps the hottest time of day on Saturday. Sexy plastic legs held up the keyboard and everyone’s energy levels, and their electro guitars helped create that neo-80s style that everyone could appreciate. The band commented that it was their first New York show this year. They also informed us that they were recording a new album.

3. Explosions in the Sky
Honestly, it is so sexy to watch how into the music this band is, and they hypnotize everyone while they’re doing this. One way to experience Explosions in the Sky was by looking at the VIP section, who, at acts previous to this one, were simply swaying from side to side on occasion but mostly talking to one another; this VIP section, however, was hooked on the stage and pretty much moving in unison. Because there are no lyrics to their songs, and because their guitar work is powerful and interesting to watch, the band reaches viewers/listeners/VIPs on a different level than most other bands.

4. Fiona Apple
Finally! Less than a week after the release of The Idler Wheel…, Fiona graced us with her presence and gave it her absolute all onstage. Her whole set could best be described as spasmodic and frantic, but it also contained a high degree of focus and passion. Her backup musicians really helped us see her this way by behaving subdued and borderline boring in comparison. Fiona ran back and forth from mic to piano between songs. She fully embodied the fast-paced emotion of the song “Fast as You Can.” Her voice was strong and desperate, so the lyrical interpretations of her songs were effectively carried out. All the while, she worked herself into a sweat and confirmed whether everyone else offstage felt the same way. The sound quality of her songs was excellent and her entire performance was absolutely kinetic.

5. Beck
What a way to close a festival. I couldn’t catch enough of his set, but I also couldn’t get enough of what I caught. Beck was completely solid. Like Fiona Apple did, he played a lot of old greats, and fortunately they sounded as great as we all remembered them to sound. Beck introduced everyone in his band, who happen to be the same core group of musicians he worked with from Odelay ato Sea Change. He seemed to focus more on older material than anything new, so it’s a mystery what will become of Beck’s next album, but undoubtedly the performance of it is not to be missed.

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