With the Governors Ball festivities wrapping up and the pre-sale and dates available for next year’s festival, I am taking a look back at some of the more impressive sets that truly gave the most for my money this year. With some tried and true acts, massive headliners, and even some amazing discoveries, the festival offered far more hits than misses but I am narrowing it down to the most vital sets of the three day weekend. Below is the list as well as, full galleries of photos from Governors Ball.
- Lana Del Rey (Sunday, 9:15PM Honda Stage)
The headliner for Sunday’s set at Governors Ball, the enigmatic Lana Del Rey took the Honda Stage the same time as The Black Keys on the main stage. Unfortunately, with her more subdued sound, The Black Keys set could be heard bleeding into Lana’s, combined with poor vocal mixing, and a crowd of teen fans screaming her lyrics the result is a somewhat lackluster set compared to the hype from the crowd. Hearing her play her major hits from her discography as well as, some distinctly New York tracks “Brooklyn Baby” and “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” to a backdrop of the skyline and Brooklyn Bridge, made for the grandeur of a homecoming show but was inevitably marred by the major technical issues. While Del Rey’s swaying and downtempo music helped to calm an erratic sea of teens, her descent from the stage down a flight of steps into the photo pit caused a terminally unchill audience to up the ante.
- Future (Friday, 3:00 PM Gov Ball NYC Stage)
Backed by DJ Esco, Future ripped through a set of his biggest singles and collabs decked out in all black with a cowboy hat and shades. With the rain finally coming to a close that day, the ATL rapper may not have brought as much energy due to having an earlier set (having been added last second to replace Twin Shadow following his bus crash and subsequent injuries) but got an audience of Drake fans hyped and ready for the headliner. Interacting with the crowd between the set he begged the question to the crowd “who been fuckin with me since day one?” before dropping the names of his albums and mixtapes. Blazing through bangers like his Ace Hood collab “Bugatti”, “Same Damn Time”, and “Good Kush and Alcohol” the rapper showed off his career repertoire of chart hits and club songs. With middle fingers up for his final track and most recent hit “Fuck Up Some Commas” Future showed a mixed crowd that he “don’t give no fucks”.
- Logic (Sunday, 3:00PM Honda Stage)
The allure of young Def Jam’s Bryson Hall II is both his rise from troubled upbringings and his immense talent as a rapper. Preaching positivity to the crowd with a call and response of “I’m Special”, Logic was all smiles on the Honda Stage as he tore through a set of his record “Under Pressure” and his myriad of mixtapes. With a command of the stage paralleled to more seasoned performers and backed by his DJ Rhetorik, the twenty-five year old rapper made his way about the stage with an intricate and lyrical flow. While walking towards the edges of the platform of the speakers, Logic picked out members of the crowd and asked them about their hometowns, the rapper himself hailing from Gaithersburg, MD. Halfway into the set, he tore into a flawlessly executed freestyle showing a massive reverence for his craft that comes from a genuine experience having grown up in section 8 housing and growing up without a father.
- Rae Sremmurd (Friday, 1:30PM Gov Ball NYC Stage)
The human embodiment of the phrase “turn up”, siblings Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy got the brunt of the inclement weather that day with the precipitation gaining strength. But a little rain wouldn’t inhibit the duo’s showmanship. Instead, it would take a slippery platform and a stage light to take Slim Jimmy out of the show. Only about three songs into their set, the older sibling fell off a platform after attempting to walk off the stage and fell onto a light which shattered and the shards of glass stuck deeply into the rapper’s leg. In the spirit of #Sremmlife, Swae Lee kept the show going with D-JaySremm taking some time from from the DJ booth to fill in on Jimmy’s parts. Keeping the vibe going through the bigger hits like Nicki Minaj/Young Thug collab “Throw Sum Mo” and finishing the set off with “No Type” the remaining members of Rae Sremmurd save the best for last and kept the crowd well hyped early in the day.
- Clean Bandit (Saturday, 1:30PM Gov Ball NYC Stage)
Electric cellos and amplified violins aren’t a particular staple of the electronica scene, but U.K. Grammy winners Clean Bandit have managed to bring strings back from samples and synthesizers. Loaded with a set of immediately recognizable dance hits, the band kept the vibes going all throughout their show. With main vocalist Elisabeth Troy bringing a level of sass and passion into her performance, the chemistry between her and string players Grace Chatto and Neil Amin-Smith made for one of the more interesting performances early in the day. Bringing out special guest vocalist Alex Newell, noted for his androgynous appearance, role in the TV show Glee and collaboration with Clean Bandit on the track “Stronger”, performed with the group also joining them for the band’s smash hit, “Rather Be.”
- Marina and the Diamonds (Saturday, 3:00PM Gov Ball NYC Stage)
Clad in a skin-tight purple body suit and a Froot headband, Welsh-Greek singer Marina Diamandis bolted onto the stage playing one of the hits from her “Electra Heart” record “Bubblegum Bitch.” Behind her, the all-male backing band “the Diamonds” and large, inflatable “Froots”, Diamandis’ set mainly consisted of tracks from the new record, “Electra Heart”, and two tracks off her “Family Jewels” album, “Hollywood” and “I Am Not A Robot”. Where “Electra Heart” was a point of entry for many of her fans, the album saw Diamandis take on many costumes representing female archetypes, the singer’s approach to “Froot” on her “Neon Nature Tour” saw less thematic elements, but inevitably helped her music progress technically and display her vocal range in a brand new light. Primarily playing festivals on the tour, Diamandis picked her more hard-edged tracks that would incorporate the full band and be heard all across the lawn like “Primadonna” and “I’m A Ruin” as opposed to the more intimate, soul-baring tracks like “Happy.” Handcrafting her sets and playing to her strengths, the singer played an amazing set and brought out the indie pop crowd before leaving the main stage where headliners Bjork and Deadmau5 would later go on.
- Chromeo (Friday, 4:45PM Gov Ball NYC Stage)
Claiming New York as their new hometown as transplants from Montreal, electro-pop group Chromeo’s music kept a steady beat going to bridge the gap between a house divided. With the main headliners performing on the stage after them, Florence and the Machine and Drake, Chromeo helped create a midway between indie and rap fans in case there wasn’t any overlap. Loaded with pulsating bass grooves and sultry hooks, the duo decked out in an all chrome set up came on stage to a chant of “CHROMEO- OOOOH” to the tune of the guards from Wizard of Oz before going into their track “Night By Night” off their sophomore record “Business Casual”. With a list of collaborators ranging from Toro Y Moi to Solange on their most recent record “White Women” it seemed fitting to play a NYC area festival with New York native and Vampire Weekend vocalist Ezra Koenig. With Dave 1 playing the intro riff to the VW hit Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa as “something I’ve been learning how to play on guitar”, Ezra emerged onto the stage with his signature non-chrome Epiphone to play a section of the song before joining Chromeo on their hit “Bonafide Lovin’.” Having collaborated with Chromeo on their track “Ezra’s Interlude” the downtempo piano ballad would have been highly out of place and effectively killed the mood at a big festival such as Governors Ball, so the choice to perform a more danceable Chromeo track made for a far more effective cameo by Koenig in the end.
- Conor Oberst (Saturday, 6:45PM Honda Stage)
“Little known fact, around this time last year I put out an album called ‘Upside Down Mountain’” Oberst claimed sardonically before playing the track “Double Life.” Referencing both his most recent record and alluding to the fact that sales and promotion for the record were marred by rape allegations against Oberst that were later found to be false once the victim recanted her statements. Having been able to put the incident behind him, despite the damage to his career, Oberst played a powerful set of material covering his main groups, Bright Eyes, the Mystic Valley Band, and his solo efforts. On this tour, Oberst was backed by an eight-piece band of pedal-steel guitar, mandolin, horns, bass, and drums. Most notably, joined by Bright Eyes keyboardist/trumpet player Nate Walcott, who made his presence known on tracks like “Old Soul Song” and “Landlocked Blues” and brought the audience of bitter young adults back to the Bush era. Back to when the tracks from “I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning” resonated with the sense of teen angst and political unrest, songwriters like Oberst were given the platform to speak out about injustice.
- Florence + the Machine (Friday, 7:30PM Gov Ball NYC Stage)
After a disastrous injury at Coachella where lead singer Florence Welch broke her foot after jumping off the stage, the vocalist was informed that she wouldn’t be back on her feet until the Glastonbury festival, way after her Governors Ball appearance. However, as fate would have it, the singer’s foot healed in time for some of her recent NYC appearances on the Today show and the iHeartRadio Theater. Noted for her interaction with the crowd by going beyond the stage and into the audience, the barefoot singer was given a set of stairs for her performance for her to have easier access to the ground floor in order to avoid any further injury (especially after the incident with Rae Sremmurd earlier in the day.) Opening with “What the Water Gave Me” off the monumental “Ceremonials” record the singer then went into “What Kind of Man” off her most recent release “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.” The record sees a welcome shift from the baroque pop sounds of her initial records and sees Welch take her immense vocals into a new territory, incorporating a horn section and playing more Fleetwood Mac-esque rock songs. Ever the caring individual, Florence picked out a young woman from the audience who held up a sign that said “Hugs?” but then said “you’re so far away, I don’t know how you’d get here unless you crowdsurfed”, and so an audience of sympathetic Florence fans lead the girl to the front of the stage where she proceeded to make the girl’s dreams come true by letting her hug Florence before hugging the rest of the members of the Machine. As this transpired, the band began to play one of the singles off of “How Big”, the monumentally heart-wrenching “St. Jude”. Ending as she always has since her first record on her major track “Dog Days Are Over” the singer had to take a second to remember she couldn’t jump as her foot was still recovering but still encouraged the audience to jump up and down as fast as they could during the climax of the song.
- Drake (Friday, 9:30PM Gov Ball NYC Stage)
Fresh off the heels of his mixtape “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” Drake took the headlining set at Governors Ball to play his massive career worth of tracks, collabs, and freestyling while incorporating the theatrics of his Jungle tour. As a monumental set-up scheduled with minimal dates, mostly for arenas (and the infamous appearance at Coachella), Drake incorporated pyrotechnics, large scale projections that showed variations of his mixtape artwork, and a jungle themed environment behind him. Playing tracks off the record like “Legend”, “Energy” and the hype-inducing “Know Yourself”, to which an overtly-hyped audience member rushed onto the stage to get a more close, personal video of Drake. However, the audience member may have taken “running through the six with my woes” as an invitation to come on stage, to which Drizzy warned him that “You about to get served boy” and then proceeded to be tackled within seconds by several large security guards. With an ever-growing list of collaborators from Big Sean to Fetty Wap, it seemed a bit disappointing to see Drake decide not to bring out anyone else on stage aside from his drummer, keyboardist and on the turntables Future, who performed earlier that day as a last-second replacement for Twin Shadow. However, in the VIP section the list of notable Drake associates made appearances from “Tuesday” collaborator ILoveMakkonen, Vanessa Bayer and Bobby Moynihan from SNL (Bayer interviewed Drake on her “Sound Advice” blog as Janessa Slater), model Winnie Harlow who has been featured on Drake’s instagram and the two photographed together, as well as, hip hop background figure Steven Reisman spotted handing out his signature $2 bills to audience members, with his reputation oblivious to them. As his only NYC stop on the Jungle tour, Drake performed his track “All Me” and mixed in a cover of Brooklyn native Jay Z’s “99 Problems”. With the history between the two rappers escalating from collabs to a currently unresolved beef circulating around diss tracks, it’s unclear whether the delivery offered an olive branch to the rapper in his hometown or more sharp jabs. After teasing the crowd with mentions of bringing Kanye, Nicki, and Beyonce up to New York for an NYC version of OVO Fest, mentions of collaborations with The Weeknd, and the release of his new record “Views From the 6”, Drake made it known that this was the “best festival crowd I’ve ever seen in my life” to the roughly 50,000 in attendance that night.