The 2016 edition of New York’s Governor’s Ball Music Festival is one for the books, although perhaps not for the greatest reasons. While the first two days of the festival were quite successful, the Sunday performances were all cancelled due to concerning weather reports, which included thundershowers and lightning. This resulted in thousands of angry fans who were hoping to see the likes of Kanye West, newly formed supergroup Prophets of Rage (Which includes members of Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, and Rage Against the Machine), Gary Clark Jr., and many others, left in the dust.
Among these disappointed fans was myself, who flew out from Montreal for what I hoped would be a weekend filled with incredible music and good energy. However, I did have the chance to attend day one of GovBall, which did deliver some memorable sets. Here are my thoughts on the acts I saw at Governor’s Ball 2016:
Boogie: Starting off the day was Boogie, a Compton-born rapper and recent signee to Interscope Records. The 26 year-old California emcee seemed to truly win the hearts of his East Coast crowd with his electrifying set, blending together a perfect mix of “Turn Up” joints alongside socially conscious tunes.
Notable tracks included the Jill Scott-sampling “Intervention” and the Jahil Beats-produced “Oh My“, which concluded his set. The performance shows great potential as to what the future holds for Boogie, we’re sure we’ll be hearing his name a lot more soon enough. C+
Action Bronson: After a year of heavy controversy following rape-related lyrics and a jab at Ghostface Killah, Bronsolino returned to his town to do what he does best: rap his heart out and intensely goof off. Despite all of the hardships he experienced within the past year, Bam Bam decided to focus on the positive, using his stagetime to finesse about his television series on Viceland and his recent touring of the world.
While the set may have consisted of too many songs from his critically mixted debut, Mr. Wonderful, Bronson also made sure to run through some earlier gems, including “Strictly 4 My Jeeps”, and “Contemporary Man” the hilarious Blue Chips 2 cut,. With special guests Big Body Bes, Meyhem Lauren, and celebrity chef Mario Batali (honorable mention goes out to the watermelon that Action crushed onstage), it is safe to say that the Chef Ternt Rappa definitely put on for his city. B-
Big Grams: Touring off of their criminally underrated self-titled EP, the trio (consisting of Big Boi and Phantogram) finessed through the entirety of their spacey debut, while adding a few live mashup surprises (“Black Out Day vs. Mother of Dragons”, “Ms. Jackson vs. Mouthful of Diamonds”) into the mix.
Sarah Barthel’s angelic vocals are complimented as much by Big Boi’s lush raps as they are by Josh Carter’s avant-garde instrumentals. Aside from a few corny jokes from Barthel between songs, Big Grams’ performance was undoubtedly a highlight of the day. Bonus points to DJ Swiff (also tour DJ for Big Boi’s more well reckognized group, OutKast) for being a samurai on the turntables. A-
Beck: This was a particularly interesting performance to watch, as the friend I attended the festival with is a die-hard Kanye West fan, somewhat reluctant to see Beck the two’s 2015 Grammys ordeal. Within a few songs into Beck’s set, he was pleasantly surprised, as was I.
Aside from a terrific run through of his many hits and fan favorites (“Mixed Bizness”, “Loser”), the rocker also performed a delightfully bizarre array of covers, doing takes on everyone from the late Donna Summer (“I Feel Love” and Prince (“Raspberry Beret”, “1999”), to even briefly tackling Busta Rhymes’ 1997 classic, “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” (yes, you read that correctly). We would have taken video of it, but our jaws were dropped too low to focus on anything else!
All this to say, Beck’s performance was the most fun of the day, along with the most masterful. In what truly seemed like a more comfortable performance from the artist despite treading into many daring endeavors, a little color really seems to have rub off nicely on the Los Angeles songwriter. A
Jamie XX: The British DJ rocking the more intimate Bacardi House Stage resulted in what could have very well been the most overcrowed set of the entire festival, with thousands swarming around the tent-like setup to vibe out to some ol’ Electronica.
In what was fittingly the most colourful set of the day, the XX producer ran through the bulk of his ever-vibrant In Colour, all while throwing in a few delightful treats for the audience, including Kyla’s “Do You Mind“, shortly followed by his own “I’ll Take Care of You” Gil-Scott Heron flip, both of which were later sampled by Drake. In short, Jamie’s set brought forth the best energy from day 1 of GovBall, both from his own performance and the fans themselves. B
The Strokes: Subsequently following Jamie XX’s high energy set came The Strokes’ headlining set to close the night. Unfortunately, the levels of liveliness did not fare as well for the iconic Alternative band despite the set being their first large-scale show in their hometown since their 2014 appearance at the festival.
Starting the night off with the somewhat forgettable “The Modern Age” was not the right way to get the crowd going, and left them fairly stiff until “Under the Cover of Darkness” was played, 5 songs into the set. While talking to the audience in between songs, it became clear that frontman Julian Casablancas felt uncomfortable with himself. Some questioned if he was sober, while others assured that it was simply Casablancas in a state of his frequent awkwardness.
Things started to really pick up towards the second half of the set, once the band was finished running through flat-falling new tracks and could focus on the songs that captured the hearts of a generation. The band ran through home runs such as “Someday”, “Reptilia”, and “Last Night”, before “You Only Live Once” closed the evening out with a bang (quite literally, as there were fireworks following its conclusion).
While the later half of The Strokes’ show was certainly redeeming, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of disappointment. Aside from the disengagement from their hometown crowd that thoroughly upset me, I couldn’t help but ask myself if it were truly worth it to have traveled all this way to feel let down.
While I ultimately concluded that it wasn’t a bad show, per se, there certainly could have been more done to make it an excellent one. No “New York City Cops” in New York City? Seems more disastrous than any police riot I could think of!
Having seen both Julian and Albert Hammond Jr. play with their respective solo projects, it is no doubt that their magic as performers isn’t entirely faded. It leaves me asking a question to myself on the future of The Strokes: Is This It? C