Governors Ball, Day 1: Indie, Sandwiched by Hip-Hop Duos

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Some commentary and thoughts on the shows I made it to on day one of New York City’s three-day festival:  

Run the Jewels

A rap duo consisting of El-P and Killer Mike, Run the Jewels brought two long-time collaborators and established names in underground hip-hop together in 2013.  I had listened to their recently released and free-download self-titled, debut album (download it here) a few times and thoroughly enjoyed the team’s musical dynamic.  Their live performance really exhibited this teamwork as they fluidly exchanged verses, and then jokes between songs.

 

Janelle Monaé

You know of Janelle Monaé, yes? You should. She is immensely talented as a singer, composer, and performer with two high quality albums out, and a promising future.  Her recorded music is highly orchestrated and produced, but she does it justice in a live setting.  I'm still shocked that her’s was not a packed show; I was easily able to get up front and in the action, in awe of the spectacle. She had well-rehearsed backup singers, a brass section, and an invigorating, soulful voice. There was even a bit of staging as she arrived in, and then escaped from a straight jacket, only to be pursued by her captors later in the set. She was victorious in their choreographed standoff (note that her albums have a sic-fi theme in which she is a revolutionary android, wanted by the state). Highest praises for Janelle.

 

Here is a great example of her thematically charged music, featuring the wonderful Erykuh Badu:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEddixS-UoU

 

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz

Julian Casablancas made two appearances this weekend, first with his side project, The Voidz. It was very much a chance for him to get experimental with his music. To prove this, Casablancas often sang concurrently into a microphone and vocoder to produce a surreal, and gritty phasing effect. Unlike Janelle, they let the music speak for itself, refraining from flashy attire and dancing. They did project 90’s cartoons behind them (I recognized one as Miyazaki’s “Pom Poko”) to illuminate their grungy sound and look. And, that worked for them. Casablancas’ skill as an alt-rock singer/songwriter was apparent… I think.  It was hard to understand the words over heavily distorted guitars, but the rhythms and melodies were catchy. He played nicely with his new friends.  Then again, he’s such a modern rock star that anything he does on stage looks cool.

 

Neko Case

What a nice change of pace. Neko Case is a singer/songwriter who plays beautiful, and often sorrowful acoustic songs. She also spent many years with The New Pornographers.   Some put her in the outskirts of the Country genre, but I don't really hear that.  Anyway, her show was poorly attended as the bulk of Gov Ball was a younger crowd who wanted to see LaRoux, but it was an inspiring show. It was one of the finer examples of talented musicians playing together with minimal help from technology, a rare display at the festival.  Of course, Case also delighted with her enchanting voice and sweet demeanor; the setting sun was blinding her but she politely refused audience offers of sunglasses.

 

Grimes

The experimental, electronic, heavily synthesized singer supplemented her trance-like sounds and effervescent beats with a visual spectacle:  flashing hula-hoops and alluring light shows showcasing the undulations of front-stage dancers are still engrained in my mind’s eye.  But, that is an important part of Grimes, who seems to aspire to be more than just an auditory act.  I almost didn’t go to this show due to festival exhaustion, but I’m glad I did.  Keep an eye on her.  She debuted a song called “Go”, which was written for, and then refused by Rihanna, suggesting she may be headed in a pop-ier direction.

 

Phoenix

I tried to like this show, but the sun was focused directly on my spot in the crowd. Hot and blinding. Attempting objectivity, the French electro-pop band played a high energy show with almost no pauses and minimal banter. It was good, the kind of show that can't really be bad because everyone there was a fan, awestruck by flashing lights and excessive bass.  Lead singer Thomas Mars ended with a substantial crowd surf, even standing straight-up as festival goers held his ankles.  It was… unnecessary, but people love that sort of foolery.

 

Outkast

I once called in to Bucknell’s radio station to request an Outkast song. The hosts’ ensuing comments described Outkast as “not in the same league as some of the other festival acts.”

 

So, that's a funny story.

 

I won't say much as you can find dozens of rave reviews of the southern rap duo’s reunion all over. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a group of fellow fans near the front, so shoutout to my festival friends Jen, Chris, Alex, and Olivia.  Andre 3000 and Big Boi seemed genuinely excited to be back together, and took us through hits from ALL OF THEIR ALBUMS. Their kooky personas were accented by Andre’s outfit, featuring an outrageous rubber wig, and a shirt which boldly asked: ART OR FART?  They shared their humor, their history, their stories, their hits, their lesser-known songs, their individual solo work, and of course, their legacy.  No indication of a tour, unfortunately.  We can keep hoping.