The 8 Best Performances Of Governors Ball 2015 Friday

Daniel Zuchnik/Getty

The 8 Best Performances Of Governors Ball 2015 Friday

Daniel Zuchnik/Getty

For being the biggest city in America, it took a hell of a long time for New York to lock down a festival. Sure, we have CMJ and Northside and venues booked tight throughout the year, but recreating the traditional “field day out” experience that’s become the norm across the rest of the country is a logistical nightmare in a locale as densely packed as this one. But Governors Ball, now entering its fifth year, seems destined to last, and it felt like the biggest one yet, with larger crowds than we’ve ever seen before in attendance. And even though the weather threatened to turn the festival into another rain-soaked, grounds-destroying mess like it was two years ago, it held out and all was fine. And thank the skies for that because Friday was the day to be there, with a lineup stacked with a diverse range of artists from Drake to My Morning Jacket and Charli XCX to Benjamin Booker. A bunch of Stereogum staffers were on site — check out our favorite performances from day one above (unranked, in chronological order).


Rae Sremmurd

Rae Sremmurd took to the Governor's Ball Main Stage like a couple of kings showing up late to their coronation. "We came to make the rain stop," Khalif "Swae Lee" Brown said before taking a selfie onstage, the crowd as his backdrop. If nothing else went down during Rae Sremmurd's set, this moment would perfectly encapsulate the performance. With the impressive crowd of not-yet-twenty-something youths (made evident by Swae Lee's question "Who here in college?" which was met by resounding applause) pushing up to the front of the stage chanting along to the chorus of "No Flex Zone," it was the most "millenial" shit I've ever seen, like watching Urban Dictionary definitions reveal themselves before my eyes in real-time. At no point was this more obvious than 15 minutes into the set when Aaquil "Slim Jimmi" Brown fell off the stage, and everyone acted like it was nbd. There were no obvious hysterics, and it wasn't clear if he slipped or accidentally jumped, but whatever happened, Slim Jimmi ended up bent over sitting behind the DJ booth, surrounded by at least four EMTs. Swae Lee and their hype men grinned while making statements like, "This nigga's leg is like, split open, man," before reassuring everyone that Slim Jimmi is the "turn up king" and would no doubt return to perform. Passing Slim Jimmi the mic, the disembodied voice of the injured rapper enthusiastically said, "I got a big ass piece of glass in my leg," before following up with, "if you got video, put that shit on Instagram!" Before the EMTs took him off the stage, he called out, "Hey yo! I'm not dead. Y'all turn the fuck up and some of y'all bad bitches hit us up." Swae Lee performed the rest of the set alone, one of their hype men pulling up to the front of the stage to accompany him on certain verses. "This goes out to all the bad bitches around the world!" he shouted out before launching into "No Type." So much of the novelty of Rae Sremmurd is the fact that they're brothers, and it's heartening to see two family members tweaking the fuck out on stage together. But Swae Lee didn't look lonely up there following Slim Jimmi's departure. He didn't even seem phased, and no one in the audience left; in fact, the crowd became more congested. --Gabriela


Benjamin Booker

I rolled up to Benjamin Booker's set immediately after Rae Sremmurd's, which, if you're familiar with both of their vibes, is more than kind of funny. Booker holds his cigarettes like he's James fucking Dean between verses, and his voice carries the rustic timbre envied by anyone who's fought long and hard to seem cool. I always say that Booker is the one true punk of this generation, and here's why: he doesn't give a shit about being trendy. He looks trendy, his band looks trendy, but his music has the genuine weather-beaten soul of someone who's been living and living hard for a very long time. He has a cross-generational appeal that was made incredibly obvious at yesterday's show. People my mom's age (my mom loves Benjamin Booker) intermingled with high school kids; some would dance while others stood still and quiet, listening intently. Booker's voice is so enchanting when he performs that it was almost jarring to hear his higher-pitched speaking voice when he thanked the crowd for watching. "Old Hearts" was by-and-large the most rousing song, and as Booker and his band walked off of the stage, they left behind a sea of reverb that engulfed the crowd as the sun finally started to make an appearance. I've never seen people stand and listen to that white noise for so long after a set is over. Booker's got something really special going for him; I think it's what some would consider "star power." --Gabriela



The funny thing about watching Future perform mid-afternoon at a festival Drake is headlining is there was a moment, right after Pluto came out, when it seemed like the Atlanta rapper could ascend to the same superstar level. On Drake’s recent Jungle tour, Future has been opening for him, and from deep cuts like "Itchin'" off Astronaut Status and "Magic" off True Story to his more recognizable hits like "Move That Dope," his energy never flagged. In fact, one of the most enjoyable things about watching Future rap is how much he seems to enjoy it -- specifically, how much he seems to enjoy his own music. Newer tracks "Monster" and "March Madness" did elicit some response from the thin, scattered crowd, and "Bugatti" still gets a roar out of anyone in its near vicinity. It must be irksome to be best-known for a guest hook when you've got an enormous back catalogue filled with clever, incredible but less radio-friendly songs. The only time the mood really shifted was when Future played "I Won" -- the song ostensibly written for his ex-fiancée and baby mama Ciara -- and dedicated it to the single ladies in the crowd. Of course, we all repurpose the past, but watching our favorite musicians enact the same pettiness we do is always disheartening. By the time he closed out with his surefire new hit “Fuck Up Some Commas,” I’m back to wondering if he’ll make that ascent after all. Either way, we’ll always have Pluto. --Caitlin


Charli XCX

Charli XCX rolled out on stage like the London queen that she is and immediately told everyone to put their middle fingers up in the air before launching into the title tack from her newest album. I'm a huge Charli fan, but I haven't seen her since Sucker came out, and it's refreshing and a little exhilarating to see a pop star so proudly embrace the trappings of punk rock so well. All of her band members were on stage in zebra print, rocking out the fiery intensity of a real life Josie & The Pussycat Dolls. During "Break The Rules," she howled a scream into the mic and layered reverb on her vocals, letting it echo out across the festival grounds. She started a chant of "pussy power" and a bunch of boring straight white men and a Kurt Cobain lookalike turned around and walked away from the crowd muttering "We're getting the fuck out of here" under their breath. Charli was subversive and exciting in a non-obvious way, but what was obvious was that she was thrilled to be there. She claimed ownership over songs that are rightly hers, turning in a electrified rendition of "I Love It" and turning Iggy Azaela's shit "Fancy" verses into gold. And when she ended the set with "Boom Clap," her first of hopefully many No. 1 singles, there wasn't any doubt in my mind that she could take over the world one day, and we'd be all the better for it. --James


Florence + The Machine

Even with the dissolution of borders between pop and indie and all that, it's striking to step back and think about the prominence of Florence + The Machine. Florence Welch's choruses have some cosmic or chemical power to overwhelm and uplift, but even with that, it's sort of a bizarre sight to see this group up on the main stage of Governor's Ball with a field of people losing it while Welch flails around to somehow thunderous harp outros, to hear thousands of people sing along to songs that can sound like long lost druidic rituals. This was my first time seeing Florence + The Machine, and everything people say is true. When you hear Welch's voice erupt over this kind of crowd, I don't think it's possible to not feel it in the core of your being; these songs are so overdriven, so massive, so refreshingly and willfully committed to high drama instead of the kind of restraint or smaller-screen glories that so often pervade the indie world. The setlist split the difference between highlights from her recently released third album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, and older material, with "Ship To Wreck" and "What Kind Of Man" sitting comfortably alongside live warhorses like "Drumming Song," "Only If For A Night," "Shake It Out," and -- of course -- "Dog Days Are Over." Throughout, Welch was in prime arena frontwoman mode -- running around the stage despite her recent broken foot, singing in a way that makes you swear she must leave some chunk of her soul in the air of any show she plays. You don't get artists this magnanimous every day, the kinds who play music that can feel like a matter of life and death. --Ryan


St. Vincent

After fighting my way through the massive crowd for Florence + The Machine, who were playing opposite Annie Clark on the other side of the island, I made it just in time for St. Vincent to light up the stage to an audience that was small but very passionate. The anemic crowd was probably a result of all the kids hanging out waiting for Drake, but it felt appropriate that one of our greatest working rock stars would get overshadowed by hype and spectacle. Perpetually the underdog, even when she's playing dress-up as the futuritsic queen of the universe. This was my first time seeing St. Vincent live, and it hit me halfway through her set how fucking weird a lot of her music is, and how great it is that she's as popular as she is. Clark knows how to drive home a hook, but they're all wrapped in barbed wire. That's especially true of her live set, where a track like "Bring Me Your Loves" -- in my opinion one of the weaker ones on her self-titled -- is twisted into a knotty, sprawling, dirge-y monster that not only hits hard, but is difficult to listen to in a way that a lot of her recorded output isn't. The complexities abound, and it's rewired how I think about St. Vincent in a significant way. She ended the show on a goddamn stretcher, showing off her immeasurable guitar skills while lying down like it was taking everything out of her. She didn't do any speaker-climbing this time around, but the rest of the performance was kvlt as fuck. --James



Is Drake the biggest rapper in the world? It gets hard to even ask it as a question after watching a set like his Governors Ball headlining performance last night. Drake is the biggest rapper in the world; in fact, it might be fair to say he's the first pop star rapper yet. The only competition he has in this realm is Kanye. He came up right at the peak moment when hip-hop was officially crossing over into the mainstream outside of regional pockets or occasional hits. Alongside the rise of the internet rose its foremost export: A Canadian child star with Lil Wayne's blessing, an irresistible smile, and an uncanny ear for hooks. If You're Reading This It's Too Late came out in mid-February, but it sounded like the entire audience knew every single word to "Legend," which he opened with, and other brand new tracks "Know Yourself" and "No Tellin'." These songs are barely months old, yet they already resonate like we've had them for years. Conversely, "Headlines" is from 2011 -- nearly four years ago -- and it still sounds completely fresh. Seeing Drake perform his new songs live for the first time felt like a true moment, one that came close to how I felt back in 2013 quizzically watching Kanye perform songs off Yeezus for the first time. The difference was, Yeezus wasn't even out yet; having a few months to live with Drake's new tape means it has already become part of our lexicon, part of our lives. But it's impossible not to feel like Drake wasn't totally focused on the performance. I know this sounds entirely at odds with probably ever other review of the show -- after all, he said it was the best festival he'd ever been at, and he hinted about bringing OVO Fest to New York. Still, he was a little detached, not wholly present. Views From The 6, his official studio album, is coming out later this year, but so is Kanye's new album, currently titled Swish. No matter how many times these two play nice, the overwhelming sense that they're vying to be the biggest name in rap is an ever-present tension. After his poorly received Coachella set, Governors Ball will surely help revive Drake's spirits. He performed "Crew Love" and teased new music with The Weeknd. He did "We Made It" with obvious pride, changing the text of his new tape's title to "If You're Reading This We Made It" and projecting that message behind him. (While we're on the topic of stage effects, the one and only way to describe his pyrotechnics is fucking awesome. Fire demands these kinds of expletives). He did "Trophies," "Headlines," and "Worst Behavior," "Take Care," "Find Your Love," and "Hold On We're Going Home" -- sometimes it still amazes me how long his list of stunt-rap bangers is, and then he busts out his ballads. He did his remix of Fetty Wap's endearing, addictive "My Way," glorying in his role as a tastemaker. He did "Blessings" and "Truffle Butter," displaying the way his guest verses often dominate songs to the point that they detract from the main artist. Through it all, though, you can see Drake wondering: Am I the biggest rapper in the world? All we can do is wait; right now, there ain't no tellin'. --Caitlin


My Morning Jacket

Anyone I talked to yesterday thought I was insane for not planning to see Drake. In many ways, this was one of those festivals days where everything else felt like one long series of openers; all roads were leading to Drake. But this was one of the easiest festival conflicts for me to resolve in recent memory: I kinda can't stand Drake, and MMJ are one of my favorite bands, as the increasingly voluminous amount of words I've written about them for this site can attest. (The first piece I ever wrote for Stereogum was about them.) This was my 18th time seeing them, and the first time seeing them play the excellent new material from The Waterfall. Florence + The Machine and MMJ were the pillars of my first day at Gov Ball this year -- I caught what was left of St. Vincent after Florence finished and she was, as usual, great as well -- and the two felt like chapters that played off one another for the night. Florence was the invigorating first experience to the excitement of catching up with old friends that's seeing MMJ, but both offer the kind of hugeness I want in this setting. Both are driven by singers whose voices seem to come from someplace equally ancient and alien. The kind that are entirely entrancing, having different kinds of power in an enclosed theater as they do pouring over you in a large, loud, open space. Last night was about the new material for me, since it's the only stuff I hadn't already seen live many times over. When I was getting into The Waterfall, I could already picture how some of these would work in a MMJ set, and they lived up to my expectations. "Compound Fracture" is a little fuzzier and stretched-out live, but comes on as a late-set dance party anyway; "Tropics (Erase Traces)" has a climactic second half that's up there with the best of what MMJ has to offer, and it's already holding its own hanging out between "Steam Engine" (my favorite MMJ song) and "Victory Dance" (one of their best live performances). They weren't messing around last night, going with a set lined with heavy-hitters: "Wordless Chorus," "Mahgeetah," "Lay Low," "Touch Me, I'm Going To Scream, Pt. 2." In some ways, this isn't really the way to see MMJ; their own shows can stretch to three hours and beyond, and there's a certain rise and fall to their rhythms and energy that make the cathartic payoffs that much more intense. But there's also something to be said for seeing them streamline it into a set under two hours, with no breathing room between some of their most beloved songs. And, of course, it all built to "One Big Holiday" at the end. I've seen this song performed live probably more than I've seen any other song performed live, and its power hasn't diminished; if anything, it just keeps getting crazier. There is something deeply life-affirming about seeing a crowd of all different ages lose their shit when those first guitars crash in on "One Big Holiday." It felt like going home. --Ryan

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