This year's Governors Ball Music Festival in New York City offered something for everybody, whether it be indie pop, rap, dubstep or the remains of a classic rock band (looking your way, Axl Rose & Co.). However, the name on most peoples' lips all weekend was Kanye West. His first performance since debuting two new songs on Saturday Night Live came amongst talk and rumours of what special guests he might bring out (Jay-Z? Daft Punk?), and perhaps more importantly, how much we'd hear of Yeezus, his upcoming sixth studio album. Now in its third year, and expanded from two days to three and two stages to four, this year's edition wasn't without some growing pains; specifically, long bus and ferry wait times. This was all secondary, though, to the fact that torrential rain and high winds on Friday ended the day early and made Randall's Island a muddy quagmire for the rest of the weekend. While some people tried in vain to stay dry, others made the best of the situation and ditched their footwear and umbrellas.
If the rain bothered Dinosaur Jr. during their early Friday afternoon set, they didn't show it, playing a tight set that included fan favourites like "The Wagon" and a cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven," while J Mascis made a pretty convincing case for a North Face sponsorship. Another band that's proven capable of overcoming the elements, Toronto's Crystal Castles, played the Skyy Vodka Tent to an incredibly frenzied crowd. Beach House and Feist managed to sneak in sets before the weather reached its worst, but Kings Of Leon found their headlining set pushed to Saturday due to safety concerns.
Day two was also witness to plenty of Canadian talent, as Japandroids' packed main stage set kicked the day off with an adrenaline shot, with singer/guitarist Brian King introducing the duo by saying "We're Guns N' Roses from Los Angeles, California." While Divine Fits didn't cover "Welcome To The Jungle," their set was one of the weekend's highlights, with Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner displaying chemistry and producing face-melting guitar solos that suggested they were anything but a "side-project." Across the field, Fucked Up's Damian Abraham took time to engage in some topical banter about Toronto's ne'er-do-well mayor before jumping into the freshly stirred mud.
Elsewhere, the much-hyped Alt-J had the crowd eating out of the palms of their hands, but they seemed mechanical, offering little in the way of personality or audience interaction. Much better was Kendrick Lamar, who ripped though a Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City sing-along–heavy set, along with a handful of his recent guest verses. "I'm Kendrick Lamar, aka to me a Benz is just a car," he raps on A$AP Rocky's "Fuckin' Problems," but his delivery was more like a muscle car with a good sound system. Bringing the night home, both figuratively and literally, was Queens emcee Nas, who led a backing band through a career-spanning set that included "N.Y. State Of Mind," "Hate Me Now" and "If I Ruled The World." He might be turning 40 this year, but dressed in a blue ball cap and crisp white tee, the rapper didn't look (or sound) a day over 20.
Before Yeezy could take the stage on Sunday, Atlanta's Deerhunter got bodies moving under a scorching afternoon sun, with frontman Bradford Cox telling entertaining stories in between drags from an ever-present cigarette. Led by lead singer Yannis Philippakis' crowd-surfing antics, British math-rock outfit Foals proved they might be one album away from playing stadiums. Grizzly Bear playing on the same stage before Kanye made for an odd juxtaposition of festival-goers, but "Two Weeks" seemed to unite both sides. As the sun set, the excitement in the air was contagious, as a small army of stagehands started assembling the rapper's set, which included a wall of spotlights, a runway and a huge screen that projected images of fighter jets, snarling hound dogs, and individuals dressed in black garb resembling Ku Klux Klan outfits.
Even though he came on a half an hour late, it did little to quell the chants of "Yeezus! Yeezus!" and he launched immediately into "Black Messiah" and "New Slaves" from the aforementioned SNL performance. He also played three new songs, including one called "I Am A God," that all suggest the new LP will be darker, both lyrically and musically, than 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The rest of his hour and a half set was culled from his entire discography and recent material like "Clique" (during which he got the crowd to recite the song's chorus and they obliged, albeit poorly), "Don't Like (Remix)" and his verse on Rihanna's "Diamonds" remix. Halfway through his set, he addressed the crowd for the first time, beginning by saying, "This is the part of the show where I usually talk some shit." He couldn't resist briefly speaking about not caring about radio play or marketing, but it felt more like banter than a rant. Few artists are better at getting people talking about them than him. Fortunately, this time around it was for all the right reasons.