Over the last few years, it has become apparent that Governors Ball is the best music festival the East coast has to offer. Boasting stacked lineups combined with food trucks, art installations, and even minigolf, the festival feels like it has it all. 2017’s version was no different (except for significantly less rain than the last two years!) Here are the ten best sets we saw this year.
10. Mondo Cozmo
Playing an early set on the last day of a three-day festival is a thankless job. Most people haven’t shown up yet, still nursing hangovers from Saturday night. Those that have are usually lighting up a J on the lawn or already getting wasted. Despite all that, Mondo Cozmo played a rousing set in a leather Rolling Stones vest. Although he may have been repping Mick Jagger, there was no doubt more Springsteen-influence to his sound.
09. The Head and the Heart
The Head and the Heart got scheduled opposite Harlem rapper, A$AP Ferg. For the crowd that they missed out on, they more than made up for with their tight harmonies. The group even welcomed back estranged singer Josiah Johnson to close out the set with “Rivers and Roads.”
08. Wiz Khalifa
You probably will not see many write-ups about Wiz Khalifa‘s set on other sites, purely because he was up against Tool. Khalifa countered with his own backing band of guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and of course DJ. He delivered a weed-soaked, opening with “Roll Up” before he brought out Ty Dolla $ign to do “You and Your Friends” and “Blasé.” Even the concession stand workers were going h.a.m. for classics like “Work Hard, Play Hard” and “Black and Yellow.”
07. Childish Gambino
While welcoming back a singer from hiatus is big, the biggest news from Saturday was made from Childish Gambino. Donald Glover played what he claims will be his only show of 2017 on Randall’s Island. He also announced that his next release will be his last as Childish Gambino which is sad to hear considering how seamlessly he blended his new future-soul personae with his hip hop roots.
Although not a headlining set, no artist felt bigger than Lorde on Friday. With an ambitious stage set up and plenty of dramatics like opening the set covered in white veil to delivery “Green Light” acapella, Lorde proved to be a much more deft performer than many twice her age.
With a gorgeous set-up of their own, Phantogram mixed their airier shoegaze tracks with their more modern R&B fare that had the entire crowd vibing. They unfortunately played at the same time as Cage the Elephant who much of the crowd and media members alike flocked to see. That’s okay, there was more Phantogram for the rest of us.
04. The Orwells
the Orwells are more accustomed to playing 750 capacity venues like the Ballroom at the Outer Space in Connecticut or Cat’s Cradle in North Carolina. To them playing the big stage at Governors Ball was like seeing a fish out of water. Yet standing on the stage where Phoenix and Wu-Tang Clan stood the night before, the Orwells rose to the occasion. Delivering their energetic mix of garage rock revival and Doors-esque psychedelic blues, they played a set that was worth braving a little downpour for.
Nicolas Godin of Air bravely stepped on stage wearing a cravat. Although that is not why they earned the number three slot, it was my favorite fashion choice of any artist at Governors Ball this year. Through opening songs “Venus” and “Don’t Be Light,” I feared that Air might be losing the crowd but they pulled it back in with a stunning version of “Cherry Blossom Girl” before a surprisingly heavy version of “Alpha Beta Gaga.” Closing out with “Sexy Boy” and “La Femme d’Argent,” the French duo did not disappoint after their long absence from the states.
02. The Avalanches
For their first trip to New York, the Avalanches could not have looked like they were having more fun. Original members, Robbie Chater bounced between guitar, drums, and keyboards while Tony Di Blasi rocked samplers, a kazoo and a theramin. The real stars of the show were the two vocalists: Spank Rock and Eliza Wolfgramm. Spank Rock has been hip hop staple in the underground since 2006’s YoYoYoYoYo so it was no surprise he could deftly step in for Danny Brown, Biz Markie, or Saïan Supa Crew. Eliza Wolfgramm, on the other hand, is not as well known of a vocalist but her enigmatic presence on stage was the focal point of the show. From wielding a baseball bat while covering “Guns of Brixton” to singing Chandra’s parts on “Subway,” she proved to multi-talented. Before the set was up, Chater let it slip that the scarf she was wearing was to cover up a neck brace; she was only three weeks out from breaking her neck. Amazing.
For grime fans in America, it can sometimes feel like you are on a tip no one else understands. Seeing Skepta live at Governors Ball just let this grime fan know he is not alone. A crazy hyped crowd bounced and rapped along to the London rappers energetic set. While many of the fans did not know older tracks like “I Spy,” it did not slow down the set at all.