What began as a blisteringly hot Saturday afternoon for Governors Ball day two, would end, unknowingly to many, as the festival’s impromptu finale as heavy thunderstorms formed near the evening. The festival’s actual final day, which had some of the best collections of rock like Cold War Kids and Courtney Barnett, was unfortunately cancelled due to the threat of thunder and lightning storms — safety is understandably paramount to festival organizers, and despite promises of refunds, many fans left Governors Ball with a bad taste in their mouth. However, Saturday did it’s job, even though it didn’t know it yet, at softening the brunt of that cancellation with its stellar lineup. The day’s feverish heat and humidity was matched only by the charged energies of those performing throughout it, and without a doubt, Saturday was ruled heavily by the dominant female-led acts that took to their respective stages.
Eliot Sumner, one of the hidden gems of this year’s event and, to those paying attention, also the daughter of rock legend Sting, found herself the first performance as the GovBallNYC stage. Garnering an impressive following despite the early slot, the crowd might’ve formed because of her connections to her father, but they stayed because of Sumner’s hypnotic charm. Brandishing a hoarse croon that eerily resembles her father’s, Sumner has indeed taken cues from his teachings and injected reggae-tinged rock into her moody tunes. Dressed in all black and melting into the dark backgrounds behind her, Sumner powered through the glittering surges of keyboards and propulsive percussion on songs like “I Followed You Home” and “Information.” Like her father before her, Sumner molds her songs around characters that live on the fringes of society, outsiders unconventional in their meandering on love.
Boisterous pop sweethearts MisterWives leveled the Big Apple stage with their elated flare-ups of soul, led by the lush vocalizations of Mandy Lee. New York natives back in their hometown, Lee and company set out to represent the city’s colorful music scene and in the process ended up becoming one of the day’s standout acts. Live, Lee is a blur onstage; dancing with her arms and legs flailing all over the place, her movements more indicative of a hip-hop artist than a wide-eyed pop crooner, but the intensity of her movements translates into the passionate fervor of her songwriting. Taking on gender roles, loss, and a relationships— MisterWives has always displayed an uncanny, wise-beyond their years outlook on their thematic explorations, all while soundtracking them to illustrious displays of neo-soul, doo-wop, R&B, and unapologetic synth infusions. It’s pop music with a purpose, while live it’s the kind of pop that pushes people into dancing frenzies, from the delicious hooks of “Reflections” to the meteoric lifts of synths and brass in “Our Own House,” unconventionality is MisterWives brand and the appearance is that of well-versed performers. Her stunning ballad “Coffins” nearly stole the show, but then came the swirling trumpets and rolling percussion lines of “Twisted Tongue,” and at that point if you weren’t shaking violently to the frenzied bursts of glittering melodies it was because you were dead.
A gateway drug to the world of folk music, Ben Schneider’s band Lord Huron may only have one album out, but their expansive take on the genre has allowed them to infuse everything from rock, blues, and country into their sublime songs. From the twinkling of bobbing electric and acoustic guitars on “Fool for Love,” to the angry buzzings of “World Ender” — the fleshed out musicians that help make up Lord Huron have transformed it from a one-man singer-songwriter act and into a live act that brings to life the mystical nature of their intricate storytelling. Jumping, ducking, and swaying with his acoustic guitar in hand, Schneider embodies the same panache that early 60-70’s folk artists held, wielding his unique howls and yips which are as much a part of the songs medley’s as the instruments themselves.
Just as the Haim sisters took to the main stage and opened with soft-rock hoots of “Don’t Save Me,” the downpour began By the end of their set, for those of us that preferred to loyally stick it out in the rain, we were soaked to the bone. Even in 2016, it’s sadly considered a rare treat or novelty to find yourself seeing a band fronted by a woman, and that’s a hard thing to swallow; especially when you have bands like Haim out there out-rocking a ton of other veteran, male-led outfits. It’s quite the sight to see Danielle shredding on the virulent riffs of “Forever,” or Este standing on the edge of the stage making faces at the crowd (I swore I saw a few guys faint from her stares) all while cutting it up on “My Song 5,” but for me it was Alana’s fiery cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 You” that had me falling in love with their live antics. Sultry and imbued with such a natural affinity for the limelight, the girls of Haim were more than at home on a stage surrounded by hundreds of people in the pouring rain (Alana even expressed her solidarity with fans by pouring a bottle of water on her head).
As the crowd danced wildly, water shaken from their spongy clothes and drenched hair, it was easy to forget about the weather and just bask in the yellow lights that blinked in the rain. Tearing through their set with dazzling ferocity, the three sisters ended their set with an explosive drum solo that saw the siblings jump on drum duties and give a charming lesson on their percussive talents–but not before treating the crowd to an endearing performance of “The Wire” and “Falling.” On their studio recordings, the ways in which the three siblings share vocal duties is what sets them apart from many other acts. The slight variations in their voices give each song and chorus a slightly different texture–live, the vocal hopscotch in “The Wire” between Danielle, Este, and Alana was enough to have you weak at the knees over the trio’s dulcet cries.
After close to two hours of on-and-off heavy downpours (and plenty of singing by the crowd that had gathered, everything from the entire Killers discography to “Rain, Rain, Go Away), The Killers made it onstage and did a pretty unprecedented thing: they started with the typical encore favorite “Mr. Brightside.” To be fair, The Killers have peddled out a lot of hits over the years, but “Mr. Brightside” is the song they are most well known for, and that isn’t a fluke. So in his pink suit, Brandon Flowers belted out the angsty-depressive chorus of his early days and the crowd echoed it back to him, our bodies overwhelmed by the electrified shock of having such a treat so soon into the their set.
Putting themselves into second gear, Flowers and company didn’t hold back at all throughout the night, laying on the hits one after another, and even dusting off a few forgotten tunes like “Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll.” To the appeasement of many, Flowers then acknowledged the meaningful return of The Strokes to NYC, and reminisced about the exciting place indie-rock found itself in during the early 00’s, and upon doing so began their now storied cover of Interpol’s “Obstacle 1.” The age range in the crowd proved that Flowers wasn’t off the mark on his sentiments, as fans who were there thirteen-years ago when Hot Fuzz first came out sang along to the punkish craziness of “Somebody Told Me” with teens and 20-somethings. The mythological ballad “Dustland Fairytale” carried a bulk of the night’s blissfully bittersweet nostalgia, while another cover, this time of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” was the nail in the coffin for their set–what more could they do to top their greatest hits show? But the night was far from over as Flowers, gushing with his bleeding heart notions and killer smile, continued with his power ballad “Read My Mind,” and finally ending with the explosive anthem to perseverance “All These Things I’ve Done.”
As the crowd roared into the night (“I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier”), with Flowers edging them on and golden showers of sparks shooting behind him, it became just how crystal clear The Killers as a band has meant to an entire generation of music lovers. Returning for a brief but mind-blowing encore, The Killers came full circle with another Hot Fuzz class, Flowers telling the crowd “We didn’t fly all the way over here from Nevada to not play ‘Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,’ that wouldn’t be right.” The night officially ended with us stomping in the mud and puddles to the heady electrics of “When You Were Young,” howling into the warm New York night all the scarred melancholy of our youth — and as sparks, fire, and confetti shot up all around us, we held up our right fist with Flowers in a symbol of camaraderie and endurance. Whatever we thought we needed to say or express had already been done for us in nearly every line sung throughout the past two hours. And those last echoes of “All These Things I’ve Done” still rang in my head, and how in that final line (“If you can hold on”), Flowers offers his sincerity to us by always whispering back, “Hold on” (something the studio version doesn’t have), and to me that’s always been everything they’ve come to represent.
Words & Photography: Steven Ward