Governors Ball festival: Kid Cudi, Major Lazer, Duck Sauce and more
There might not have been any conflicting set times at Governors Ball in New York City this past weekend, but with nearly 12 hours each day of non-stop music between two stages — including Fiona Apple, Kid Cudi, Beck, Built to Spill, Santigold, Modest Mouse, and more — it was a lot to take in.
Here’s what you may have missed on Saturday, the more electronic and hip hop-oriented day of the festival, while you were busy snacking away by food trucks and paying too much for smoothies.
Artist: K. Flay
Highlight: “No Duh”
Recent conversations about female rappers don’t always include K. Flay, but that’s not just because her stage name doesn’t involve a certain flowery shrub beginning with the letter A. On stage in ripped jeans, she looked like a West coast college kid (indeed, she has dual degrees in psychology and sociology from Stanford) whose on-stage athleticism would fit in nicely on the Warped Tour as a convincing Hayley Williams warm-up. Musically speaking, K. Flay sounds like she hails from Planet Spoken Word, with hints of the influence showing up when she’s dropping tongue twisters on buzzy hip hop beats, singing her own hooks on “Doctor Don’t Know,” or rhyming over an enchanting la-la-la loop of her own voice on “No Duh.”
Artist: Art vs Science
Highlight: The outfits
How do you pull off successful audience participation? The key is to be kooky. Just ask Australian dance trio Art vs Science, who dressed up in matching silver jumpsuits (not an easy feat in the festival heat) and asked the crowd to lend its faux French falsettos to a bilingual call-and-response on “Parlez-Vous Francais?” The group doesn’t do dubstep, but their take on electro-pop has the same appeal: whomping synthesizers, high-pitched keyboard earworms, and bass drops that hilariously help fans use their “flippers to get down.” But these guys can also shred — especially when guitarist Dan McNamee chugged a beer while doing a one-handed guitar solo. We’re not sure if that’s art or science.
Highlight: The SG1s
Poor sound plagued Santigold’s set, but you don’t need to hear a single note to appreciate one of her live show’s best assets: the SG1s. Taking inspiration from Public Enemy’s S1W crew, Santigold’s two dancers use an arsenal of shiny golden pom-poms, brief cases, and parasols to add theatrics to the genre-blending singer’s routine. They don’t go for cheap thrills — their stoic demeanor and minimal, repetitive moves are all part of the playful humor of Santigold’s show, which also involved a mid-set wardrobe change and, strangely, two guys in a horse costume. Sound difficulties not withstanding, Santigold herself was in fine form. Her sophomore album, Master of My Make-Believe, didn’t meet the high bar set by her 2008 debut, but she showed why she’s still solid festival material by offering breezy takes on that album’s highlights, including “Lights Out,” and pulling fans on stage for the glitchy tribal number “Creator.”
Artist: Major Lazer
Highlight: “Pon de Floor”
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, dancehall DJ outfit Major Lazer is definitely insane for how many times they asked fans to jump up and down. You couldn’t do much more, given the tightly packed audience covered in sunscreen, sweat, and champagne, courtesy of host Walshy Fire, who entertained fans while ringleader Diplo went to work behind a wall of speakers. The late-afternoon set embodied two kinds of memorable Major Lazer moments: certified crowd-pleasing DJ maneuvers (a dubstep remix of Azealia Banks’ “212,” the scraping bass of “Express Yourself”) and semi-awkward shenanigans involving topless party crashers and dancers forcefully daggering on a kid who looked barely old enough to be there. Unsurprisingly, nothing captures song, spectacle, and audience hedonism like Major Lazer’s hit “Pon de Floor,” — even when (especially when?) it’s mashed up with a “Banana Boat” audience sing-along.
Artist: Duck Sauce
Highlight: One very special prop
If you’re going to call yourself Duck Sauce, it’s only right that you have a giant inflatable duck in a gold letterman’s jacket dominate the stage while you bro down in front of a sea of concert-goers. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of going to a party, hearing “Barbra Streisand” — the big single from Duck Sauce’s star team of Armand Van Helden and A-Trak — and watching the song’s trademark ooh-wee-ooh coo captivate guests. Now try that with thousands and thousands of kids in an open, sun-baked field. There aren’t a whole lot of tricks in the Duck Sauce playbook: The two line up non-stop house beats, build them up with clashy feedback, and then interrupt them with a quick vocal snippet (“Big Bad Wolf,” “You’re Nasty”) before returning to the pumping beat. Nobody seemed to mind, though — the party stretched out all across the Randall’s Island lawn while a setting sun gave Governors Ball a well-deserved cool-off.
Artist: Kid Cudi
Highlight: “Cudi Zone” / “Memories” / “Day ‘N’ Night”
“If you’ve been to a Kid Cudi show, you know this is official,” the Ohio-born rapper announced before launching into a long-time staple of his live show: a nonstop medley of “Cudi Zone,” his David Guetta collaboration, “Memories,” and an abridged remix of his breakout hit, “Day n Nite.” The third and final piece of the trilogy was cut short by the festival’s strict 11 p.m. end-time — “Sorry Kid Cudi sucked, y’all,” an annoyed security guard told departing attendees in response — but there’s no mystery as to why Cudi relies on this recurring hit parade for his shows. Compared to the slower, moodier side of his set, the medley is the equivalent of hitting a high-energy refresh button. Thematically, the three-song arc is Cudi in a nutshell: nobody-understands-me outer space rap, built on pain you just have to party away.
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