In terms of the most rock-and-roll things a band could do, getting on stage early and starting your show ahead of schedule ranks pretty low. But that’s what happened last night when Guns N’ Roses appeared before the Governors Ball Festival audience in New York 15 or so minutes in front of their scheduled start time. Bon Jovi would be proud!
Wearing a black cowboy hat and a mischievous grin, Axl Rose commanded the show with not just one bang, but a series of them: very bright and very loud fireworks shot into the night sky behind the stage as the Hall of Fame band ripped through the songs that they’ve been ripping through for some 25 years now. Much of the crowd, judging by their hair-rock outfits and the color of their wristbands, bought their festival tickets mainly just to see Guns N’ Roses, and they were not disappointed. Beers were slammed, red bandanas were worn, and “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” “Live and Let Die” were played. The fireworks display (and thus our ear drums) were given a break when Axl hopped on the piano for “November Rain,” but the fiery light show returned for GNR’s show-ending “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
Meanwhile, playing against the L.A. rockers was co-headliner Nas, who took the stage at the other end of the festival grounds. There was speculation that the Queensbridge king might play the entirety of his seminal Illmatic (which by now should just be titled The Seminal Illmatic), and he fanned those flames by opening with that album’s “NY State of Mind.” But the set ended up spanning his career, touching on songs from nearly all 11 of his studio albums. When time came for Nas to perform “Cherry Wine,” the Amy Winehouse-featuring collaboration off of 2012’s Life Is Good, he and his entourage poured some on the ground for all their lost ones. “RIP Amy Winehouse,” Nas said into the mic as the song ended.
Earlier in the day, a much younger New York rapper, Azealia Banks, walked away with one of Saturday’s best sets. Wearing a glowing, creatively revealing orange-and-pink dress, the no-album artist raved up the hometown crowd with Lil Kim-like intensity. 2011’s enduring “212” drove the crowd predictably mad, but it wasn’t until the Harlem Shake came on that things really got nuts. Mired in about 7,603 feet of mud, thanks to Friday’s sky-fall, the crowd made the dance really come alive despite (or perhaps because of) the quicksand-like conditions.
Repping the West Coast later in the day was Kendrick Lamar, who’s practically a festival veteran at this point. He excelled as always, and was even able to sing “Backseat Freestyle” without being completely drowned out by singalong fans. Between him, Banks, and Nas, Gov Ball definitely has been nailing the rap game.
And in that theme, tonight will bring about headliner Kanye West, which raises a lot questions. Will he play new Yeezus songs? Who else will join him on stage? How will he avoid getting mud on his Air Yeezys? Come back for tomorrow’s recap to find out.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Fakhr and Emem Offong.