In a typical year, I go to anywhere from 50 to 80 concerts, spanning a wide range of genres and venues. From Arlene’s Grocery to Carnegie Hall, I am always searching for the brightest/strangest/most unique musical talent New York City can serve up on any given night. But even with all the music I take in each year, it’s rare that I truly get excited leading up to a show, similar to that tingly type of excited feeling you got when your mom dropped your off at your first rock show in middle school. Maybe it’s because I don’t do the summer time festival circuit anymore, which often host those mega-star headliners I don’t usually seek out. But that was the excited feeling I had as I Lyft’d my way over to Randall’s Island Friday night for Governors Ball. I was lucky that my driver was a 22-year-old and happened to be a big hip-hop fan. Ariel advised me on what to focus on and what to avoid over the weekend. Sadly, I missed his favorite act, Vic Mensa! I’m not a typical top 40 Billboard music fan and I can’t tell you the last time I turned on my FM radio for anything other than NPR, but starting on Friday night with mega rap sensation Post Malone and spanning all the way to Sunday night’s closing act Eminem, there was a palpable vibrant energy that permeated the fest and I had no problem temporarily suspending the music snob in me.
The founder of Vans Warped Tour lamented earlier this year that young people are not going out to music shows any more. But by the looks of it, the younger Instagram-obsessed phone clutching teen and early 20-somethings are turning out, but their focus is on a different and much more more hip-hop oriented product. If I had to guess, the average age of the typical 2018 Governors Ball attendee was around 19 years old. It was a VERY young audience of scantily clad suburban youth—lots of Brad’s, Blake’s, and Steve’s from Connecticut in the audience with their pink popped collars. I had a healthy chuckle as hip-hop sensation Khalid took some time to wish the high school graduating class of 2018 good luck as they prepare to head off to college, noting that I graduated high school going on 15 years ago.
Enough with my emotional lead up. Lets get to it, the highlights of my weekend at The Ball.
Love him or hate him, with 45 million monthly Spotify listeners and currently one of the biggest musicians on earth, it was no surprise that Post Malone dominated Friday night’s youthful crowd at the Honda Stage, with both male and female fans religiously reciting his hip-hop anthems word for word. It is clear the 23 year old Dallas-based rapper has upped his live game, focusing much more on actual singing and relying less on mumbling over his canned beats. For 90 minutes he kept the crowd jumping and craving songs from both of his albums including ‘White Iverson’ which launched him into Youtube stardom in 2016 as well as songs from his most recent 2018 release, ‘Beerbongs and Bentley’s’. It can’t be denied that his newer material is much darker and speaks to the isolation and loneliness that such rapid fame has brought him. As I was hanging out back stage before his set, he was very isolated and surrounded by 7-10 very large security guards as he smoked his signature camel cigarettes and sipped a Bud Light. He was nice enough to give me a nod as I snapped a pic from about 8 ft away as if he was a an animal at a zoo. Putting it simply, his set crushed. His music is ultra catchy and his beats are fresh as hell. I was very impressed the whole time as strange as it seemed.
Jack White closed out the main stage on Friday night, and although the crowd seemed a bit under appreciative of what White has brought to the musical world for the past 20 years, he still managed to shred the hell out of an hour and a half of rock n’ roll. White took turns between his array of electric & acoustic guitars, drums, and he even played some piano. Known to bend genres during his sets, White showed off his authoritative rock driven repertoire, shifting between popular White Stripes songs and more laid back folk and blues oriented tunes, which thousands of fans definitely appreciated. He played a two song encore and sent the older fans who stuck around quite happy that they did, while most audience members under 20 had already exited by 8pm.
When I saw that Third Eye Blind was on the festival’s lineup, initially I was puzzled. Third Eye Blind came into prominence in the mid 90’s and for some reason they haven’t faded out like other bands of their ilk, like Everclear or Better than Ezra. I wasn’t sure how many people would be collected around the Honda stage as I walked over around 5:45pm on Sunday, but to my surprise it was totally packed and as they played their hits ‘Jumper’ and ‘Semi Charmed Life’, the energy managed to stay on high. And the band managed to play a few of their newer songs, which went over well with the audience, and lead singer Stephan Jenkins did his best to play through a bad bout of bronchitis. The band received a huge ovation as they exited and Third Eye Blind remains a crowd pleaser after all these years to fans young and old-er.
Chvrches was a true surprise, with a live performance that was almost better than album quality sound-wise, and visually they delivered a dynamic light show to match. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s voice absolutely blew me away and she managed to add some kinetic elements to her live show to liven up the set, as opposed to the more stationary routine she was doing four years ago at North Side Festival in Brooklyn. Several thousand fans happily sang along during the band’s 75 minute set. Mayberry continually commented how strange it was that she was opening up for Eminem, and she jokingly claimed she did her best to put together a set list that would prime the crowd for the Detroit rap legend. To me, it sounded like the highly enjoyable dozen or so songs I’ve come to love from the Scottish synth band that has cemented its place in the American festival scene year after year. All of their songs kind of sound the same, but it’s hard not to enjoy it regardless.
I waited at the main stage, about ten rows back right in the center of the audience, for about two hours trying to get a prime spot for Eminem as Lil Uzi Vert played at the neighboring stage. Several people around me were thrown out of the crowd because they were caught urinating on themselves—not wanting to visit the bathroom and losing their spot—and were called out by neighboring fans and led away by security. Yea, that happened.
Like clockwork at 9:15pm sharp, the large white drape covering the stage fell to the ground and the stage lit up with an 80 ft x 120 ft videotronic display of Eminem as Godzilla walking down city streets kicking down buildings and swatting police helicopters out of the sky. It was the typical rage-filled Eminem persona Marshal Mathers has been selling since 1997, the one that has garnered him worldwide fame and attention that just does not seem to fade. A noticeably sober rap legend then entered the stage to an erupting crowd, and for 90 minutes Eminem delivered more than 15 of his most famous rap anthems, and the crowd ate it up. It wouldn’t be Governors Ball without rain, and towards the last 20 minutes of the set the sky opened up, but few people seemed to mind and even fewer left. Eminem welcomed special guest and New York rap native, 50 Cent, onto the stage and Fiddy performed several of his crowd pleasers including ‘In Da Club’ to the crowd’s delight.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Eminem’s, but to see him live was truly a spectacle that lived up the hype. The massive crowd enjoyed every minute of it while singing along and Eminem managed to get political as he weighed into the current gun debate with lyrics from a new song which pulled no punches: “And the NRA is in our way/ They’re responsible for this whole production/ They hold the strings, they control the puppets.”
The show ended at 11pm and about ten thousand tired and soaked souls marched to waiting ferries or bridges into Manhattan. It was a late night for a lot of high schoolers who have school on Monday, so hopefully they got home safely. I arrived home, happy that I spent the humid weekend co-mingling with the region’s youth, and musically the festival earned an ‘A’ rating in my book. The question is, should I continue this main stream run and go to Hot 97’s Summer Jam Next weekend? Seems unlikely.