It’s strange to think that OutKast‘s smash hit “Hey Ya” was written two years before YouTube was invented. Since then its video has been played more than 62,000,000 times on the site, likely for millions of parties and groups of friends having dance offs during the song’s bridge. And during seven years of inactivity, that’s all fans had — that old-timey looking video with Andre in the green suit. The wait to hear it live came to an end on Friday as Andre sent thousands of people wild with the song at Governors Ball 2014. The screaming girls from the video dying in the front row. They were real. Dressed in a velvet onsie, a blond wig and white sunglasses, he talked to the boys, the girls (like actually to us) and it’s what people had been waiting for. Nearly.
Bathed in projections inspired by some of their iconic albums, Andre and Big Boi showed they’ve found new reserves of energy since a disappointing return from hiatus at Coachella in April. Playing through iconic tracks like “B.O.B.,” “Gasoline Dreams” and “Ms. Jackson” the two rappers almost connected with their Southern spitfire approach. The problem is, there’s still a sense that this reunion of more than 40 festival dates this summer is for the fans and the paycheck, not for either of the musicians. Both physically and emotionally, Andre and Big Boi feel disconnected from each other. On stage the two orbited one another from a distance, directing their attention outward toward the fans. But while it might seem awkward for the musicians, what matters is these songs, which have reached some level beyond nostalgia in the seven years since OutKast went on hiatus. All fans needed on Friday to close out the first night of Governors Ball was a chance to shake it like a Polaroid picture or apologize a trillion times. If only the musicians were as happy as the fans.
Early in the day, Kurt Vile set the tone, kicking off his set with “Wakin on a Pretty Day.” Considering the rain and mud and more mud at Governors Ball 2013, he welcomed perfect weather this year as blue skies and warm temperatures bathed the festival throughout Friday. Though the first part of his set saw a few technical and sound issues, he gave a sharp and wind-brushed performance with the Violators.
With four stages positioned across a manageable chunk of Randall’s Island, Governors Ball did a good job of staggering acts, avoiding most conflicts and noise bleed between performers. A short walk across what turned out to be a driving range (in case anyone missed the golf balls dotting the ground), English pop act the 1975 played to a huge crowd of early arrivers just after Vile. Having released its debut album last year, the band is gaining quick traction in the U.S. on the festival circuit. Catching the band’s set at Governors Ball was more out of curiosity on Friday: How does this clean, catchy pop act translate live? Pretty polished it turns out. Young girls packed close to the stage for the 1975’s big hooks, screaming as if the members were OneDirection’s older brothers. During that same slot, Janelle Monae dazzled the main stage with her big band and even bigger voice.
Most people were likely catching Julian Casablancas with his new band the Voidz for the first time on Friday. Unfortunately the set turned out to be confusing, even for fans waiting to catch him with the Strokes on Saturday. The band’s new material was a puzzling match of Casablancas’ garage door-muddled vocals with thrash, punk and some Strokes-inspired guitar work. The band’s look didn’t even make sense, in leather and the Voidz guitarist looking like Weird Al Yanchovic in a biker gang. But, Casablans was true to form, kicking empty solo cups and pointing out that the crowd didn’t know any of these new songs.
Having gotten comfortable headlining major festivals last year, Phoenix gave the best sounding and most confident performance of the day. As it neared nightfall, the French act fittingly played “Love Like a Sunset,” giving the day a romantic signature. Here’s the thing about Phoenix, though, they always sound predictably like Phoenix. Every note sounds obsessively album perfect. Even the band’s shortened set on Friday mirrored the one that they toured through the U.S. last year, ending with Mars surfing through the crowd. Sure, it’s somewhat predictable, but why break what works? In Phoenix’s case, the sound is a well-oiled machine, and it’s magic.
Joe McCabe is a New York photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.