“New York cares.” That’s what the audience sang with Interpol’s Paul Banks during the city indie anthem “NYC” as Governors Ball 2014 neared its close on Sunday. Throughout the weekend some of the city’s finest bands had made a return to festival stages, secured headliner statuses and played the most memorable sets of the fest for home crowds. For Interpol, it has just announced a new album, played two excellent new tracks and Sunday’s show at Governors Ball was the band’s “First home show for us in a long time.” A set heavy on the classics, Interpol played through “Obstacle 1,” “Slow Hands,” “Narc,” “Evil” and “Stella Was a Driver and She Was Always Down.” This night also marked its first show since announcing “El Pintor,” Interpol’s follow up to the 2010 self-titled release, and the band gave a good reminder as to why fans still put it on an early 2000s indie-rock pedestal. Banks’ baritone had a knowing dourness and the guitars a nostalgic shimmer.
Just after Interpol, fans had a choice for how to end Governors Ball: Party your face off with crushing bass and pyrotechnics or take it easy with sunny indie-pop and a pleasant floral backdrop. Choosing Vampire Weekend over Axwell & Ingrosso was the responsible decision (especially after seeing the bursts of flame and fireworks later in the night — our bodies had already taken enough of a beating). Kicking off the final set time at 9:15 p.m., Vampire Weekend continued to show why it is exceedingly comfortable in a festival headliner role — especially on a Sunday. While you can dance and go crazy — in fact Ezra Koenig urged the crowd to do so — you can also sit back, and let the band’s new soaring ballads put you in a comfortable spot. The problem was if you picked a spot on a hill or anywhere near the back, VW’s songs about horchata and Oxford would be mixed with a good amount of thundering bass. But if that was an issue, it was easy enough to move forward (where sound hadn’t been a big issue all Gov Ball) to hear a set that focused on Weekend’s latest album while mixing in the band’s biggest hits.
With an army of floor toms and not a cymbal in sight, the Kills gave a primal set Sunday afternoon. Tracks like “My Heart is a Beating Drum” and “DNA” became monstrous, driven by a lineup of percussionists who played with a boot camp-like precision.
London producer James Blake had an odd afternoon set. After telling the crowd that it was his first show in a while, he goofed up the beginning of “Limit to Your Love,” and played it cool with the audience as he started over. For the most of the set, Blake’s voice sounded beautiful as his synth patches explored the low end of the Governors Ball soundsystem. A funny choice for a mid-day festival slot, the crowd didn’t seem to know if it was supposed to dance, jump around, sit in deep thought, cry or make out. Any one of those options worked fine, as it turned out. Blake on vocals and keys was joined by his traditional lineup of a guitarist and a phenomenally technical drummer.
From the festivalgoer packed trains toward/from Randall’s Island to the pilgrimage across the RFK Bridge, the Manhattan skyline peaking from behind stages and the glorious New York street food vendors stationed within the grounds, Governors Ball has created a music festival that shares its city’s identity. Pair that with a smartly chosen and organized lineup and modest crowds, and you have a festival that has reached a comfortable place in a short four years.
Joe McCabe is a New York photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.