To be honest, we weren't really looking forward to Governors Ball, in part because memories of last year's desperate struggle to escape Governors Island still fill us with convulsions of dread. This time around, the festival organizers relocated to Randall's Island, which, in some ways, is even more inconvenient. But in the end, with its multiple egress points—bus, ferry, bridge walkways, and car—the location was not a logistical nightmare and things went as smoothly as can be expected when 20,000 people try to depart the same space at the same time. There were some lines for the Express Bus home, but if you dashed for the gates as soon as it ended, it was nothing to cry about. (Our plan to bike over the Robert F. Kennedy bridge to Astoria worked perfectly, by the way.)
We also appreciated the organizers' decision not to overlap any sets, and yesterday the operation flowed smoothly—as soon as one set ended, you simply strolled across the lawn to the other stage, where the next artist appeared, usually within minutes of your arrival. We didn't observe any abysmal restroom lines, and there were plenty of food options, much of it relatively reasonably priced, considering we were in a captive audience situation. Not so much for the beer, though: the proud tradition of gouging fans with booze prices at big rock venues continues, with vendors charging $8 for shitty Miller and $10 Fosters (though that wasn't such a bad deal considering it came in a giant 24 ounce can). Dainty cocktails could be had in the Liquor Lounge for $10 each.
Thankfully the weather was downright sublime for most of the weekend, at least until a slight drizzle began to fall during Beck's set. But that wasn't enough to dampen the mood—setting aside a questionable mid-set foray into dreary downtempo Sea Change country, Beck gave the 20,000 heads in the crowd a rollicking concatenation of old school sing-a-longs. At certain points you could sense that Beck was a little rusty, and struggling to remember his complicated lyrical patter, but the band was well-rehearsed, and deep cuts like "Novocaine," "Hot Wax," "Jack-Ass," and "Sissyneck" were unloaded full throttle. We could have used a little less Sea Change and a little more Midnight Vultures, but at least the melancholy mope rock ballads made the rest of the show all the more captivating.
Beck's grooving set was preceded by Modest Mouse and Fiona Apple, for a '90s throwback trifecta. Equipped with two drummers, the former brought the island down with an incendiary string of hits, which peaked with the blistering "Dramamine" off of A Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About. Even the normally disaffected VIPs standing on the side of the stage were losing their shit during Modest Mouse. But Sunday's highlight was Fiona Apple, who threw down an enthralling set bursting with drama, passion, and eccentricity. Apple's been known for onstage meltdowns, but none of that was on display yesterday. Before the show we spoke with her current guitarist, Blake Mills, and he told us, "To be completely honest, I have yet to do a show where she has not snapped out of a funk if she was in one beforehand. I've seen her go up there on an hour's sleep and all of a sudden click it on... Fiona is crazy but in a really, great human way, not in that offensive way you don't want to be around."
The fuzzy feelgood distortion jams of Built to Spill (another band that dates back to the Clinton-era) warmed up the crowd earlier in the afternoon, accompanied by massive plumes of marijuana smoke, the ideal scene for a lazy Sunday afternoon, with the river glimmering behind the stage and acres of grass under everyone's feet. And if you tired of the music, there were plenty of other diversions, such as bocce, croquet, ladder ball, or dancing with your homemade rage stick: