Different Strokes: Governors Ball 2016

When Mother Nature cheated New Yorkers out of a headlining set from Yeezus, The Killers and The Strokes brought glory to Randall's Island
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The Strokes by Sally Gray Mahon

The Strokes by Sally Gray Mahon

About 30 seconds after The Killers’ Brandon Flowers glided off stage after a stunning, triumphant Governors Ball set, drummer Ronnie Vannucci lingered at his drum kit. With the music over, he gave the crowd an endearingly awkward fist pump, earning one more roar of approval. He strolled to the center-stage microphone, leaned in and softly asked us for a favor.

“Tell your friends.”

It was an unusual request from a globally ubiquitous band that just nailed a headlining set for tens of thousands of people in New York City. Why do we need to tell our friends about The Killers? Everyone knows The Killers, man!

But after thinking over Vannucci’s seemingly silly comment, I got it. He wanted us to tell our friends that The Killers aren’t just a novelty nostalgia trip, playing GovBall for a cheap sing-along. He wanted us to tell our friends that The Killers can still rock out in 2016. And more than anything, he was just pumped up from a stellar set, giddy with the earnest enthusiasm that drives the band’s performance style.

Julian Casablancas, on the other hand, could care less what you tell your friends. Putting on his patented “too cool for school” act, Casablancas pretended he didn’t know The Strokes were closing Friday night’s festivities.

“If there’s more music tonight, enjoy it,” he mumbled. “If not, hope it was cool.”

It was hard to believe his schtick once the fireworks went off during the towering encore performance of “You Only Live Once.”

Casablancas might want us to think he doesn’t care, but every single musical moment of The Strokes’ thrill ride of a show seemed to prove otherwise. The five-piece put on a master class in giving the people what they want, busting out all the classics with a tightly constructed setlist: “Someday”, “Last Nite”, “Under Cover Of Darkness”, “You Only Live Once”, “The Modern Age”. Everything, really. It was a tour-de-force. Even the “new shit,” as Casablancas jokingly labeled the two tracks from last week’s Future Present Past EP, sounded fresh among the standards.

As for The Killers? Giving people what they want is their specialty. Or as Flowers put it, “We didn’t come all the way to New York to not play ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’.”

And, you know, all the other hits too. Just in case there was any doubt, the show opened with “Mr. Brightside”. The crowd, unsurprisingly, was just as eager to sing the chorus as Flowers.

But aside from playing the hits, The Strokes and The Killers performed almost as complete opposites. And the difference in styles wasn’t just in attitude—it was visually apparent. The Strokes played their show drenched in darkness, while The Killers bathed in their signature neon lights. Casablancas, hiding behind his sunglasses, frequently showed off his trademark move—clutching onto the microphone stand with two hands, holding on for dear life. Flowers, the consummate showman, sprinted to various microphone stands scattered around the stage, singing into whichever one his boundless energy carried him to.

And yet, with these drastically different methods—The Killers with sheer enthusiasm and crowd-pleasing showmanship, The Strokes with brooding mystery and clinical intensity—both bands accomplished the same end result: thrilling a sea of New Yorkers on a crisp summer night; proving that rock and roll still can sound fresh and relevant at a music festival in 2016.

Still, when Sunday came around, I was craving the promised headlining set from Yeezus himself. Desperate to hear “Ultralight Beam” live, I flocked to Webster Hall on Sunday night for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Kanye play a 1500-capacity venue, as buzz of a secret show took NYC Kanye stans by storm. 

Alas, it was not meant to be, and thousands of New Yorkers wiggled their way out of the ridiculous mob. Kanye obsessives, who didn’t attend the festival but just sprinted over to see their idol for the night, might have been dejected—but I had a feeling that anyone still wearing their faded Governors Ball wristband wasn’t as disappointed. Mother Nature may have cheated us out of a set from the world’s self-proclaimed “greatest living rock star,” but we still got performances from two pretty damn good ones.