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Jack White Shoots the Moon After the Sun Sets at Day 2 of Governors Ball: Concert Review

Jack White Governors Ball Performance - H 2014
Matthew Allen

The Bottom Line

The day's most exciting performances all came near the end.

Venue

Randall's Island
New York City (Saturday, June 7)

Festivalgoers had more tough choices to make than usual with a schedule that pitted one demographic against the other.

If Governors Ball opened on Friday with almost the easiest weather one could imagine, Day Two reminded attendees that the event is held in summer. Headliner Jack White, playing long after dusk, revealed his bafflement at the appeal of summer fests when he thanked listeners for "standin' in the hot sun all day long — my heart goes out to you, man. Damn."

That sun was likely the main reason anyone over 30 spent more than a few minutes watching Chance the Rapper, who performed a midday set at the fest's only tent-covered stage. Though he delighted a horde of younger fans, the Chicago native gave newcomers little reason to agree with critics who've been praising him since the release of last year's Acid Rap mixtape. The same went for local band Lucius, whose songs sound fine on their highly produced debut Wildewoman, but fared less well in the open air. Here, the group's performing style — with singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig wearing identical dresses and platinum wigs while pounding on snare drums — looked like a hollow gimmick compensating for pleasant, but underwhelming, repertoire.

PHOTOS: Jack White's New Life in Nashville

Broken Bells, on the other hand, might benefit from a little gimmicky stagecraft. Their musically solid set felt impersonal even when James Mercer, accompanied by silent partner Danger Mouse, was clearly singing from the heart. The title track from their second album After the Disco, which could easily have been on the soundtrack for The Breakfast Club, but wouldn't have been its hit single, was significantly less futuristic than the space-travel videos accompanying the band on the Jumbotrons.

Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover lacked nothing in the personality department, connecting easily with a large crowd who couldn't have cared less that The Strokes were playing simultaneously on the main stage. He hardly needed the massive jets of fire that shot off during set-opener "The Crawl," but nobody complained, and in fact the crowd surged forward two or three times in pushes that seemed to defy physics — had a couple hundred people in the front simply dematerialized?

Crowds did appear and disappear here. Those who thought they needed to stake out territory early for Spoon's show were wrong — perhaps the group's audience was all catching the end of The Strokes' set, because it wasn't until a few minutes before showtime that the field filled up. Latecomers missed a preview of "Knock Knock Knock," taken from a new record due in August, but were treated to a tight and energetic set whose highlights included "The Way We Get By" and "Who Makes Your Money?" Strangely, at a show with plenty of excited fans in the crowd, filmmakers shooting a performance doc at the fest felt the need to bring in a plant: A photogenic man was hoisted over a barrier mid-show just to dance near the stage for a few minutes. The director had to coach him when his means of expressing enthusiasm was out of sync with that of the actual fans surrounding him.

STORY: Governors Ball Opens With Killer Headliners: Concert Review

Spoon frontman Britt Daniel probably wasn't thinking about competition from Jack White when he chose to play a song referencing the White Stripes — "Small Stakes," on which he admits "I don't dig the Stripes, but I'll go for Har Mar" — but fest scheduling ensured that it would be impossible to watch all of Spoon's set while getting anywhere near the stage for the night's headliner playing immediately after.

Just as Skrillex started dropping beats from a laser-shooting spaceship-like set across the field, White offered a more subtle brand of showmanship. Enormous blue curtains set a crepuscular mood (and as one would expect from this design-conscious musician, the color theme extended even to the crew wardrobe in the sound booth), but this performance was no lullaby: The White Stripes number "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," which started the show, displayed as massive a rock swagger as anything heard during the day; the drummer attacked his kit so aggressively that stagehands made multiple trips out to mend it in a single song.

The heavy mood worked perfectly for a spat-out rendition of "Sixteen Saltines," the instant classic from White's 2012 solo debut Blunderbuss, and for the Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." After two days of hearing groups of amped-up bros tunelessly chanting that song's iconic riff while waiting for other shows to start, it was gratifying to hear White show them how it's done with a ferocious version that ended his encore.

In between, the set ranged in mood: From the lighters-in-the-air ballad "The Rose with a Broken Neck," which appeared on the Danger Mouse/Daniele Luppi collaboration Rome; to the sweet "We're Going to be Friends," for which the band's violinist picked up a ukulele; to a deconstructed version of The Raconteurs' "Steady As She Goes." At one point, White's pedal steel player switched to theremin for "Missing Pieces" — incorporated into an old tube TV whose image oscillated in response to White's guitar; it was the kind of instrument artist Nam June Paik might have made. The moon, which had been hiding off and on, came out for good during this number, echoing the stage's hues and protecting White from the sun he worried fans might have had too much of.

Matthew Allen