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Progress report: Governor’s Ball 2013, Sunday June 10, 2013

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Last year, New York’s young Governor’s Ball made a big splash. The simple, 2-stage festival drew a concise list of indie heavy hitters including Beck, Modest Mouse, and Fiona Apple. Now, with the public’s eye on the little fest, Gov Ball decided to up the ante this year, doubling its size. Taking over twice as much land on Randall’s Island and adding two stages, the festival has grown to full size. And with that larger scale comes a need to sell more tickets. That became immediately evident with the line-up this year, tapping bands like Guns N’ Roses and The Lumineers to expand the audience from Brooklyn hipsters to Manhattan bros. At the last minute, I decided to grab a Sunday ticket and get a piece of the action this year. And I’m happy to say that despite the larger size, Governor’s Ball still mostly retains the same charm that made its smaller incarnation so fun.

12:00 – 2:15: A Whole Lot of Mediocrity

While Sunday’s top billed line-up was impressive, Governor’s Ball had a problem finding great small bands to fill in the early hours. Taking the start of the day easy, I sat off to the side and casually listened to a few of the acts. Nothing stood out, as all of the bands felt like ‘lite’ versions of their genre. The Revivalists played an admittedly spirited set that felt too clichéd to be impressive—safe bait to draw in the DMB crowd. Things weren’t much better on the indie side with the long-haired men of Roadkill Ghost Choir playing a sleepy set of bland rock songs. The only minor highlight of the early hours came from Haim, a California quartet consisting of three badass frontwomen (3 of the 4 women I saw on stage over the course of the entire day). Their sound wasn’t anything special, as they dipped into relatively standard rock and roll fare, but they kicked things into gear effectively pumping the crowd up for the long day ahead.

2:15: Freddie Gibbs

I head over to the Skyy Vodka tent around 2 to catch the only real diverse act of the day, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs. Regardless of how vastly different the set was in genre, the crowd was still predominately white. It’s probably a good time to note that Governor’s Ball may just be the whitest festival on the planet, despite taking place in the Mecca of diversity. Regardless, Gibbs takes the stage with a commanding presence. He steps out leading the crowd in multiple “Fuck Po-lice!” chants, and taunting the audience to put their money where their mouths are by lighting up some weed in defiance (What he doesn’t realize is that most of the crowd has been smoking the entire set). His flow is flawless. He bounces between songs and freestyles effortlessly to the point where you can’t tell when he’s just kicking rhymes off the top of his head. At one point, his DJ drops the beat so Gibbs can truly show off his freestyling abilities. What follows is Sunday’s biggest display of raw talent, as Gibbs drops a truly astonishing rap for minutes on end. The crowd goes crazies as each minute passes. The DJ tries to bring the beat back in and start the next proper song, but Gibbs waves him off and keeps flowing. It’s a moment of raw skill that solidifies Gibbs as one of the best rappers currently out.

3:00: Portugal. The Man

Portugal. The Man end up on the absurdly massive main stage, leaving them with the task of entertaining a very large crowd. Of course, they don’t have much of a problem with this. Not only is half of the audience already drunk and/or high at this point, but the Portland rockers play pretty fun music. They play through a competent set of danceable pop jams, including highlights from their latest record, Evil Friends. The band does have some trouble, however, filling the stage. They seem noticeably stiff, not knowing what to do with the space. Their sound isn’t quite big enough to reach the arena-sized anthems that a stage like this calls for. As a result, they come off just a little flat, rarely reaching greats heights. Portugal are the type of band you want to see in a sweaty, mid-sized club. The songs and sweat are there, but the energy is a mismatch.

3:45: Deerhunter

Bradford Cox may just be the whitest person at Governor’s Ball. The Deerhunter frontman walks out on stage dressed like he’s on his way to audition for a Gilligan’s Island remake. On paper, Deerhunter doesn’t sound like a great festival fit. Their noisey, often washed out songs seem like they’re better fitted for a more ambient setting. In practice, however, the band ends up pulling off the finest rock set of the show. Mostly performing songs from their garage-rockier new album, Monomania, Cox and company tear through a tremendous set of songs. From the epic opening chords of Agorophobia to the blistering jam of Monomania’s title track, the band commanded the crowd’s attention just by sheer force of sound. One woman near me covered her ears in pain most of the set, even during the silence between songs. “This is some great American music!” shouted Cox after a particularly noisey jam. I couldn’t agree more.

4:45: Foals

Throughout the day, you could hear the name “Foals” on the breath of most passerbys. Seemingly everyone spent the day recommending the band to everyone around them (myself included). Their set had a massive amount of hype going in, and the crowd to match it. The English group are an arena rock band in training, busting out a set of massive anthems that got people clapping along at all the right moments. Audience freak-outs to jams like My Number and Inhaler ensued as expected. What I didn’t predict, however, was how moody the band comes off as live. Most of their set actually consisted of more slow-burn ballads. They retained that same anthemic bigness, but something about their set felt just a little too gloomy. Whether or not they lived up to the hype didn’t seem to matter, as the audience used the slower moments as a chance to pour beer over everyone around them and take obligatory selfies. In that regard, Foals were a perfect midday intermission for festival goers ready to take a break from intently listening to bands and just do whatever the hell they wanted while music played in the background.

5:45: Beirut/Intermission

I arrived to the other side of Randall’s Island just in time to catch Beirut. I’d seen the band once before, and their set was nothing short of astounding. Their sound is incredibly full with an onslaught of brass taking each song to soaring heights. But you wouldn’t have been able to tell that from Sunday’s set. Due to technical problems, the sound was off leaving the band lost in empty space. That, combined with a surprisingly large crowd for a band that hit its popularity peak 5 years ago, made for the first sacrifice of the day. While watching bands all day is great, certain human needs take precedence. So instead of strain to hear, I grabbed my second bacon-wrapped Crif Dog of the day and listened to a few Yeasayer tunes from afar (which were perfectly audible from across the field, by contrast). [NOTE: apparently Beirut’s sound was fixed about 4 songs in, just in time for Elephant Gun, so I’m sure they were just as big and brassy as usual].

6:45: Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear rounded out a line-up consisting of 2009’s most exciting indie bands. I’ve seen the group twice before, both in incorrect settings. The first time was opening for a Radiohead before Veckatimest came out. They sounded tiny on a massive arena stage, with their airy harmonies sounding floating around with nowhere to go. Two records later, Grizzly Bear have become an incredibly competent rock outfit. Shields cuts like Yet Again and Sleeping Ute sounded massive with pounding drums and stunning harmonies. Many of those just there waiting patiently for Kanye were none too thrilled, though. Once the band went into an admittedly slower mid-set, they turned to their phones to pass the time. It was their loss, as they missed a rock-solid, satisfying set. But can you blame them for getting restless? I mean, it’s Kanye West.

9:30: Kanye West

Saturday was Kanye West’s 36th birthday, and he Yeezy couldn’t give a fuck. Opening his set with “Black Skinhead,” the intense new song from his new album Yeezus that took Saturday night Live by storm last month, Kanye launched into an incredibly dark, powerhouse set filled with some of his most sinister songs. Of course, I have to take a moment to discuss the new songs. The Yeezus cuts sound like the kind of music you’d imagine a mad scientist would produce. They’re laced with the dirtiest synths you’ve ever heard and primal screaming. This isn’t radio-friendly single Kanye. “Honestly, when I listen to radio, that ain’t where I wanna be no more,” West confessed during a minor rant at the end of “Clique.” It quickly became clear that Kanye wasn’t there to get press. The rapper banished press photographers and strategically placed lights in front of Governor’s Ball’s cameras to block his face. Instead, he spent most of his set out in the middle of the audience on a platform, perfectly positioned ten feet from my awe-struck face. You can call him a douchebag or an asshole (in fact, he agrees), but you can’t deny that he’s an astounding performer. West tore through a greatest hits set that drove the crowd into a frenzy from start to finish. Spectacle isn’t a big enough word to describe a Kanye show. It’s a genuinely larger than life experience that you can’t take your eyes off of. I spent my entire, long commute back home with my jaw welded open processing what I just saw.

I wasn’t the only one. And in the end, Kanye’s set made me realize something fundamental and obvious about music festivals that I hadn’t fully considered before. These aren’t really about the music. Think about it. Why would you want to spend an absurd amount of money to trek through mud and stench only to barely see a bunch of bands from afar while your legs break under you? Doesn’t that sound terrible? But people are what make it worth it all. I spent Kanye’s set surrounded by the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered at a show. We chatted, looked at each other with ‘HOLY SHIT’ glee, and shared a moment we’ll never forget together. During the ever-so-glorious “Runaway,” Kanye told the audience to hold on to their loved ones. A guy behind me (who kept trying to offer me a hit of his weed before the set) threw his arm around me and another fan to my right. We all swayed together and sang together in utter glee. For now, it appears that Governor’s Ball is here to stay, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’ll be telling the tale of Kanye at Gov Ball 2013 to my disinterested grandkids for decades to come.  

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Dead Island Trailer Wins Award, Is Kind of a Big Deal June 30, 2011

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Start the waterworks, kids.

I’m going to ask you to time travel with me for a moment here, dear readers. I need you to remember back to February. Unearth your deepest, saddest memories. You’re hearing that Lost-esque piano score now, aren’t you? Your eyes are starting to well up with tears. Yes, we’re talking about that slow-motion, non-linear, gut-wrenching trailer for Dead Island that turned grown men into weeping children.

Well, I’m sure you, like most gamers, have all but forgotten about it by now, but here’s a reason to remember; that trailer just won a prize at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (No, not THAT Cannes) in the category of Internet film.

This is just another defense for the ‘video games are art’ debate. If a game can produce such an emotional experience just on its trailer alone, then surely they should be considered a serious art form. ….Oh what’s that? Dead Island actually looks like a pretty standard zombie first-person-shooter that features weapons like electrified machetes? Yep, Dead Island’s really looking like the Pere Goriot of video games here.

Behold, the digital Mona Lisa.

Dead Island is set to be released on September 6th for the X-Box 360, Playstation 3, and PC. No word on the film adaptation that was optioned days after the trailer’s release, but I imagine the studio is at the “Well that was a bad idea” stage right about now.

[Debate] Is Wii U Next-Gen? June 8, 2011

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Wii U, or 360 2?

I had a very strange experience at this year’s New York Comic Con. One of Sega’s developers was talking about their new Thor game, and made an interesting distinction. He explained that one version of the game would be released for the “next-gens” and another for the “Wii and DS.” In my head, when I thought next-gen, I thought of the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, AND Wii. Yet, here was a developer actually excluding Nintendo’s system from that category. Well, now that confusion is on collective gamers’ minds this E3 with the announcement of the Wii U. It seems elementary enough; the Wii U is a new console, thus it is the first in a next-generation. Yet, somehow, the logic isn’t enough for some, leading many to think that Wii U is simply catching up with Microsoft and Sony, not pushing consoles forward.

The crux of the argument is in the Wii U’s technological capabilities. The Wii was nowhere near on par with its competitors graphically speaking. While Sony and Microsoft were pushing hyper-realism, Nintendo didn’t put their focus into power. From the very little we’ve seen of the Wii U so far, it looks like they’ve stepped it up, putting its graphical capabilities up to the quality of the current generation. It’s by that logic that many feel the Wii U is merely the console Nintendo should have released in the first place.

However, there are a few flaws in that logic. This is saying that all it takes to reach the next-generation is more power. Yes, that’s certainly part of it. But the Wii is more powerful than the GameCube, and the Wii U certainly looks more powerful than the Wii. The technology was in fact updated each year, just not by the same degree Microsoft and Sony did. But what the Wii lacked in power, it made up for—or tried to make up for, at least—in innovation, and that’s the part that seems to be forgotten. Nintendo let power slide a bit so they could try to bring a new experience to gaming with the Wiimote. Sure, they may not have done a great job at it, reducing most of their line-up to shovelware, but they did try and do something different. They created a different way to play games, and reached out to the casual market as a result. Rather than compete in a graphical realm, they created a new one entirely. It was a frustrating move for Wii owners (myself included) but does that discredit their console entirely from a generation?

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Nintendo Press Conference E3 2011 Roundup June 7, 2011

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Wii U; console or college for geeks?

Okay, let’s face it; while there was quite a bit to look forward to going into this year’s E3, but the big focus was Nintendo’s new console. Sure, the Kinect was something to keep an eye on, and Sony’s Playstation Vita certainly turned a lot of heads, but new consoles are what really pique audience interest. And with all of the rumors about Project Café circulating for weeks now, as well as Nintendo’s reputation for raising the bar—or more accurately, creating a new bar entirely—with new technologies, this was sure to be an E3 to remember.

But of course, you can’t start your conference with the big news, can you? Instead, Nintendo began ceremoniously tooting their own horns with a montage of Zelda games, soundtracked by a live orchestra playing classic songs from the series’ history. Miyamoto eventually took the stage to point out that it was Zelda’s 25th anniversary, and that Nintendo had big plans to celebrate. Of course, they talked about Skyward Sword, showing new footage, and even debuting the game’s new theme song with the orchestra’s help. Interestingly, they didn’t demo any of the game; a smart decision considering last year’s onstage fiasco. Miyamoto also announced that they’d release a Zelda game for each Nintendo system, with Link’s Awakening coming to the 3DS eShop that same day, and Four Swords coming as a free download for the DSi in September. If that wasn’t enough, Miyomoto showed off a gold wiimote, complete with a Hylian crest, as a bonus for those picking up Skyward Sword.

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Sony Press Conference E3 2011 Roundup June 7, 2011

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Behold, the Playstation Vita!

Usually, E3 is most closely watched when the Big Three are unveiling their newest consoles. Those are the years that people consider “game changing.” But this year has proved to be incredibly important in a multitude of ways. Obviously, Nintendo’s big Project Café announcement has taken center stage for the gaming world, but it’s a massive year for Sony and Microsoft, even without showing their next-generation systems. Microsoft had to prove that the Kinect was a worthwhile investment that would truly increase their system’s shelf life (They didn’t do a good job of it, mind you). Sony, however, had the most difficult task at all. After the recent PSN fiasco, Sony took a huge hit in popularity amongst gamers. This year, they had to regain the gaming world’s trust if they didn’t want to go the way of Sega.

As a result, Sony went as all out as they could this year, short of unveiling a new Playstation, making for quite an intriguing conference. That’s mostly meant in a good way, though a few strange points came up. The main one comes from their first area of focus; 3D. Sony began the conference by showing some of their biggest upcoming PS3 titles, and each one was presented in 3D. Sony’s “unmoving” commitment to 3D is somewhat bizarre, when you think about it. At last year’s E3, the company was ecstatic about the feature, but gamers didn’t seem terribly interested. Everyone went on to talk about the Kinect, Move, and 3DS, almost forgetting about Sony’s 3D plan. Sony didn’t. And this year, they wanted to make sure the same thing didn’t happen twice.

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Microsoft Press Conference E3 2011 Roundup June 6, 2011

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Last year, Microsoft had a lot riding on its press conference. That was the year that they were going to fully reveal the Kinect to the world, a device that Peter Molyneux was something that “science fiction hadn’t even dreamed of yet.” The claim seemed a bit ridiculous, but it built up a good deal of hype for the possibilities of a sophisticated gaming camera. Unfortunately, the press conference didn’t deliver much that year. The Kinect was used to show glorified tech demos, highlighting the voice recognition and motion control capabilities of the camera. The audience was overwhelmed as games like Kinectimals took the stage over serious triple-A titles. But, it was a new piece of hardware, so what could you expect?

So, Microsoft still had a lot riding on them for this year’s E3. Now that their hardware was out, it was time to see what it could really do. So it came as no surprise that a great deal of Microsoft’s focus this year was on the Kinect, treating it like a new console as opposed to a peripheral. The words “Xbox 360” and “Kinect” were rarely said apart from one another. It’s clear that this is Microsoft’s way of expanding their console’s shelf life.

They started the show strong, though expectedly, showing some of their big franchise sequels. Dazzling cinematic demos for Modern Warfare 3 and Tomb Raider began the show, firmly reinforcing Microsoft’s usual stance of hardcore gaming. Both games showed a great deal of promise in terms of providing exciting, story-driven action games. Seeing Lara Croft run through a crumbling underground tomb was more enthralling than either of the Tomb Raider films ever brought.

And then, the Kinectability began. Keeping in the same vein, Microsoft started by showing their big titles that would utilize the Kinect. Mass Effect 3 was demoed complete with voice recognition options for choosing dialogue and shouting commands during battle. The dialogue aspect seemed a bit slow, but the idea of getting to vocally control your teammates showed some great potential for immersing the player in intense situations. Microsoft rounded out their hardcore game announcements with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, which uses Kinect’s motion control in a mode called Gunsmith. This allows you to customize and test weapons in a Minority Report-esque fashion. It’s a neat tweak, again, ripe with potential. But wasn’t last year supposed to be the year of “potential”?

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Video: Microsoft’s Slow Decent Into Madness June 27, 2010

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Well, I don’t want to say terribly much because I believe this video speaks for itself. I will say that Microsoft’s days of claiming to be the ‘hardcore’ console are coming to an end. And now, the company seems to be entering an era of total madness. First there was Kinectimals, and now, there’s this….

‘Nuff Said.

The Price of Family Fun June 18, 2010

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This E3 found Microsoft and Sony setting a new direction into previously unchartered territory for the console giants. While Nintendo has had a lockdown on the casual, family market, the other two set their sights on pleasing the ‘hardcore’ market. While the two will still continue to be the choice for serious gamers, now it appears that they’re interested by Nintendo’s niche, and looking to take on some of the action. As a result, they put a good amount of focus on accessibility with their new motion sensing devices. Sony vowed to bridge the hardcore/casual gap with the Move, and Microsoft showed off a friendlier side with the Kinect. After this E3, it’s clear that software-wise, all three companies will have plenty for the casual crowd to play on each console.

But at what price? No matter how effective one may think the respective companies presented their case, there’s a terrible flaw standing in the way of the Kinect and Move: The price tag. As I firmly believe, people are much more willing to put out money for a new console than to buy add-ons for an older one. People want something that they can play 100% fresh out of the box without worrying about running out to pick up a new addition. Thus, the two companies start at a disadvantage to the Wii. Those who already own the consoles face the question of whether or not they care enough to invest in add-ons. Those who don’t have it must decide if they’re willing to put forth a little extra money than usual for a new console entirely.

Of course, there’s an easy fix to this problem that the companies have already thought of. Bundling the new technology with their consoles makes the decision for those looking to buy a new console much easier. You can get a new Xbox 360 and the Kinect camera together for less than they’d cost separate? No brainer. But it’s that divide between console and add-on that stands in the way of success. (more…)

E3 2010 Day 2: A Small Eternity With Sony June 17, 2010

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At this year’s E3, Sony held a 2 hour press conference, trumping Nintendo and Microsoft in length. Unfortunately 2 hours is a very long time, and unless you have enough compelling content to fill it, you’re going to have a lot of filler. I can see why Sony would think such a gap of time would be appropriate considering how crucial this E3 is for them. They had the task of proving not only that their new Move system isn’t the same as the Wii, but also that it’s superior to the controller-free Kinect. On top of that, there were some big games to look at, and 3D to plug. But in this case, time worked against Sony. While Nintendo stuck to a compressed 60 minutes filled to the brim with announcements (Leaving tons of room for news on the show floor), Sony overbooked themselves on time leading too an overlong, dull conference.

Don’t get me wrong; Sony didn’t have a bad conference. There was enough content in it to keep it interesting. But they really would have benefited from picking their bigger guns and sticking to them in a shorter time. Microsoft even managed their time well, though their showing ended up looking less impressive. Before discussing the good of the conference, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out things that should be avoided in all E3 conferences from here on out. Let’s begin: (more…)

E3 2010 Day 2: Nintendo Returns to Glory June 16, 2010

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I used to be a major Nintendo fan. But over the last few years, being a Nintendo fan has proved to be a test of faith. I’ve had to sit through E3’s where we see “games” like Wii Music and Wii Fit, rather than the creativity I’ve always loved the company for. Their focus on being a family gaming company has lead to too many conferences filled with casual games that feel more like demos put together to show off hardware. But this year, Nintendo came out of nowhere with what Microsoft and Sony both failed to deliver this year: New software. Starting their presentation with a short speech about how technology doesn’t push the market forward with good games, Nintendo went on to announce game after game.

I will say, the conference got off to a terrible start. I was extremely underwhelmed to the point where I nearly had to turn the live stream off. My embarrasment started with the demo for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Last year, Nintendo teased the game claiming that it’d be very different from previous Zeldas. But instead, we were treated no an extremely vague demo that showed off nothing more than a new art style (Which is quite pretty), and the new motion control system. Essentially, this is the game Twilight Princess should have been. But the demo merely showed us a nondescript field with classic, basic enemies. Miyamoto showed off some new items, and that was that. But of course, the blunder came in technology. Right after Miyomoto started talking about how his motions were 1:1, the game went haywire. The new robotic beetle gained a mind of its own, the bow and arrow could only fire at the ground, and the sword started spin attacking where vertical slashes were supposed to be. It appears there was simply some mistake on stage, as the game is said to work fine on the floor, but it flailed on stage. Suddenly, Nintendo’s opening remarks took on a new meaning…

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