Reliving the Early- to Mid-2000s at Governors Ball 2014

posted by Joshua Johnson on June 11, 2014

Interpol at Gov Ball 2014 by Oliver Correa

New York City -- They say that your favorite kind of music will always be the music you grew up with. It’s weird for me to think about when I was “growing up,” because I still feel like I have a lot of that left to do. Then again, I’m 23, a year out of college, and I even got one of those job things. By societal standards, I’m a full-blown adult.
Oddly enough, this thought popped into my head while I was looking at the Governors Ball Music Festival lineup. As I scanned through the list of bands, I was surprised at the large presence of mid-2000s indie bands, aka the bands I was obsessed with in middle and high school. Spoon. TV on the Radio. The Kills. Interpol. The frontman and the frontwoman of The White Stripes (Jack White) and Rilo Kiley (Jenny Lewis), respectively. These bands made up the soundtrack of my adolescence.  Even The Strokes, the kings of the mid-2000s indie scene, made an appearance on the lineup, but I never really liked Julian and company since my teenage mind labeled them “too mainstream.”

Sure, there were newer bands on the lineup that caught my eye: Disclosure, Deafheaven, Sleigh Bells. But I bought my ticket to Governors Ball because of all those bands I listened to in order to make 6th through 12th grades a little bit easier. 
I know it seems like I’m being nostalgic for an era that has barely passed, but it’s easy to forget that we’re in the year 2014. Spoon’s Gimme Fiction is nine years old. The Kills celebrated their tenth anniversary with a show at Terminal 5 two years ago. The White Stripes' Elephant is also a decade old, and White Blood Cells is set to become a Bar Mitzvah in a month. These were the artists of my formative years.  And these are the artists I go back to the most, no matter what new music comes out.
Governors Ball is being pushed as the future of the NYC music scene (by Senator Chuck Schumer, no less), but I spent my weekend basking in the past. This is by no means a bad thing – in fact, music festivals have a way of reverting people back to their younger selves. People lie on the grass, play with squirt guns, and attempt to slip illicit substances past the authorities. And nothing is more entertaining to a music festival crowd than an inflated beach ball.

I had a fantastic time at Governors Ball reliving the songs of my teens, and the experiences that came with them. I remembered uploading music to my Dell Digital Music Player before picking up a click-wheel iPod. I remembered ripping one of those eMusic cards that offered 50 free song downloads out of Spin Magazine. CDs were on the cusp of being dead, and vinyl was on the cusp of making a comeback, first ironically, then sincerely. Maybe it wasn’t as romantic as my Dad’s era, where he would save up weeks of allowance for a record he may never actually be able to find in a store, but it was my era. The 2000s were a scene, and it was my scene.
My favorite moments of last weekend’s Governors Ball was getting to hear songs that I’ve loved ever since I started listening to music of my own choosing. These were not mere moments of imitation or recreation, these were moments of celebration. These were the moments I dreamed of since I realized seeing bands live was a thing I could do. These were the moments of my Governors Ball. 

Jack White – “Hotel Yorba” (2001)

When I was first getting into music, I found that my taste was drawn to the twang of country, bluegrass, and folk. The trouble with that is almost every seventh grade kid’s answer to the “What kind of music do you like?” questions was “Everything but country.”  
The first time I listened to The White Stripes’ White Blood Cells, I was of course wowed by the down-and-dirty blues of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” but the song that made me fall in love with Jack and Meg was the album’s second track, “Hotel Yorba.” Here was a band that started things off with a loud, distorted guitar, only to go into a sweet, happy bluegrass song with lyrics like “If I’m the man that you love the most / you can say ‘I do’ at least.” And it rocked just as hard. 

When Jack White played “Hotel Yorba” live at Governors Ball, it turned into a full-on barn-stomper with big drums, bigger vocals, and plenty of acoustic guitar picking. The whole crowd has singing along to every word, and that twang never felt so cool.

The Kills – “No Wow” (2005)

The White Stripes were like a gateway band for me. I used them to discover new bands that played similar styles. So when I found The Kills, another guy-girl duo playing blues-influenced indie rock, I was pretty thrilled. Band members Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince went by the names “VV” and “Hotel,” which gave them an extra sleazy vibe. I think the first time I listened to “No Wow” was also the first time I thought, “Wait a minute, cigarettes are cool.” I never smoked one, but damn, The Kills sure made it seem awesome.

There’s a moment about two-thirds into the song “No Wow” where the steady beat of the drum machine falls out, the guitar gets louder, and Mosshart’s wild voice takes center stage. I wanted badly to see that song live, just to see what that moment looked like. I first saw The Kills a few years back at Terminal 5, and I saw them two more times after that. Their Governors Ball set was my fourth Kills show, and even then, that moment in “No Wow” was damn thrilling. For the longest time I didn’t have a clue how they could do that, and even though I’ve seen behind the curtain, it’s still one of my favorite live songs.

Spoon – “I Summon You” (2005)

For my thirteenth birthday, my parents said I could quit taking piano lessons and pick up the guitar. I took guitar lessons at a local music shop from a guy named Dennis. Dennis wore a beanie and played a seafoam green Fender Mustang. In other words, he was a lot cooler than my piano teacher. During one lesson, Dennis recommended I check out a band called Spoon. I heeded his advice without hesitation and bought Gimme Fiction at my mall’s FYE (remember those?). Knowing nothing other than a cool guy thinks they’re cool, I popped the CD and instantly became a fan. 

“I Summon You” was my favorite song on the album. Musically, it’s a rather unassuming track, but its lyrics are super intriguing. Birds, girls, and easily corruptible soldiers all feature prominently, not to mention the titular summoning. To see Spoon perform “I Summon You” live is to watch lead singer Britt Daniel pour his heart into those image-rich lyrics. Almost a decade later, I still don’t really know what “I Summon You” is.

Interpol – “Evil” (2004)

In high school, one of my best friends lived right across the street from me. On the bus to school, we’d share our opinions on the latest and greatest bands. One song we shared a particular affinity for was Interpol’s “Evil,” off their second album, Antics. The way Paul Banks opened the song by singing the name “Rosemary” was easily our favorite part.

While we both loved “Evil,” we agreed that Banks’ could easily put anybody to sleep with his baritone vocals. I wasn’t really sure how Interpol would sound live, but when they pulled out “Evil,” all my doubts were assuaged. The drums and the keys popped, and Banks commanded the crowd with a powerful vocal performance. I was back on the bus to high school, and I never thought I’d be so happy to be there.

TV on the Radio – “Halfway Home” (2008)

When I was a senior in high school, I got my dad’s old car. While it was great to get that kind of freedom, I absolutely hated driving. I was always worried I was doing something wrong, and I was always angry at other drivers for doing other things wrong. But I did love my car as a portable music player. During one of the first weeks of the school year, I left straight from school to our local Barnes & Noble to buy TV on the Radio’s new album Dear Science on the first day it came out. I popped the CD in my car, and immediately started jamming out to the album’s opener, “Halfway Home.” As I drove back to my house, I tapped the sides of my steering wheel in the “10 and 2” position to the beat of the drums.

I had seen TVotR four times before Governors Ball, and I never saw them play “Halfway Home.” So when those signature drums started beating, even louder live than on the record, it was like the first time I heard it while I was driving my car. I started tapping the barricade like I tapped the steering wheel, then I started jumping up and down. I couldn’t do that in my car. But I could do it at Governors Ball.

Jenny Lewis – “A Better Son/Daughter” (2002)

When I started going to concerts, I accepted the fact I wouldn’t ever be able to hear some songs live. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix or Nirvana live. While sometimes I lamented being born in the “wrong” era, I mostly accepted this. As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, so it goes. It’s one thing to know you never had, or will, have the ability to see a band live, but it’s another to have that ability, only to watch it fall apart.

I saw Rilo Kiley live once in 2008 at the Cleveland House of Blues. My favorite moment was during the song “A Better Son/Daughter” when Jenny Lewis’s soft voice turned into a powerhouse of celebration as Blake Sennet’s guitar went up to 11. It was like a Pixies/Nirvana-style quiet-loud transition for the mid-2000s. Then, a few years later, Rilo Kiley broke up. I always regretted not seeing them live more, but the thought that a band that I loved in the moment would break up seemed unfathomable to me. The band’s breakup almost made me wish I never listened to them in the first place. Sure, it’s better to have love and lost and all that, but in the moment, the exact opposite feels true. 

Since Rilo Kiley broke up, which was obviously way before the band’s official announcement in 2011, I began to accept the fact I’d never hear Rilo Kiley live again. Then I saw Jenny Lewis play “Silver Lining” at Coachella '09, though it looked like it took everything in her to not break down sobbing after playing it. 

Before seeing Jenny at Governors Ball, I searched her most-recent past setlists to see what to expect. To my surprise, I saw she was playing my favorite Rilo Kiley song, and one of my favorite songs ever, “A Better Son/Daughter.” After seeing that, I was absurdly excited to see her. I was going to be heartbroken if she didn’t play it.

With about fifteen minutes left in her time slot, the sweet opening chords of “A Better Son/Daughter” rang out. I said before the festival that I would have a full breakdown if Jenny played it. And I did. I really, really did. 

I never thought I would hear “A Better Son/Daughter” live again. It may be better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, but it’s even better to have loved, lost, and loved again. Even if this is now the last time I hear the live, it doesn’t feel lost this time. The mere fact that it happened again was good enough for me. Seeing “A Better Son/Daughter” again reminded me of a time I spent exploring the mid-2000s indie scene - a time when anybody could’ve become my next favorite band. Most of all, it reminded me of growing up.

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