“Rain hates music!” This exclamation by lead singer Frances Quinlan of Hop Along could not have been truer, unfortunately. The second day of Octfest saw performances from bands that opened the minds of listeners and exposed them to some of the music industry’s most legendary artists and a set from The Flaming Lips that will be ingrained in the minds of all those who witnessed it.
No Age, the noise rock band from Los Angeles, were unable to bring the California sunshine to Governors Island, but instead played a riotous and politically charged set. Their song “Glitter” exploded out from the speakers and lead singer and drummer Dean Allen Spunt sat behind his kit and sang as his lower body thrashed around beating his drums. Other songs like “Ripped Knees” and “Sleeper Hold” saw the band pick up the tempo and the crowd nodded along as fast they could. The band stopped briefly to encourage everyone to go and vote, saying New Yorkers could make a difference. As the audience cheered, the band harnessed that energy and finished out their performance.
Girlpool played immediately after on the Skyline stage. One of the first songs they played was “Sleepless” where their echoey guitars and harmonies sailed out over the crowd. Their wistful sound and songs about love and broken heartedness generated a feeling of nostalgia. When band members Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad sang “Your Heart,” their voices fused together and suddenly “Your mouth is like broken glass / It’s the only thing I’m looking at” became lyrics that sounded alluring and the listener ignored the violent imagery within them. The suppressed violence and brutality of their lyrics are quietly unnerving, but in the most enjoyable way. “It Gets More Blue” has all of the characteristics of a Girlpool song with the added layer of wicked humor and even darker images. The set they played tricked audience members and shrouded their songs in beautiful vocals and lo-fi guitars.
Moving away from the subtle gloom, Hop Along brought their brand of indie rock and the intense vocals of Frances Quinlan to the Island stage. They opened with “How Simple” from Bark Your Head Off, Dog and the folky undertones paired with Quinlan singing made it catchy; one cannot deny feeling energized by the performance. Quinlan’s voice is unmistakable, and she uses it as an instrument. It is an extension of her guitar and the band, and on “The Fox in Motion” and “Tibetan Pop Stars,” she adds a texture to the music by rapidly changing her pitch. On “What the Writer Meant,” the band experimented with more pop sounds and a catchy chorus of “God is the one, God is the one who changed.” For the last song they sang “Prior Things,” and Quinlan switched out her electric guitar for an acoustic one and serenaded the audience the folkiest song of the set. Quinlan’s voice is so distinctive with her raspy and thundering vocals, it’s a miracle that she doesn’t lose it after a few songs and still after an hour set she sounded just as good as when she started.
Funk and Soul legends Nile Rodgers & CHIC performed during the heaviest rains, but it did not stop the masses from dancing and grooving hard. They kicked off the set with “Everybody Dance,” and the unparalleled ’70s soul infiltrated the audience and prompted everyone to groove. The band outfitted in all white suits and lead singers Kimberly Davis and Folami strolled around the stage in their big fur coats and fitted, silver dresses. They played covers of “I’m Coming Out,” “We Are Family” and “Like a Virgin” but Rodgers was quick to remind everyone of the work he had done with each of these artists. It continued and they played a song from another legendary artist, David Bowie. “Let’s Dance” sung by drummer Ralph Rolle exhilarated the audience. Halfway through the performance, Rodgers quieted down and told his story of when he was diagnosed with cancer. He said during that time, he worked as much as he could and with as many people as he could, and shortly after being told he was cancer-free, the song he produced with Daft Punk “Get Lucky” dropped. He then played a soulful rendition of the song and closed out with “Good Times.”
Over on the Island stage, Yo La Tengo played a set beginning with a ten-minute instrumental song that oscillated between soothing and dissonant. It was a jam out session, and listeners were just lucky enough to have witnessed it. “Stockholm Syndrome” was a mellow follow-up where bassist James McNew had his opportunity to showcase his vocal talents. Drummer and singer Georgia Hubley transfixed the crowd with her somber performance of “Nowhere Near” as she left the comfort of her drum kit and instead sang and played the keyboard. “Autumn Sweater” was played with great applause, and both Ira Kaplan and Hubley were able to execute their glorious harmonies. The band finished with another instrumental piece that began slow and crescendoed into a beautiful discord.
After hours of standing in the rain and watching the grass get mashed down until it was nothing but moody roots, listeners were ready to call it a night. That is until The Flaming Lips took to the stage and astounded everyone with their incredible, visual performance. Wayne Coyne walked out like a demented conductor and directed his band in a rendition of “Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op 30.” He threw his hands down and the lights went out. Coyne reappeared on the stage carrying a giant, white inflated balloon and threw it out into the audience before singing “Race for the Prize.” Towards the end of the song, he brought out another balloon that said “FUCK YEAH OCTFEST” and waved above his head as the band continued playing. While Coyne talked to the crowd, a mass of pink was hauled out onto the stage and soon inflated into a giant robot that towered above his head. The crowd chanted back the karate chopping sound on “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt 1.” The band played a rendition of “Star Spangled Banner,” and Coyne put on massive hands and raised them to the crowd. Lasers shot out from the palms and the light extended across the muddy fields. He turned towards the mirror ball looming above the stage and cast his lasers on the reflective surfaces. The colors spread through people cheering and lifting their hands up to catch the fractured pieces of light. Coyne disappeared again and came out riding a unicorn for “There Should be Unicorns,” wearing a pair of rainbow-colored inflated wings. Another Bowie song was covered and Coyne put himself inside a balloon as he sang “Space Oddity.” Just as the crowd began to settle into this strange and unusual world, they played their final song “Do You Realize??” Coyne gesticulated wildly before hanging up his luminescent lasso and walking off stage.
From Frances Quinlan’s vocal pyrotechnics to Wayne Coyne’s giant laser hands, the second day of Octfest was no match for the weather. Even though the rain and wind were intense, the performances were fierce and extraordinary and held the crowd closely until the last note was played.
Photo Credit: Mauricio Alvarado