Injury Reserve, a talented, up-and-coming Arizona hip-hop group, impressed on the first day of the 2019 Governors Ball Music Festival. The trio, rappers Stepa J. Groggs and Ritchie with a T and producer Parker Corey, performed tracks from their recent self-titled debut album, as well as from older projects. Highlights of the set included singles from their new album, the inventive “Jailbreak the Tesla,” an ode to hacking the electric vehicle, and the offbeat and imaginative “Koruna & Lime.” Throughout the set, Stepa and Ritchie mostly traded verses, alternating between more laidback delivery and high-energy, heavy-hitting spitting. The latter got the audience energized, at one point encouraging a veritable mosh pit. Injury Reserve concluded with “Oh Shit!!!” from their 2016 sophomore project, “Floss.” The track, which featured Stepa and Ritchie’s lively, high-spirited rapping over a looping melancholic piano sample — emblematic of Corey’s creative production — concluded the compelling set.
Another standout performer of the first day was Njomza, one of the opening acts of the festival, who performed a more intimate set at the fest’s Bud Light-sponsored, dive-themed stage. The singer and songwriter, who recently had a hand in Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” performed an array of dreamy, pop-R&B tracks. Highlights from the set included songs off of the artist’s 2018 EP “Vacation” like “Lonely Nights” and older material like “Sad For You” from her 2017 project of the same name. The standout song of the set was “Me & You” from “Vacation.” While in the recorded version she sings with an airy, dream-like quality, she performed the track in an earthier style, with a warm, full sound. From her singing to her establishment of an easy rapport with the audience through personable stage banter, Njomza performed with charm to spare.
Canadian singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez was another highlight from Friday afternoon. Reyez performed music released under her name, as well as a cover of “One Kiss,” the hit Dua Lipa and Calvin Harris single, that Reyez co-wrote. With her wonderfully expressive voice and a charismatic stage presence, Reyez put on an easy-to-love set. Particularly impressive were songs “Imported,” a charmingly blue pop ballad (“You’re in love with somebody else … Get over them by getting under me”), “Body Count,” featuring the unforgettable line, “I dodge dick on the daily” (accompanied by a visual featuring eggplant emojis to illustrate), and the deeply moving “Gatekeeper,” a song imagined from the perspective of a male music industry gatekeeper, based on her experience of being sexually harassed by a producer. In between songs, Reyez candidly discussed topics such as the importance of the #MeToo movement and her experiences with depression. She concluded her set with the moving “Figures,” a track that she described as having been written during a difficult time in her life. A soulful ballad about a bad breakup, it demonstrated Reyez’s vocal power, and illustrated a broader point about creating art in the midst of or as a response to pain. For these reasons, Reyez’s performance felt refreshingly real and honest.
Critically acclaimed artist Mitski performed an enthralling set of bruising and beautiful indie rock. With a full backing band rendering her crushing compositions, Mitski was free to focus on singing and choreography. The latter alternated between more abstract movement, which projected a cool, enigmatic charm and emotive, symbolic gestures, which were quite affecting. As evidenced by her expressive, highly stylized dancing, her performance was both open to and removed from the audience. She mostly forwent stage banter, focusing instead on conveying her ideas through poetic lyrics which, in the characteristic style of her set, seemed simultaneously confessional, invented, and aestheticized. She focused on tracks from her most recent three albums, including her widely acclaimed fifth album “Be the Cowboy,” as well as her breakthrough third and fourth albums, “Bury Me at Makeout Creek” and “Puberty 2.” Highlights from the set included “Townie,” a spiky, driving track about desire of the body and the heart, growing up or not, and horrible house parties. “Your Best American Girl,” about reckoning with cultural identity in the context of a relationship, featured a standout vocal performance. Finally, the set conclusion “Happy,” proved to be a characteristically “Mitski” take on the emotion. In “Happy,” the feeling is portrayed as a capricious lover, who comes and then leaves, with garbage to clean in his wake. As Mitski sang with a sort of abandon to a departing partner, “And when you go, take this heart / I'll make no more use of it when there's no more you,” she danced with wild joy. The wonderful complexity of this moment and this rich working of a seeming dichotomy emblematized what made her set so compelling to watch.
— Staff writer A.J. Cohn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.