Thursday, June 13, 2024

Post Malone at Gov Ball: Recap & Setlist

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It’s sort of a weird time to be Post Malone. On one hand, he’s coming off the two most-difficult, least-successful albums of his career — the last of which, 2023’s Austin, failed to even generate a single top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hit, marking a clear commercial low point for the pop-rap gold-spinner who was surpassed only by Drake in terms of consistent chart success for the second half of the 2010s. On the other hand, he’s already had two No. 1 hits this year, albeit both with co-stars (Taylor Swift and Morgan Wallen, respectively) whose radio and streaming clout currently easily eclipse his own. Further complicating things: The latter of those two No. 1s marks the beginning of his long-hyped full foray into country music, a genre he has some obvious spiritual kinship with, but only tangential musical relation.

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This was a lot to balance for Post Malone during his headlining set at day one of New York’s Governors Ball festival (now officially referred to as just “Gov Ball”) — or at least, it seems like it should have been. But instead of trying to thread the needle between his successful past, his muddier present and his uncertain future, Post decided to simplify things with Gov Ball setlist: He simply played the hits. And he’s got a lot of them: more than you may even remember, more than maybe seems possible for a guy who’s only been making ’em since 2015 and has been in a relatively fallow period for ’em since the decade turned. As far as streamlining strategies go, it was a pretty undeniable one.

“My name is Austin Richard Post,” the singer-rapper introduced himself after his first two songs, “and I’m here to play some s–tty songs and get a little bit f–ked up while we do it.” Whether dismissing his signature hits as “s–tty” was a sign of residual bitterness over his heavier, more personal recent work not being received as warmly as his debauched early hits or just the artist not taking himself too seriously, it ended up not really mattering, since it became clear pretty quickly Post was not interested in relitigating anything about his career on the evening. Instead, he played one smash after another — from “Better Now” and “Wow” through “Circles” and “Congratulations” — while gleefully shimmying, screaming, two-stepping and stripping (his shirt, anyway) on stage, looking every bit the superstar he was at his commercial peak.

The question of a Post Malone gig has traditionally not been whether he’d seem like a star, but what kind of star would lead the way: rap star Post, rock star Post, pop star Post, or now even country star Post? In truth, he’s been all four for some time — well, the first three, anyway, with the fourth seemingly on its way. But if one was the most forward on Friday night, it was probably rock star Post, with the first two songs (and many subsequent cuts) both being introduced via the grungy riffs of guitarist Liv Slingerland, and more six-string-heavy (and just heavy period) borderline inclusions like Beerbongs and Bentleys‘ “Over Now” and Hollywood’s Bleeding’s “Take What You Want” making the cut. There was lots of growling and shredding; one time, Post threw up the devil horns while hunching his shoulders and he very briefly kinda even looked like Ronnie James Dio. At some point in the middle of the set, the mix of loud, chunking guitars with rapping — largely about being angry at girls — inspired me to write in my notes: Has Post Malone been nu-metal this whole time?

But if country star Post is indeed on the horizon, you would not have known it from his Gov Ball performance. Just a day after making a pair of surprise appearances at CMA Fest — including one alongside longtime Nashville fixture Blake Shelton, with the two even covering a George Jones song together — he did not bring out Shelton, or Wallen, or any guest to further shepherd his new country pivot. (Aside from a couple fans pulled out of the audience to assist on signature ballad “Stay,” there were no guests of any kind during Post’s performance, not even “Rockstar” buddy 21 Savage, who’ll perform at Gov Ball on Saturday.) No mention was made by Post of his recent sonic and geographical detour, nor did he try out any brand new or unreleased material from his rumored upcoming full length. If you didn’t know going into the set that Going Country was a thing Post was currently in the midst of doing, you probably didn’t come out of it knowing either.

There was still the one obvious clue, though you had to wait till the second song of the encore for it: “I Had Some Help,” the reigning No. 1 song in the country, did eventually make its appearance as the evening’s pentultimate track. (As for “Fortnight,” his other No. 1 of 2024, forget it — it’s one thing for Post to sing over a Morgan Wallen verse, but trying to approximate an entire Taylor Swift lead vocal on his own would’ve been potentially disastrous on multiple levels.) “Help” sounded fantastic, and the crowd went bananas for it, but aside from its placement in the setlist Post gave it no special treatment, no lead-in or extra emphasis or anything to make you think it was a particularly notable song than most in Friday’s setlist. The implication was clear: “Help” is a hit, but still just one of many for Posty, and no one player is bigger than the team in a Post Malone setlist.

More of a statement, however, was the choice of the encore’s final song: “Chemical,” the biggest song from Austin, whose No. 13 peak was still fairly underwhelming by his career standards. It was the only song performed from the 2023 album — he played four times as many from 2016 debut Stoney — but it landed just like any of his bigger, longer-established hits, sounding much fuller live than on record, and making for a perfectly resounding closing number for the evening. The suggestion seemed to be that Post had never really stopped making big singles in the first place — and that regardless of whether on a given day he might be presenting more as a pop star, rap star, rock star or country star, what he truly is and always will be first and foremost is a hitmaker.

SETLIST

Better Now
Wow
Zack and Codeine
Psycho
Goodbyes
I Like You (A Happier Song)
Jonestown (Interlude)
Take What You Want
Over Now
Rockstar
Stay
I Fall Apart
Wrapped Around Your Finger
Circles
Too Young
White Iverson
Congratulations

Encore:

Sunflower
I Had Some Help
Chemical



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