Boston Calling 2013 Recap

More Click here for photos of festival sights at 2013 Boston Calling Music Festival in the QRO Concert Photo Gallery While alternative music festivals used to just be the...
Boston Calling 2013 Recap

Boston Calling 2013 Recap

While alternative music festivals used to just be the province of Great Britain (QRO U.K. Festival Guide), they’ve long since expanded to all four corners of North America (QRO North American Festival Guide) – well, almost all four corners, as the Northeast has been mostly overlooked.  There have been some stabs from elsewhere, like the ill-fated American version of London’s Field Day back in the nineties, or Coachella coming east in All Points West, but they haven’t stuck.  But now the Northeast is taking care of itself, as New York’s alt-star concert promoter Bowery Presents came to Beantown in Boston Calling, two great days of music right in the center of town at City Hall Plaza (in the shadow of City Hall itself), Saturday & Sunday, May 25th & 26th.

 

 rainy Saturday

First things first, yes, it was a cold and rainy Saturday at Boston Calling.  Though note that it wasn’t freezing or gusting, just damp and nippy; it wasn’t pouring rain, just drizzling on and off.  And the brick ground of City Hall Plaza meant it didn’t get muddy…

 

Bad Rabbits

Bad Rabbits

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There was a big roar at the start of Boston Calling – for locals Bad Rabbits.  The hip-hop outfit have been around for a few years now, and while they haven’t broken out nationally, they still have a big hometown following.  And they more than ably served as the only hip-hop offering at the otherwise indie-pop (i.e., white…) Boston Calling.

Also special props are due Bad Rabbits for later, when being interviewed for a college radio station, and the radio DJ asked them about being the only Boston act at the festival – with which a Bad Rabbit immediately noted that fellow Beantowners Caspian (see Day Two) were opening up Sunday.

Bad Rabbits

 

St. Lucia

St. Lucia

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St. LuciaBoston Calling went more electro as St. Lucia took the City Hall Stage.  The smaller second stage, under the monstrous (and monstrously ugly) concrete City Hall held more dancetronic acts in general, and the admittedly smaller space still had the crowd packed in so early in the day.  The group apologized for the weather (and they do sound better in a club).

St. Lucia & rainy crowd

 

Cults

Cults

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CultsThe crowd at the Main Stage only got bigger for Cults.  The audience in general at Boston Calling was not only younger than your usual concert crowd, but young even for a festival crowd – Memorial Day Weekend and super downtown location made it easy for kids (even for parents with children), and the bands on Day One were certainly youth-friendly.  Cults are now a few years removed from their breakthrough hit (this set was actually a rare expedition out from the studio, where they’re working on their follow-up to their self-titled debut – QRO review), but still give it their all behind “You Know What I Mean”.

Cults

 

MS MR

MS MR

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Back over at the City Hall Stage was another electro band, MS MR.  While a male-female duo officially (and in name…), singer Lizzy Plapinger seemed to more take center stage, and when she did, the group were reminiscent of U.K. hit lady Ellie Goulding (QRO live review).  Max Hershenow seems more akin to The Neighbourhood (QRO photos), a sort of label creation that MS MR also can also seem to be at times.

MS MR

 

Matt & Kim

Matt & Kim

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Matt & KimNo matter how wet or cold it gets, Matt & Kim deliver live – indeed, drummer Kim Schifino (QRO interview) told the crowd that she likes it “wet & dirty…” The crowd & the band were in high spirits (though Kim mentioned it was “another wet one,” like they had played last Saturday at Prospect Park in Brooklyn for The Great Googa Mooga – QRO photosnot a good name to check, considering that the Sunday of Googa was cancelled due to storms…) – singer/guitarist Matt Johnson (QRO interview) mentioned that New Englanders could take any amount of rain & cold, then said he knows that because he’s from Vermont & she’s from Rhode Island.

Matt & Kim & balloons

Matt JohnsonKim SchifinoAdmittedly a similar set to last Saturday, there were some changes – there was no ‘crowd surfing booty-dance’ like Kim so often does (wetness would make that more dangerous), but they did have their “two dollar & ninety-nine cents fireworks display” (QRO interview) in handing out balloons, asking the crowd to blow them up and then throw them up into the air, which worked well.  Kim challenged the crowd to get crazy, pointing out crowd-surfer who surfed with poncho wrapped around his ankle (“like he walked out of a port-a-potty with toilet paper on his shoe…”) and girl with yellow dyed hair (Kim said her black locks were a weave…), then offered her sneakers to whoever got craziest – and did thrown them out into the crowd after the set (was later scene in yellow wellingtons…).

Matt & Kim

 

Portugal. The Man

Portugal. The Man

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Portugal. A ManIn the unenviable slot following Matt & Kim was Portugal. The Man.  However, the modern psych-rock band has a big following, which was out in force.  That did mean a lot of bros in the crowd (which was especially difficult for QRO’s photographer because, for some reason, photographers weren’t allowed in the pit at the City Hall Stage and had to shoot from in the crowd – causing countless photographer complaints…).  Their set varied on the song – they killed it with singles like “Got It All” and “So American”, but other songs felt like filler.

Portugal. The Man

 

The Shins

The Shins

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Tom MeninoBefore The Shins took the stage, Boston Mayor Tom Menino did – considering he’s in his last term, and the festival is literally on his doorstep, he really couldn’t miss it.  The weather had gotten colder as the sun went down – created the neat phenomenon of people in the beer garden huddling above the two large square grates that funneled hot air from the subway up (it was actually a neat way to meet other festival goers).  The Shins started with the odd, electro-tropical “The Rifle’s Spiral”, the starter on new record Port of Morrow (QRO review), but then hit up oldies and singles, which actually kind of worked with the weather, as Shins classics have a kind of ‘smiling in the rain’ nature, but it was a little hard to get energized.

 

The Shins

 

Marina & The Diamonds

Marina & The Diamonds

MarinaClick image for full gallery

After technical problems and many false start cheers, Marina & The Diamonds took on the City Hall Stage.  There were lots of seventeen-year-old girls in attendance for the risen U.K. songstresses/“heartbreaker” (as she was introduced & the neon sign behind her said).Marina & The Diamonds

 

fun.

fun.

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Nate RuessBut lots of young people were at Boston Calling specifically, even only, for fun.  That can seem kind of insulting to the earlier, better bands (at least to hipsters – or your correspondent…), it is good that fun. is bringing new fans to those bands.  And one has to admit that fun. is hard-working, coming off doing a special surprise slot at a Heineken event, and just about to head out on a European tour.  Admittedly they are a white band – singer Nate Ruess didn’t exactly have any funky dance moves (mostly running his hand through his hair or faking a throw)…

 

fun.

 

ugly City Hall

After the cold weather of Day One, the skies cleared up for Sunday, though there were definitely some strong, cold breezes at times.  The wind-but-no-rain did flip the script on the VIP area – nestled on the mezzanine under City Hall, the space worked well on Saturday, as it provided cover from the rain, but on Day Two the higher area was whipped with winds.  Yet more of a detriment to the area was that it completely could not view the City Hall Stage, without even a big screen for the video feed like on both sides of the Main Stage.  But you can’t fight City Hall…

 

Caspian

Caspian

CaspianClick image for full gallery

For a festival located directly in front of said City Hall, with ‘Boston’ in the name, there were surprisingly few local acts at Boston Calling, just the two that started off each day of the fest – Bad Rabbits on Saturday (see Day One) and Caspian on Sunday.  While Caspian didn’t have quite the crowd that Bad Rabbits had pulled the prior day, they still had a healthy turnout – and their epic post-rock fit for the gusty day.

Caspian

 

Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon

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Trevor Powers

Youth Lagoon has been getting a lot of indie-buzz as of late (including being booked to open for The National – see below – on their big Brooklyn date, after playing The National-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties last December – QRO photos), though were still playing pretty early at Boston Calling – and their performance explained the latter, if not the former.  Singer Trevor Powers’ voice got very nasal, almost like he was trying to sound weird (especially with his synth accompaniment).  Really the only out-and-out unlikable act of the otherwise very well booked festival; certainly there were a lot of people in the nearby media tent waiting for the set to be over.  At least the sun came out…

Youth Lagoon

 

Dirty Projectors

Dirty Projectors

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David LongstrethIt’s kind of impressive how big Dirty Projectors have gotten, considering their experimental, idiosyncratic sound.  That the band works with such impressive harmonies no doubt has a great deal to do with it, but it’s still something to see such a large crowd turn out for them, and be so appreciative.  Singer/guitarist David Longstreth asked the people to give it up for City Hall (the building), noting that it was a 1961 example of Brutalist architecture – there are very few acts that would know the date & style of a building, a modern building, and ugly one at that, as ugly as Dirty Projectors’ sound is beautiful.

Dirty Projectors

 

Ra Ra Riot

Ra Ra Riot

Wesley Milescello!Click image for full gallery

Awesome as always were Ra Ra Riot, but QRO could run our mouths off about them.  They seem to have a standard set list at this point, mixing all three full-lengths, The Rhumb Line (QRO review), The Orchard (QRO review), and latest, this year’s Beta Love (QRO review).  Playing at the City Hall Stage, the arc of steps leading down to their stage created an amphitheater-like affect, with the crowd seemingly going on to the horizon.  Interestingly, the audience wasn’t just psyched for old songs (though singer Wesley Miles’ – QRO interview – replacement of Gloucester with Boston on “St. Peter’s Day Festival” did get a special cheer), but also for new ones like “Beta Love”.

City Hall Stage

Mathieu SantosBut the best local tip of the hat had to be Mathieu Santos (QRO interview) wearing a Boston Bruins strap on his bass – the the local team had just defeated the Rangers the night before at TD Garden; the T heading back after Boston Calling on Saturday night had been filled with hockey fans shouting “Go Bruins!” and even just “U.S.A.!” (despite the Rangers being from NYC…)

Ra Ra Riot

 

The Walkmen

The Walkmen

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Hamilton LeithauserWhile some may say that The Walkmen have mellowed, and it’s true that they’re not as drunk as they used to be, the band still has a fire live.  This came out behind even their mellowest of newer songs from Heaven (QRO review), but they did still play “The Rat”, too – you’ve got a nerve to be questioning that number…

Singer Hamilton Leithauser also did the best namecheck of all of Boston Calling, mentioning Jonathan Richman of The Modern Lovers, who had a great song called “Government Center”, about & named after the area/nearby T stop.  That should make the secretaries feel better / When they put the stamps on the letters.

The Walkmen

 

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird

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Andrew BirdA mere fourteen seconds after The Walkmen ended, Andrew Bird began.  Admittedly, he started solo, so had less set-up time, but throughout Boston Calling it was amazing how quickly one act would start after the prior one ended.  It’s essential for downtown festivals to have sets that don’t overlap, because the festivals don’t have the space to spread out stages far enough apart that the performance on one stage doesn’t interfere with the performance on another (also, downtown fests have tighter noise regulations).  Last year, New York’s Randall’s Island had two festivals with no overlapping sets, Governors Ball (QRO recap) and Catalpa (QRO recap), and both had serious downtime between acts/stages, where no one was playing & nothing was going on – Boston Calling nicely avoided that.

Even though it was just Bird on stage for most of the set, with his violin, whistling (unaided), and loops, there was a huge crowd around him, stretching well into the beer garden (which also saw lines for beers there stretch).  Fans were even climbing into trees (before security eventually told them to get down) – or, as @Boston_Calling put it, “Bird-watching from a tree?  That’s next level…”

Andrew Bird

 

Of Monsters and Men

Of Monsters and Men

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Of Monsters and MenBut perhaps no massive crowd was more surprising than for Of Monsters and Men.  A year ago, no one outside of Iceland had heard of the indie-folk collective, but then came hit single “Little Talks” and the group took off (admittedly, one of their biggest shows ever is still last year in Boston, at House of Blues – QRO review).  And the crowd knew them beyond “Little Talks”, from one fan waving an Icelandic flag to everyone’s whole-hearted embrace of latest single “Mountain Song”, a great slice of indie-pop/folk.  Of course, everyone went crazy for “Little Talks” – which surprisingly wasn’t the group’s set-closer.

Of Monsters and Men and Boston

 

Young the Giant

Young the Giant

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Sameer GadhiaThe popularity of Of Monsters and Men created a huge audience migration to the City Hall Stage for Young the Giant, leaving some space on the far side of the crowd for a couples dance party during Young the Giant’s own second single, “Your Apartment”.  Singer Sameer Gadhia had been seen at times in the band area to the side of the City Hall Stage during prior acts there – and that meant fans coming up to him to have their picture taken with him.  The downside to being a non-white frontman of an indie band is that you’re particularly easy for fans to spot…

Young the Giant & fans

 

The National

The National

Matt BerningerClick image for full gallery

And capping off Boston Calling were headliners The National.  It’s gotten to the point that whenever the ultra-acclaimed & now hugely popular band of brothers (literally – the bassist & drummer are brothers, as are the two guitarists) put out a new album, it’s in line for record of the year, and the just-released Trouble Will Find Me (QRO review) is no exception.  Particularly great at Boston Calling was “Sea of Love” – not that “Mistaken For Strangers” wasn’t amazing as well.  Oh, and they didn’t fuck you over by not playing “Mr. November” or the equally as great live “Abel”.

The National

Singer Matt Berninger was in particularly good spirits, after a kind of awkward interview on The Colbert Report (QRO Indie on Late Night TV), where Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA made the worst mistake in music interviewing by asking where the band got their name from (and he’d made that mistake before interviewing bands, like Ben Folds Five – QRO live review – and even Day One headliners fun. at ColbChella – QRO recap).  Berninger went from noting that the ugly City Hall looked amazing with the festival lights at night to going about thirty rows deep into the crowd.

The National

 

The northeast gets so very few big, outdoor music festivals for various reason: the weather, lack of open sites, higher cost of living, that it gets so many regular concerts, etc.  Boston Calling nicely eschewed the giant hippy jam & camping fest and instead put itself in ultra-downtown, an arrangement that should not be forgotten, as that made it ultra-easy to get to & back from (and no camping).  Of course the lines never move as fast as you want them to, and you never have a good enough view.  The tight location with only two stages was saved by there being virtually downtime between acts – or misses as acts.

Perhaps, this far north, it shouldn’t be scheduled for the first weekend of summer – but the festival is doubling-down by scheduling another Boston Calling in 2013, September 7th & 8th (right after Labor Day – hopefully global warming will prevent the New England fall from interfering…), with the likes of Vampire Weekend and Passion Pit, going a bit less indie and a bit more electro-dance.  Bring on City Hall!

Boston will Call you back in the fall

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