And we’re back! Boston Calling 4.0. Once again, the folks at Boston Calling brought a musically diverse lineup and fantastic urban atmosphere to downtown, September 5th to 7th.
It was clear the folks managing Boston Calling have improved the festival with each affair. This time, even a complete evacuation of the festival grounds felt like a breeze. Let’s dive in and see what this group reunion and local band heavy festival brought to Boston.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5th
First up on the lineup; Future Islands. Coming off the March release their recent record Singles, the band tore right into the weirdness. Frontman Samuel Herring put on his usual onstage antics, starting the weekend with a generous amount of energy. However, the Friday night crowd didn’t quite get into it.
The band played some crowd favorites, such as “Balance”, “Spirit”, and of course “Seasons (Waiting on You)”. While the effort was there, things did not really take off until later in the evening.
While Future Islands’ set ended, droves of aging indie fans gathered to fill Government Center.
Neutral Milk Hotel
Next up, Neutral Milk Hotel. Reunion #1. 2014 is the first year since 2001 that the entire band has reunited for a tour.
Elusive front man Jeff Magnum (QRO solo live review) entered first, warming up the crowd with an acoustic solo performance of “I Will Bury You in Time”.
Then the beard brigade entered.
The creators of one of the most revered rock albums of the last twenty years, nearly all adorned very impressive beards and baseball caps, seemingly incognito. As expected, cameras were a big ‘no-no’.
Some concertgoers mistook the lack of big-screen visual aids as an early Boston Calling glitch. They were wrong. Jeff Magnum made it very clear that he was not a fan of having his performances photographed by calling out a single member of his audience. A daddy-hit-mommy awkwardness ensued, that was only saved by the stellar performance of the popular title track “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”.
Despite their alienating appearances, NMH found time for some stage banter. It turns out that the bands first months were largely spent in the bassist’s (Julian Koster) grandmother’s basement. And, it just so happens that she now resides in Cambridge, right across the Charles River. Neat.
It should also be noted that Koster did not stop spinning in a clockwise direction for the entire duration of the show.
Neutral Milk Hotel’s signature handsaws were lined up in front of the band. Both saws and a Banjo were given the ole’ NMH bow action. The organic, analog soundscape was a refreshing change from the previous act’s synthetic, yet refined sound. It brought an aural depth to the visually underwhelming set.
The National returned to Boston Calling for the second time, having been the headliner for the festival’s debut in Spring 2013 (QRO photos). Not much has changed with the band since last spring, and they delivered another beautifully cerebral performance.
The band came out to The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”, which given the impending weather, could have been the theme song of the weekend.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6th
In normal Boston Calling fashion, each day began with a special guest voted in by SonicBids.
Local Boston trio Saint Nothing kicked off Saturday’s hangover set from the Blue Stage. Only about 150 festivalgoers were at the stage for the set, which was still one of their larger audiences to day. Nervous excitement exuded from the stage. While Saint Nothing’s string-driven electropop may not have drawn the largest crowd of the day, their genuine on-stage enthusiasm was a nice way to start off Saturday.
Like years past, Boston Calling lined up local Boston bands in the early afternoon. Clifflight, another young band from the area, brought things up a notch. The self-proclaimed electronica/folk/rock group brought a great deal of intimacy to their early afternoon set. After their first song, they threw disposable cameras into the crowd with the intention of posting them later.
Clifflight was one of the more unique acts of the day. Their sound is very vocally driven. It sounds a bit like the lead singer of Creed decided to join an indie electronica band. Clifflight killed it in front of their hometown crowd, it was apparent that they were only there to have fun. Throughout the weekend, members of the band were spotted hanging around as festivalgoers. A solid and unique sound, high on-stage energy and humble down-to-earth attitude point to a bright future for these gents.
By early afternoon, the temperature had risen to a steamy 92 degrees with 85% humidity. It was not pleasant. Rumors of massive thunderstorm cells fluttered about the festival grounds. Boston Calling has a history of poor weather in the past, so this was no surprise.
S. Carey’s chill and relaxed harmonies brought the mood down and gave the crowd a welcomed break from the previous high-energy performances.
“Hi, we’re from Wisconsin, we’re gonna play some tunes…” So quaint.
S. Carey, the moniker for Sean Carey, was one of two Wisconsin bands at Boston Calling this year. As it turns out, Justin Vernon (Volcano Choir, Bon Iver) is buddies with the The National, which is a driving force behind the conception and continuation of the festival. Sean Carey, the drummer for Bon Iver, was invited by Vernon to join the Boston Calling line-up on Saturday. In S. Carey’s case, it’s good to know people.
S. Carey was hard to put a finger on at first; reminiscent of both Local Natives and Death Cab for Cutie. A mid set “Fire-Scene” was the crowd favorite. S. Carey brought some very beautiful music to Boston that afternoon.
Sky Ferreira, the 22-year-old musician/actress/model was up next, quickly harshing the mellow of everyone still memorized by S. Carey. Thousands of screaming teenage girls emerged from the shadows for Miley Cyrus’ partner-in-crime.
The most exciting moment of the set happened when Ferreira aborted “Ain’t Your Right” about one minute into the song. Ferreira addressed the soundboard, letting them know how much they were sucking that day. While many cringed at the bratty out lash, it was probably the most impressive part of Ferreira’s set. Leave it to the young star to address the horrible sound levels coming from the Blue Stage throughout the weekend.
fun.’s Jack Antonoff took the stage next in the form of his side project, Bleachers. Antonoff was clearly comfortable with the Boston Crowd, having performed just last year at the first Boston Calling (QRO photos).
The set opened with “Wild Heart”, the first cut off of Bleacher’s two-month-old record, Strange Desire. Antonoff knew exactly who is audience was, and pandered to them beautifully.
The highlight of the set began with Antonoff asking, “How many of you were born in the ‘90s? I grew up in the ‘90s. This is one of my favorite songs of the ‘90s”. Bleachers then broke into an indie pop rendition of The Cranberries’ “Dreams”.
The Hold Steady
Within a 30-minute break between bands, the demographics of the audience completely changed. The tweens and college freshman disappeared, and the Millennials and Generation X’ers emerged from the Sam Adams Beer Garden. The reason? The Hold Steady.
The Hold Steady spent most of its set showcasing material from their latest record, Teeth Dreams (QRO review).
A surprise guest graced Government Center late on Saturday afternoon. Talk of thunderstorms was the topic of discussion among festival patrons and management alike. Reports of ‘tornado-like’ conditions just West of Boston caused a palpable uneasiness throughout the day.
As Volcano Choir warmed up their amps and prepared for their slot, Boston Calling management announced that due to dangerous weather, they would be evacuating Government Center.
Then began the great migration. Thousands of slightly panicked concertgoers were ushered out of the venue to the surrounding streets.
Press and media folks were bound to the shelter of the VIP area to wait out the storm. An apocalyptic vibe permeated Government Center. The stage and screens were still ready lit and ready for the next act, but the place was completely empty.
Menacing clouds rolled in, winds picked up, and the skies opened up. For about 15 minutes we watched the festival grounds take a beating. Luckily, the worst of the storm missed Boston by about ten miles to the north.
However, due to the danger of lightning, the folks at Boston Calling didn’t take any chances. Using Twitter as their primary information delivery system, Boston Calling management did a fantastic job dealing with a nightmare of a situation.
By 9 PM, Boston Calling was back in action with Lorde. Unfortunately, Volcano Choir and Girl Talk were not in the cards for this Boston Calling.
Boston stuck it out. Despite the two-plus hour storm delay, the venue was full by the time Lorde took the stage. The seventeen-year-old Kiwi pop sensation couldn’t be more grateful.
“Boston is my new favorite city in America,” she exclaimed. Throughout her set, she continued to thank the Boston crowd and her fans for all their support. It was nice to hear such humble praise from the young superstar, especially juxtaposed to Sky Ferreira’stantrum earlier in the day.
Lorde played the hits, and everyone loved them. Her adorable on-stage theatrics, presence and banter were clear indicators that Lorde will be around for a while.
Mothers were still escorting their young Lorde fans back to the minivan when Childish Gambino, a.k.a. Donald Glover, took the stage. Glover, the actor/comedian/rapper took little time start dropping F-bombs on Boston. While young mothers may not have been to fond to the quick switch to profanity and raunchiness, the rest of the crowd loved it.
Childish Gambino put on the most energetic headline set of the weekend, by far. CG is brilliant. The NYU grad has been rapping sing 2008, and has quickly become the hottest act in the nerd-rap genre.
Ten of his fourteen songs came from his 2013 record, Because the Internet. For “One Up” he brought his brother (literally) Steve G Lover on stage to join in the fun.
Gambino ended the day with a huge bang, setting up for a school night Sunday.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 7th
Weather-wise, Sunday could not have been better. The heat and humidity of Saturday was replaced by a cool ocean breeze and sunshine. Musically, Sunday was rock driven with a healthy dose of R&B.
Gentlemen Hall started things off. Something about pan flute on this beautiful Sunday afternoon was perfect. The Boston band of five was clearly excited for their first big hometown festival. “We made some new music for outdoor settings; we just want to try it out… Only our mothers have heard it,” frontman Gavin Merlot explained to the early afternoon crowd.
The band cruised through their hits, but made it a point to fill the second half of their set with new, unreleased tunes such as “Kings”. The daring move was backed by an announcement that their newest record would be released for the very first time at the merch tent at Boston Calling. Keep an eye on these guys.
Brooklyn’s San Fermin brought some baroque-pop fiddle-sax jams to the festival. Mixing Elvis-esque vocals with jazzy Broken Social Scene instrumentation, San Femin felt a bit out of place at Boston Calling… in a good way.
Between John Brandon’s trumpet-mounted GoPro, Rebekah Durham’s fiddle shredding, and Stephen Chen’s baritone saxophone dancing, San Femin gave Boston nice taste of New York.
The obligatory “Sonsick” is what everyone came to see, and it was delivered beautifully, keeping with the R&B theme of the day.
Taking a turn for the jammy, White Denim showed off their rock chops in an extended improv packed set. While White Denim has some brilliant original work, most of their songs sound like a deep track cover of other bands. Hints of Steely Dan, The Grateful Dead, The Black Keys, The Allman Brothers and Zeppelin permeated the bands set.
At the end of the day, White Denim was able to get the majority of the early afternoon festivalgoers moving, which it seems was all they were after anyway.
The War On Drugs
The curse of the Blue Stage returned for Philly’s The War On Drugs. For a band that relies heavily on their atmospheric soundscapes, The War On Drugs was plagued by some of the worst sound levels of the night. Nothing sounded right. Vocals were muddy, guitar was inaudible, drums were overpowering. It was rumored the horrible sound quality was the reason for only playing a seven-song set. In any case, it was a disappointing experience for the audience and band alike.
Lake Street Dive
After the unfortunate events of The War on Drugs, Lake Street Dive got Boston dancing again. The vocally driven jazz quartet originated at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music. “It’s good to be home,” singer Rachel Price shouted to the middle-aged crowd.
The combination of her classically trained voice, and her mom-jean unitard, made Price (age 29) appear like a hot 40-year-old mom from a distance.
Lake Street Dive is composed of music nerds. It’s apparent through the complexity of their work. Price explained the background behind their song “Mistakes”, which is about, well, mistakes. However, as a musical joke, the entire song is composed of minor mistakes in musical theory, noticeable only to the band, or highly trained musicians. Adorable, Price. Simply adorable.
Twenty-One Pilots brought the kids back, and the middle-aged crew headed back to the beer garden to prepare for Spoon and the Replacements.
Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun come together to create high energy Christian-indie-electro-rap. Weird, right? Say what you may about Twenty-One Pilots, they put on a heck of a show. If you thought Childish Gambino had an issue with staying still on stage, you haven’t seen Tyler Joseph. The kid jumped off his piano half a dozen times, and even nailed a back flip, all while wearing a Donnie Darko-esque skeleton hoodie and mask.
Sure it was cool that they made the crowd support their drummer, whilst drumming, but in the end, it felt that the theatrics were compensating for something.
Manchester’s latest indie boy band did what everyone expected them to; act like a boy band. The screaming teens, already warmed up by Twenty-One Pilots, ate it right up. The 1975’s lead singer even brought a young female fan on stage to join in the fun.
The Boston calling international artist scorecard for the weekend: Lorde – 1, The 1975 – 0.
After a lengthy break slugging beers in the beer garden or watching the Pats game in the VIP area, Boston Callings adult crowd headed to the Blue Stage for Spoon.
The indie rock legends have been hard at work touring off their latest record They Want My Soul (QRO review). Their fifteen-song set comprised of old favorites such as “The Underdog” as well as newer hits like “Rent I Pay”. Spoon’s sunset slot was a solid segue into Sunday evening.
The much anticipated reunion set #2 of the weekend was a bit odd. The alt-rock pioneers hit the road after a 22-year hiatus at last year’s Riot Fest (QRO photos). Boston Calling marked The Replacements’ first stop in New England in over 20 years, bringing dads in from miles around.
Paul Westerberg’s visible intoxication during their rendition of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” might have been a bit sad to some, but for the most part, everyone had a great time.
Nas x The Roots
So began one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend: Nas x The Roots. But how would it work? Would The Roots continue their comfortable gig as a house band? Would they perform Illmatic in its entirety? No one seemed to know.
Nas took the stage first, by himself. He ran through some classics melody style, combining “I Can”, “Made Ya Look” and a few others. “One Mic” in particular had the entire venue pretending to know the lyrics.
Nas showed his Boston love before the roots joined him saying: “It feels good to be playing in one of the strongest cities in the world.” Boston loved it.
The Roots joined Nas on the stage for a few collaborative tunes.
The Roots hit the stage next, getting the crowd going with dance tunes like “Jungle Boogie” and “The Seed”. Unfortunately for The Roots, the Sunday night crowd dwindled while the music played. It was a school night, and it had been a long festival for everyone.
-photos: Mike Condon
-words: Ryan Reading