Boston Calling ended the summer on a high note at City Hall Plaza. Each day of the festival had its own vibe and the crowds seemed to love every second of it. Friday was the day for rock stars to be rock stars, Saturday saw front men and women possessed by endless amounts of energy, and Sunday was for the bands as a whole ensemble to shine. Although a storm knocked out some performers, Boston Calling did a bang up job once again.
Although hot and humid, Friday’s portion of Boston Calling was a great success. With people streaming into City Hall Plaza to check out the food and liquor vendors, giant connect four games, merchandise, and a free make your own pennants station; the three bands who graced the Jet Blue Stage tore through their sets ferociously. Starting the weekend off, and happy to do it, was Future Islands. The four piece band played a non-stop 45 minute set full of easy to dance to bass lines and a tinge of pop-rock via their synth player. Neutral Milk Hotel took to the stage next and put on a show to remember. Filling the stage with horns, accordions, electric bagpipes, violins, guitars, drums, saws, and banjos; Jeff Mangum and his crew tore into a non-stop hour-long set that went from a wild rock show to an intimate acoustic, depending on the song. The crowd was Mangum’s from the moment he stepped out and dove right into “I Will Bury You in Time”. The band came out and “Holland, 1945” was next and everyone, but especially multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster, was bouncing around stage all night. As per their request, very few cameras were in the air throughout the show making their set a must see event, as you won’t be able to go back and look at bad footage off of your screen. During “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” the crowds’ voices could be heard right in time with Mangum’s, as he had asked them to be right before the song began. After a beautiful solo acoustic “Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two” from Mangum, he said thanks and good night and strode off the stage to a rapturous applause.
The National closed down night one of the festival with a fantastic show from beginning to end that included both mellow and hard-hitting songs as well as a fantastic light show. Matt Berninger’s deep voice echoed throughout the plaza as fans swayed to the tunes. Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s back and forth guitar playing continuously pushed the band forward during the set. Of note, Aaron helps curate Boston Calling and made sure to thank everyone for coming out for this great weekend of music. “Ada” got the first big reaction from the crowd, with “Sea of Love” coming soon after it to keep the crowd going. The band seems in top form when Berninger shows as much emotion as he can while singing or screaming the lyrics at times. The stream of rockers at the end of the set was tremendous, starting with “Graceless” and ending with “Terrible Love” with Berninger singing while walking through the crowd. The band then closed the day down with a quiet acoustic “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.”
Day two saw the crowd slowly stroll in as the afternoon continued on. S. Carey‘s mellow rock was a good festival starter for the day. Mostly known for being the drummer from Bon Iver, he played a set of music that was perfect for a hot sunny Saturday. Sky Ferreira was up next and had some problems with equipment and restarted a few songs throughout her set. Even with this trouble, she and the band soldiered onward playing songs “24 Hours”, “Ain’t Your Right” and “Boys” to an ecstatic crowd. Bleachers stepped up to the stage next and took over the entire crowd on the plaza. Jack Antonoff was jumping all over the stage and giving the crowd everything he had from the moment the music started. His endless energy seeped throughout the set and to the rest of the band. “Reckless Love”, “Shadow” and set closer “I Wanna Get Better” were absolute barn burners and set the level that every other band playing needed to match for the rest of the day.
The Hold Steady were next and kept the energy up for their entire set. Frontman Craig Finn egged the crowd on for everything they could give back to the band as soon as his feet stepped on the stage. The dueling guitar work of Tad Kubler and Steve Selvidge was jaw dropping, as was the connectivity of drummer Bobby Drake and bassist Galen Polivka. Opening with a great “Constructive Summer” right into “Hot Soft Light” and “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” was one of the best opening three songs of the weekend. After their set ended and people started heading over to what was to be Volcano Choir’s set at 6:05PM, an announcement was made that a storm was passing through Boston and the festival was being put on hold until it passed. Some fans left City Hall Plaza, while others went up to the VIP area. The staff did a great job of giving everyone enough time to head for safety before the storm actually hit – they should all be commended since once the storm came through lightning, thunder, hard rain, and dangerous winds swept across the concert grounds. Once the storm passed the damage to the concert site was assessed, including broken banners and live electrical wires, and the entire plaza was evacuated. Twitter was the news source that finally let us know at 8:30PM that it was ok to come back in and we wouldn’t be seeing Volcano Choir or Girl Talk, but Lorde and Childish Gambino would both be playing.
Once the crowds were in, Lorde came out to a rabid audience and played her album Pure Heroine in full, but not in the album’s order. Her set time was cut to 50 minutes due to the delay, but she used every second of the set to wow the crowd. With a stunning light show, she tore through “Tennis Court” as the crowd screamed every lyric back at her. Lorde was very taken aback by the crowd’s out pour of love during the set and told them as much during a short speech in the middle of the set. The back to back of “Royals” and “Team” sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy all over the plaza. Ending with a beautiful take on “A World Alone,” she left the stage have conquered Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, came on stage within 30 seconds of Lorde ending her set since he only had an hour to play and he had the crowd jumping and dancing in front of him for the full portion of his set. Focusing on songs from Because the Internet, Gambino was a non-stop ball of energy and his band stayed right there with him during the whole set. Nothing but smiling faces could be seen as people left the plaza despite the weather trying to ruin a great Saturday in Boston.
As fans entered City Hall Plaza on day three, tired faces could be seen, but the music would pick everyone right back up. Local act Gentlemen Hall started the day off with a mix of rap, rock, and pop. The band played with all of their heart for 40 minutes to win every member of the crowd over, and by the end of the set, anyone who was standing in front of the stage was rocking along with the band. Eight piece band San Fermin came on like wild-fire next and sent the ever-growing crowd into a frenzy. Allen Tate’s baritone voice mixed beautifully with Charlene Kaye’s soaring vocals. John Brandon’s trumpet playing saw him jump around the stage as well as into the audience. The whole band gelled together wonderfully to create a non-stop force for their short time on stage together. New song “Parasite” was a big hit with the crowd and could be a breakout song for the group throughout the country soon.
White Denim raised the bar for how bands needed to perform the rest of the day with their set. A clear influence of theirs that could be heard during the entire set was The Grateful Dead. From jamming a few songs past their normal structures to the bluegrass-rock hybrid that some songs had, the band clearly was borrowing some lessons from one of the best American bands of the last 50 years. The band played a near flawless set for the people of Boston, and they responded with nothing but cheers and applause. The War on Drugs soon followed and played a mellow laid back set of rock that could have been plucked from the mid to late 70’s. Adam Granduciel’s vocal style is very similar to Paul Simon’s and if you close your eyes you could almost imagine the legend being on stage singing. His guitar work though was anything but as he furiously played the instrument at times, but it never seemed to continue for very long. Boston’s own Lake Street Dive mixed country and rock together with wonderful harmonies from all four members and had the crowd in the palm of their hand during their time on stage. Rachel Price’s voice alone would have been good enough to listen to, but when mixed with Mike Calabrese, Bridget Kearney, and Mike Olson’s, it just turns into magic. 21 Pilots then leaped and ran all over the main stage. Their show is a spectacle to be seen. From crowd surfing drums, to smoke machines, to both members jumping and doing flips all over the stage, 21 Pilots won the weekend for being the most entertaining band at the festival. The music is a mix of rap, rock, and pop definitely wasn’t the most technical music of the weekend, but the show was exciting at least.
The 1975 and Spoon were the next two acts to play the festival and both played good sets, but neither was overly exciting. Both bands played fairly straight forward rock and were both good to listen to in anticipation for the headliners. The Replacements set could be described only as being punk music from the heart. The band which is on a reunion tour with two original members, Paul Westerberg andTommy Stinson, played to an audience that sang along to every song they played whether Westerberg remembered all the lyrics or not. All was forgiven though as the band was having a blast on stage and all the positive energy seeped through the crowd. In a little over an hour the band played 22 songs and declared victory at City Hall Plaza. The crowd wanted more, but it was not meant to be. Closing with “White and Lazy” and getting a quick encore of “Alex Chilton” all the faces leaving from the show had nothing to show for it but smiles. Nas and The Roots had the honor of closing the festival, but it was really two separate sets. Nas came out first with his dj and did some songs off of Illmatic as well as some other hits before The Roots joined him about 40 minutes in for One Mic. The two bands played together for about 10 minutes and then Nas left the stage and The Roots played for another hour on their own. Both sets were tremendous, but I think most people thought it was going to be a full set of the two legends playing together, which really would have capped off the amazing weekend in Boston. There are already plans for Boston Calling in 2015 so stay tuned and make sure that you make your way down to City Hall Plaza if you’re looking for a weekend of great music in the middle of Boston.