When you look around at Boston Calling, the wide variety of attendees that the festival attracts is apparent. And that’s because this spring’s lineup had something for everyone.
The festival featured crowd-pleasing heavy hitting headliners, including ‘90s alternative king Beck, indie favorites My Morning Jacket and avant-garde rockers the Pixies.
The lineup also included female vocalists like Tove Lo and Halsey that drew crowds of young women singing along, dance tunes from Marina and the Diamonds, hip hop from ILoveMakonnen and Run the Jewels, country and folk-twinged artists the Lone Bellow and Jason Isbell, newcomers like the Ballroom Thieves and Krill, rockin’ indie from Gerard Way and TV on the Radio, and laid-back riffs and island drums with Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals.
And if comedy and celebrity is a universal uniter, comedian Jack Black’s band Tenacious D brought the crowd together to sing along to well-known tunes like “Tribute Song” and “Fuck Her Gently.”
The three-day festival is held at City Hall Plaza, right in the heart of downtown Boston, each spring and fall. This spring, two stages stood adjacent to one another and alternated acts, with no overlapping music so attendees didn’t have to miss a beat. Vendors shoved free sunglasses and coozies in the hands of every passerby, local food stands served up delicious eats and Sam Adams beer flowed from the beer gardens throughout the festival grounds.
Beck headlined the three-artist Friday night show, drawing what was possibly the largest crowd of the whole weekend. He played songs from throughout his career but focused in on tunes from his 2005 album “Guero,” including “Black Tambourine,” “Girl,” “Go It Alone,” “Que Onda Guero” and “Hell Yes.” This made for a more upbeat show than if he had featured more from his most recent album, “Morning Phase,” which won this year’s Grammy for Album of the Year.
Bright, geometric animations splayed across the giant backdrop as Beck, donning the dark, wide-brimmed hat that has become iconic to him, sang, danced and played instruments along with his bandmates, giving the crowd everything they wanted. The set ended with two crowd-pleasers: the disco ballad “Debra” — the lyrics of which propose a three-way with the subject of the song and her sister, whose name may or may not be Debra — and one of Beck’s biggest hits, “Where It’s At.”
Run the Jewels amped the crowd up with an afternoon set Saturday, frequently getting them jumping along to their hip hop beats. Killer Mike told the audience that he had just gotten shoulder surgery; his arm was in a sling but he still flapped it like a little chicken wing as he ambled around the stage spitting rhymes, smiling his huge, infectious smile. And his partner El-P did plenty of running around the stage for both of them.
Swedish grunge-pop singer Tove Lo caused a stir later in the afternoon when she briefly bared her boobs to the audience.
St. Vincent brought on the evening with a characteristically eccentric performance. She and a similarly dressed guitar player tiny-stepped around the stage in a synchronized pattern, making jerky, robotic hand and hip movements in between playing heavily distorted tones.
Once the sun went down, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals played a fun, chilled-out set with lots of hand drumming. Then My Morning Jacket took over for the evening, conjuring up much of their critically acclaimed new album, “The Waterfall,” plus old favorites like “Circuital” and “Wordless Chorus.”
On Sunday, Halsey pranced around the stage making blunt remarks about cigarettes and her nipples to the pleasure of the mostly female front-row crowd. Her husky voice crooned what seemed like two types of songs: those about women fighting to assert their power with both men and the proverbial “the man,” and turbulent hookups.
Messy-haired Vance Joy thrilled the crowd with his smooth, romantic acoustic guitar and ukulele sounds, then Brooklyn-based indie band TV on the Radio rocked an enthusiastic audience with high-energy set. Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe poured his heart into his vocals as he slid around the stage, and the rest of the band kept the post-punk tunes going.
Then Tenacious D stole the show. Jack Black and Kyle Glass, accompanied by a guitar player, a bass player and a drummer, marched out on stage to epic adventure music then proceeded to rock. Black and Glass employed plenty of shtick, acting out scenes from their movie, “The Pick of Destiny,” and Black even had a roadie change his T-shirt three times.
The Pixies closed out the festival with a set that proved why Jack Black said there wouldn’t have been a Radiohead or a Nirvana without the Pixies trailblazing their way through the late ‘80s to practically create indie and alternative rock. The band, which originated right in Boston, broke up in 1993 then reunited in 2004 and has been playing ever since, though bassist/vocalist Kim Deal is no longer with the band. They entertained the crowd with an extended set that sampled from throughout their five-album discography.
Also on Sunday, organizers announced the stacked lineup for September’s edition of Boston Calling with a video played on the screens flanking both stages. It will be headlined by the Avett Brothers, alt-J, Alabama Shakes, Hozier, Of Monsters and Men, Chvrches and Ben Howard.
Here’s the full lineup:
This fall’s festival will be held Sept. 25-27, and tickets are on sale now.