Boston Calling Wrap-Up Report

Boston Calling Music Festival
City Hall Plaza; Boston, Massachusetts
Friday, September 25th – Sunday, September 27th, 2015
Written by Eric Riley

Pre-show Grade:
For their sixth installment, Boston Calling brought one of its broadest lineups to-date. Headliners alt-J and Alabama Shakes each are unique in their own regard, but still stood out set against most of the other acts performing. Of the five past weekends that I have attended, this lineup contained the fewest acts that excited me (though, if you read further, I’ll explain how that worked in my benefit). MisterWives and CHVRCHES were instant draws, and I was interested to see what Nate Ruess’ solo return to Boston Calling would be like. Meanwhile, the radio successes of Hozier and WALK THE MOON made them sure to bring in huge audiences. For me, the larger pieces were in place, it was just a matter of seeing who could fill out the rest of the days. C+

Post-show Grade:
Like I mentioned, when the lineup was revealed in May, I wasn’t totally sold on the majority of artists playing. Each headliner held the role because of their large fanbases, but I’ll admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of either’s music. That’s not to say they didn’t perform extraordinarily – Alabama Shakes called in a favor from the universe, closing out the weekend under a blood red moon. While I’m not a huge fan of the music, I’m still a person with working ears and [unfortunately] human emotions, and the power of the performance was undeniable. Where Alabama Shakes closed things out with crowd-shaking soul, Sunday openers Dirty Bangs delivered arguably the best performance that the yearly local acts have yet. Early Saturday, Minnesotan rap collective DOOMTREE set the standard for how bands should perform – energetic and passionate, while bringing
something new to the stage. A good live set is crucial to making new fans, and they surely made plenty; I’ve had their latest record on repeat. B

Highlight & lowlights:
As they always seem to do, each Boston band opened their respective days to decent-sized crowds. Sunday grew at a steady rate, in size, diversity, and intensity, starting with the raw sharpness of Bully and Fidlar before reaching critical mass during Hozier and Alabama Shakes. Saturday, however, saw some signs of faltering. DOOMTREE had the blooming audience rushing closer to the stage with each passing song, while back-to-back sets from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks and lone bluegrass artist Sturgill Simpson (seemingly filling the role Jason Isbell held in May) saw some attendees taking bathroom breaks and heading to the merchandise and food stands. Father John Misty’s dark, brooding indie-pop instantly picked things back up, and from then on out, the remaining artists really brought it home.

Grounds:
Much like I reported last time around, the festival makes brilliant usage of City Hall Plaza. The setup stayed the same, with the stages, vendors, restrooms, etc. in their usual locations, and this familiarity comforted any returning concertgoers while simultaneously being easily learnable for anyone new in attendance. Being set in the center of a major city is a bit of a double-edged sword – the Government Center T-stop is
still unfinished, which is more of an annoyance than a hassle, but I can understand how those who are unfamiliar with the city or the public transit system could get a little confused. The construction site was a bit of an eyesore, but the stop is scheduled to be
finished by Spring 2016, so this could be the last time that that’s an issue. Also, with the wear-and-tear of daily commutes being evident with, as one site had reported, “loose bricks are as common as flower crowns and tie-dye shirts.” That’s a bit picky, if you ask me. Also an easy fix if it comes down to it. A

Weather:
Almost as perfect as you could ask for – mid-60’s and sunny during the day, with a bit of a chill rolling in as the sky darkened. Then again, compared to the monsoon that happened Day Two last September, any bit of sun is favorable. (Even a year later, I still couldn’t be more impressed with the staff enough for how well they handled that entire situation.) A

Amenities:
Sponsors have always been a major part of Boston Calling, and this year was no different. With the usual suspects, such as Wicked Wines, Polar, Sam Adams, and Blue Stage sponsor JetBlue, coming back once more, the sense of familiarity reached further than
just the grounds’ setup. The free sunscreen and water refill stations were taken full advantage of, especially on the cloudless Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Restrooms, either in the General Admission area or the VIP section, were clean and stocked, and trash bins were emptied regularly (though attendees were encouraged to recycle whatever they could). Oh, and I had my first Tasty Burger experience. That is a very
accurately-named business. A

Overall:
This was my fifth time going to Boston Calling, and given the chance, I plan on attending every one until either it stops happening or I can’t physically go. However, this year’s may be the most honest, accurate review I can give. Each previous lineup contained a handful of artists that I am crazy for – Marina and the Diamonds, St. Vincent, and HALSEY back in May, Lorde, Childish Gambino, and twenty one pilots last September, and don’t even get me started on how packed May 2014 was. This time through, I’ll say I considered myself a fan of three, maybe four of the artists heading in. Also, on my last visits, I had always been on-site as a pit photographer rather than attending as press. So, here’s me, working a job that is not my forte, for a roster of bands that was (key-word: comparably) on the weaker side. Yet, here I am now, in the same spot I always am after Boston Calling comes to a close: sitting at my laptop, with a handful of bands that I can now call myself a fan of, writing about how incredible this young festival somehow manages to be each and every time. I can only imagine what they’ve got in store for us when May rolls back around. But,
you can bet I’ll be there to find out. A-

Boston Calling Highlights

Over the course of Boston Calling’s three-day festival just a few weeks ago, there were plenty of moments that struck a chord with the audience. These came from acts big and small, and we at LOL wanted to recap some of our favorite sights and sounds. From fresh faced newcomers to seasoned festival veterans, every act at Boston Calling performed with aplomb – read on for some of the stellar moments observed by our editor, Kara Kokinos, during the three day festival.

Best Stage Show
It is not easy to enchant me with heavy bass and lots of
pretty lights, but if there was ever a group that could do it, that would be
Chromeo. While musically their set became a bit of a blur, the infectiously
funky tunes were brought to life by two musicians whose commitment to engaging
their audience was a breath of fresh air. It was a perfect set up for the rest
of the night’s performers and a wonderful way to get everyone’s blood flowing
on a chilly night.


Most Consistent
Alt-J have a soft spot in the hearts of many fans of ambient
indie rock because of their ability to churn out well produced and well written
songs that are not necessarily stand alone hits but always have tremendous
musical merit. It doesn’t hurt that the band has been able to craft a live show
that reflects much of the same attention to detail and subtlety throughout.


Most Diehard Fans
Friday has almost always been a slower day for Boston
Calling, as expected from a weekday show and its shorter bill. Trust the Avett Brothers
to change all of that. Ticket sales have reportedly been higher this year than
in years past and it was clear from the presence on Friday night that the
choice to book the folk rockers was a wise one. I had the pleasure of meeting
two fans of the band who informed me that this was their 27th time
seeing the group perform live – and that they knew plenty of people in
attendance whose numbers made their own look weak in comparison. Although I was
familiar with the band’s music, I was not prepared for their fans. It’s easy to
go to shows, especially festivals, and see plenty of people with arms crossed
and dead eyes. That simply would not fly while the Avett Brothers performed. The
clamoring of the crowd was coupled with enough dancing and clapping to truly
start the festival off with a bang. While much of the crowd succumbed to the
cold of the night as the group chugged along, everyone who remained left with
broad smiles and a roar in their eardrums.


1-2 Punch
Nothing makes my heart sing more than fuzzy garage rock, and
the combination hits of Bully paired with FIDLAR was a tribute to the Allston
Pudding loving, basement show going members of the crowd. Bully’s singer Alicia
Bognanno delivered all of her lyrics with a bite and thrashing guitars set the
tone for the least subtle band to grace the Boston Calling stage. FIDLAR initially
had an audience that was half enthralled and half in a state of utter confusion
but midway through the set everyone seemed to be on the same page, whether you
were there to see the band or just caught up in the infectious energy that
comes with screaming, “I drink cheap beer, so what? Fuck you,” on repeat. The
intensity was enough to make anyone who had partied too hard the previous night
a bit queasy.


Most Heartbreaking
Although many of the acts packed an emotionally charged set,
Daughter’s set was incredibly stirring. While the trio’s recorded music is
particularly haunting, seeing it performed was an unsurprisingly moving
experience. While the entire set had a somber tone, the execution of “Smother”
and “Youth” was enough to visibly bring audience members to tears. Singer Elena
Tonra was adorably nervous during the set, the trembling timbre of her voice
coupled with guitarist’s Igor Haefeli’s playing of bowed guitar was incredibly
atmospheric and evocative. With the addition of Remi Aguilella’s supporting
instrumentation, the band was able to take the ethereal and ground it enough to
be hard hitting and captivating for an audience who tuned out a lot of the more
quiet acts of the weekend. All of this was done during a daytime performance,
following the howling intensity of FIDLAR, a feat that deserves respect in
itself. The band, who have opened for fellow performer Ben Howard, was
unforgettable in the best way.


Tame Tidings
When Father John Misty takes the stage, you anticipate
something a bit wild. While audience members were able to see that in his wild
motions on stage, J. Tillman was shockingly unshocking in addressing the crowd.
Though he encouraged the audience to “gourge yourself on pleasure”, there was a
slight air of either disinterest or apathy in his performance. In case this
seems like a harsh assessment, the singer recently came out with covers from
Taylor Swift’s 1989 in the style of the Velvet Underground and claimed that the
ghost of Lou Reed appeared to him in a vision and told him to take them down in
order to make a statement about the media’s penchant for all things
nonsensical. The man does not shy away from making a statement, and while he
let the music speak for itself, there was a sense that a ball was going to drop
at any moment but never quite hit the ground.


Let’s Hear It For The Girls
With more and more festivals getting attention for the lack
of women gracing their stages, it was refreshing to see such a strong female
presence in the performers at Boston Calling. While this could be attributed to
the smaller number of total artists performing, eight of the 23 acts performing
had female core members and many had one or more female instrumentalists in
addition to their primary members. This was not counting the many touring
members of several bands, including percussionists, singers, brass, and string
instrumentalists. Although not the strongest showing, it’s a welcome step in
the right direction, especially with such a variety of music styles being
showcased, at all career levels. This was also the first time that a female
fronted act had closed out Boston Calling. Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard had the
entirety of City Hall Plaza on their feet by Sunday night but there were plenty
of exciting artists exploring genre and technique. Whether it was Doomtree’s stylized
hip hop led by the unapologetically hard hitting Dessa, CHVRCHES’ Lauren
Mayberry who has made headlines both for her delicate yet commanding voice as
well as her lack of tolerance with misogyny, both online and at her band’s
shows, or Misterwives’ Mandy Lee whose vocal ability keeps getting stronger and
isn’t afraid to voice her own frustrations in the music industry, ripping into
gender stereotypes while doing pushups. It’s always fantastic to see female
musicians advocate for themselves while churning out music that packs a heavy
punch.

LOL Gallery: Run The Jewels, Lucius, St. Vincent, Halsey, Jason Isbell, The Lone Bellow

Who: Run The Jewels, Lucius, St. Vincent, Halsey, Jason Isbell, The Lone Bellow
What: Boston Calling Music Festival, Part 3
When & Where: 5/22/15 – 5/24/15; Boston, MA
By: Eric Riley

For full gallery, click here!

Boston Calling Wrap-Up Report

Boston Calling Music Festival City
Hall Plaza; Boston, MA
May 22nd – May 24th 2015

Pre-show Grade: With only a few standout acts (in comparison to past festivals), this
was more of a grower than a shower. B

Post-show Grade: After a handful of fantastic performances from acts I didn’t know much about, such as MØ, TV On the Radio, and The Lone Bellow, there were surely countless new fans, myself included, gained by plenty of bands. Meanwhile, those who were expected to be dominant – St. Vincent, Marina and the DiamondsHALSEY, and Tenacious D to name a few, lived up to and exceeded expectations. A-

Crowds:
Highlight & lowlights: Boston’s own The Ballroom Thieves opened day three with a bang, drawing an expanding crowd that grew with each song, while hometown heroes PIXIES closed the festival in expert fashion. Not every band could generate the same heightened buzz, however. A few midday acts on Sunday, with focus on Vance
Joy
and Jason Isbell, drew the crowds, but didn’t seem to hold their attention throughout the duration of their lengthy set lists. But even without being at full steam, the energy was still better than most. B+

Grounds:
As always, the plaza was immaculate, not showing any signs of wear-and-tear from the 10,000+ weekend attendees. After a few tinkers and tweaks over the last few years, the stage setup has been perfected and cemented, with the dual-stage setup allowing for quick changes to one without distracting from the other stage’s performer, and giving any festival-goer the ability to see and hear from any spot within the grounds. A+

Weather:
Not like this can be altered or changed by the people in charge, but it helps when it leans to the more favorable side, which it did. A chilly Friday night wasn’t a big issue, thanks to the three-act introductory lineup. The sun shone bright throughout Saturday and Sunday without feeling overbearing or uncomforting. My only issue was some big-time light during a few acts, but really, that’s just me looking for something to say. Good job, Mother Nature. A

Amenities:
Much like the stellar groundskeeping, many other amenities were beyond acceptable. Though I can’t speak for the parking situation since I stayed at a hotel about a block away (which, I’m going to give BC a point for that, as well), public transit allowed attendees to arrive from all over the city. Plus, if people did have trouble parking, that was probably their fault for trying to drive in the city anyway. The portable bathrooms were kept clean and stocked (I mean, as well as a festival’s portable bathrooms can be), and there were designated VIP restrooms to those with higher-level tickets. A handful of vendors and sponsors offered free food or beverage samples, drawing in customers a wide selection of local and widespread options. Shoutout to the Chicken and Rice Guys, Polar Drinks, and Chipotle. I love you all. A

Overall:
It’s no secret that I love the Boston Calling festival – it’s a killer music weekend in the heart of my favorite city, staffed by some of the nicest, most-accommodating people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. And those are the factors that the general public rarely see, which makes it even more special – they aim for the best in every aspect they can. It sounds biased, but I’d be willing to bet that any random, impartial concertgoer would second at least a few of my opinions. And every piece of the festival that seems impressive is magnified even greater when you consider that this past May was only the fifth time it has been put on, and only the third as a three-day show. Somehow both huge yet centralized, providing all of the key elements with a creative touch, Boston Calling is an up-and-comer if there ever was one. A-

And Go Bruins!

Show Review:: Boston Calling May 2015, Day 2

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Written by Kara Kokinos and Eric Riley.
Photos by Eric Riley.

After Friday’s introduction to Boston Calling 2015, there was an incredible buzz for what Saturday’s artist would bring. What seemed to be an almost entirely new crowd in attendance held many diehard fans clamoring for spots on the barricades, while other attendees swarmed the various vendors, waiting for their favorite acts or looking for an opportunity to discover a new one. It was pretty easy to discern when fans were waiting for certain artists, specifically those waiting for Gerard Way while donning old My Chemical Romance tees, or the Marina and the Diamonds fans dressed in glimmering neon and glitter. But, as clear (and, to be totally honest, kind of humorous) as it was, it was a solid example of what has made Boston Calling so successful over these last few years – its diversity. A staple of the festival has been its clear effort to cater to music fans of all tastes.

One of Boston’s many basement bands, Krill, were first to open Day Two. These punk darlings had an amazing energy and filled City Hall Plaza with their unapologetically aggressive sound as soon as their set began. The band was a well-oiled machine, though its members were noticeably a bit unsure how to handle playing such a big stage, both literally and figuratively. ( something they even tweeted about here).  The young trio, while fresh-faced and eager, acted as true professionals, captivating in a way even some of the weekend’s senior acts couldn’t quite match. Packed with heavy reverb and harsh guitars, comparisons were made to Tame Impala’s set from the previous night.

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Day Two had no shortage of diversity, and from the earliest moments of the day, the crowd devoured it. DMA’S Oasis-like sound gave the shoegazers something to sway to, while Gerard Way [& the Hormones] showcased the performer’s musical range, transforming from emo-scene royalty to a glam-pop all star. His set was a standout of the day, but more important than his music was his message, on multiple occasions taking time between songs to speak about the need for acceptance between all people, no matter their gender, their sexuality, their race, class, or health. It was a beautiful example of an artist recognizing their platform and taking advantage of it to do something positive.

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Much like Tove Lo, newcomer (the third performer of the afternoon) was a hidden gem within the lineup. A bundle of energy bounding across the stage, she performed like a headliner and owned the audience for every moment she could. The former had the disadvantage of following Run the Jewels’ crazed set, so there were some in attendance who say she fell victim to some slight eclipsing. The one-two punch of Marina and the Diamonds followed by St. Vincent was arguably the best pairing of the weekend, showing the two different sides of theatricality.

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With Marina, her trademark blend of her operatic voice and sweet-toothed sound was a real treat, capturing everyone’s attention before opening song “Bubblegum Bitch” even kicked off. She was a dog off of its leash, exploring every inch of the stage and running wild. On the opposite side of the coin was St. Vincent – equally theatrical, but far more staged than improvised. Each movement was planned, from things as obvious as their entrance onto the stage and choreographed guitar solos to things as minimal as reaching for a guitar pick. The performers acted as marionettes gradually cutting their strings before finally gaining their freedom as the set came to a close. Vincent (Annie Clark) played the part beautifully, transitioning from a rigid, brittle wind-up doll during introductory “Birth in Reverse” into an energetic rock star by the end, eventually falling into the crowd and collapsing onto the stage floor. It was a performance in every sense of the word, and without question one of the best I’ve seen on any stage.