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 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 Diamonds, HALSEY, and Tenacious D to name a few, lived up to and exceeded expectations. A-
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+
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+
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
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
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!
Written by Kara Kokinos and Eric Riley.
Photos (Halsey, Vance Joy, TV On The Radio) by Kara Kokinos.
Photos (The Ballroom Thieves, ILoveMakonnen, Lucius, Jason Isbell, Tenacious D) by Eric Riley.
On Sunday, the final day of this spring’s Boston Calling, there was a sense of anticipation that hovered over the crowd throughout the day. Following Saturday’s vivacious performers, festival goers had to question if the performances on Sunday, those punctuated by Tenacious D and (Boston’s own) Pixies, could reach the high bar that had
been set over the previous two days.
Starting once more with a local act, Sunday began with The Ballroom Thieves – a simple trio with a sound far larger than their roster would lead you to believe. With the two-stage setup that attributes to a large portion of Boston Calling’s success, fans of that evening’s headliner can arrive early and camp out on a barricade, knowing they’ll have a cushy spot later on. That being said, I witnessed people trek over to the Red Stage during
The Ballroom Thieves, sacrificing a key vantage point for a chance to see what all the fuss was about. The band’s massive sound, along with their (relatively shocking) command and confidence did not disappoint the Blue Stage defectors. Though, those who chose to stay put were equally lucky, with showstopper Halsey following suit. A newcomer to the music scene, having only been active for the last 11 months or so, the blue-haired badass oozed charisma, drawing up comparisons to Day Two performances – Marina’s vocal prowess coupled with Tove Lo’s raw, unabashed sexuality and charm. Her energy was incredible, made even more impressive by her brief history and her low billing. If she makes her way back around to BC in the future, do not expect to see her filling the second slot of the day.
The next pair of performances, those by ILoveMakonnen and The Lone Bellow, were as different as possible. The former was a solo hip-hop artist, while the latter were a soulful folk-rock group. Each drew admirable-sized crowds, though the transition between the two acts was arguably the least cohesive of the weekend. With Chet Faker originally slotted to follow these two, a smoother changeover, which was quite likely planned, would have been felt. A last-minute injury forced Faker to drop off of Sunday’s bill, but
swooping in to fill the open slot were Boston Calling alum Lucius, an equally appropriate fit.
The duo’s return to Boston Calling was kicked off with a breathtaking performance of “Go Home,” and while a somber, heartbroken ballad may not seem like the ideal introductory song, it left the crowd thundering with applause. Lead vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig entered in signature matching outfits, this time in black dresses, mirrored sunglasses, and vibrant red lipstick rather than the black-and-white getup from their first appearance. Known for their strong vocals paired with a mix of piano and synth, an extended (and wild) drum solo by the vocalists was a standout point in the weekend.
Both Jason Isbell and Vance Joy had strong performances, but the consecutive pairing of the two, as well as the length of their sets, acted more as a disservice than intended, causing the songs to feel lengthy and muddled, leaving some watchers underwhelmed. Had the two performed earlier in the day, or had a buffer artist performed in between the two, each could have had much greater success. The day was not beyond saving, however. TV on the Radio hypnotized for nearly an hour, combining soul, reggae, punk, and a thousand other genres into something strictly theirs.
Back when I wrote the preview for the show, listing the 7 bands to see, I listed Tenacious D at the top of that list. And after watching their set, I didn’t waste that list. Jack Black and Kyle Gass, despite not being the visual poster children for what you’d expect from rock stars, thrive off of this, delivering the unexpected. Brilliant musicians in their own right, their backing band kept up at every step throughout a set full of fan favorites
across their discography, a handful of wardrobe changes, and a freeform jazz
solo. The pinnacle moment of the set, possibly the evening, and maybe even the weekend came after Gass and Black noticed that their electric guitar player was “looking a little strange,” as Black put it. The band then kicked into “Beezleboss (The Final Showdown),” exorcizing the Devil from their bandmate through an epic metal battle and
sending his sorry ass back to Hell.
Lastly, it was the Pixies’ chance. Festival veterans, music legends, hometown heroes – that’s a pretty lethal résumé. No matter the age, every person there at some point had either A. grown up with their music or B. grew up with a band who had the Pixies to thank for getting them started in one way or another. Closing out the weekend with a 30+ year setlist was a culmination of the festival as a whole – music for fans from all eras, of all ages, and from countless areas, coming together and singing along.
We’ll see you in September.
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.
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.
Much like Tove Lo, newcomer MØ (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.
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.
Written by Kara Kokinos and Eric Riley.
Photos by Eric Riley.
Still a relatively new addition, the Friday night performances of Boston Calling have gone a bit unnoticed, or rather underappreciated, over these last three festivals. Neutral Milk Hotel’s media-blackout performance in September was a wonderful springboard into The National’s return to the BC stage, and last weekend’s opening night was another one to be remembered.
Beginning with the angelic-voiced Sharon Van Etten, Boston Calling 2015 was officially here. Combining her strong vocals with the dreamy, airy tone of her backing music, Van Etten lulled the crowd into a soft stir of excitement. Though that sounds like a contradiction, it’s a positive one – the performance was calm and light, but still powerful and hypnotizing. It was a wonderful fit for the setting – chill-inducing music on a warm Friday night, in the center of the city, getting a crowd of fans ready for the very busy weekend to come.
STAND OUT SONG: “I Don’t Want To Let You Down”
Bookended by a band on either side of them, Australia’s Tame Impala filled the second of three slots on Friday. Though they didn’t have the booking as top headliner, neither the band nor the crowd seemed to let that sway their intensity. A stark contrast to the ambient Van Etten, Tame Impala’s spacious psych-rock shook the walls of the plaza. Without much time or indication of a change between songs, the set was very well-received by the fans hoping for an experimental, “jam-band”-esque performance. Performing on a weekend that also featured the atmospheric My Morning Jacket made for a success.
STAND OUT SONG: “Eventually”
Lastly, there was the man of the hour – the one and only Beck. Reminiscent of the aforementioned Neutral Milk Hotel performance from last year, Beck also limited the presence of media and photography during his set, aiming for a performance that relied on the music rather than how it would be taken in. A risky request, but one that a performer such as he could execute. If Tame Impala drew a crowd, Beck brought along a flock of fans. Having been at or near the top of his game for the better part of two decades, his fanbase has had a very long time to reach its current size, and those in attendance did not disappoint.
His set showcased songs throughout the various stages of his career, with each era being performed as if it was his newest, going off without missing a beat. By the time his hour came to a close, the plaza was buzzing with what they were able to just witness – a living legend doing what he does best.
STAND OUT SONG: “E-Pro”
Friday night delivered everything that it was expected to, and then some, much like the festival itself has always done. Just when you think it has reached a peak, it climbs a little further.
And this was only Day One.
It’s almost time! It’s less than one week away until we’re back at Boston Calling once more. So, to keep with tradition, here is our list of who you need to be keeping an eye out for!
Today we talk about our #3 pick, Beck.
The Boston Calling
folks couldn’t get Beyoncé this year, so they booked Beck instead. (Not really.)
It deserves to be mentioned that Beck’s 12th (12TH!)
album brought home the Grammy for Album of the Year this year, but it also isn’t as big of an achievement as
it sounds, since the man has been winning Grammys almost as long as I’ve been
alive. I sincerely doubt you have better Friday night plans.
For fans of: The Arcade Fire, BASTILLE, Modest Mouse
For a taste, check out: “E-Pro,” “Blue Moon,” “Modern Guilt” (And “Loser,”
Catch them: Friday, 9:15, JetBlue Stage