For most people, the unofficial end of summer is Labor Day. It's your last chance to fire up the grill and go on vacation. In Boston, the end of the season is now marked by the September edition of the Boston Calling music festival, which is in its second year. Happening the weekend after Labor Day, it welcomes the influx of students returning to universities around the city and ushers in the new season.
Last year the September edition of the festival brought Vampire Weekend, Kendrick Lamar, Passion Pit, Local Natives, Major Lazer, and The Gaslight Anthem to the center of Boston. Including sets by Flume, Flosstradamus, Wolfgang Gartner, and Big Black Delta, there was very clearly an EDM theme on the second day. That pattern didn't repeat this fall, however, as the lineup expanded from 2 to 3 days and featured almost entirely bands as opposed to DJs.
Here are some highlights from the weekend.
Boston Calling: Friday, September 5th, 2014
After a successful first year in 2013 that took place on Saturday and Sunday, this year's September Boston Calling expanded to Friday night with 3 bands to kick off the festivities.
Starting off Friday evening's performances was Baltimore band Future Islands. Lead singer, Samuel Herring, put on a theatrical performance starting with "Back In The Tall Grass," his gritty voice effortlessly switching to a deep growl.
Herring doesn't just sing and bob around the stage dancing, the man puts on a show. He acts out the emotions by grabbing his throat, hitting his chest with his fist, pulling off an invisible mask, and tasting an imaginary substance in his hand. With all of his movements, it wasn't completely surprising when he announced that he split his pants, which apparently happened before in Boston. As the first act of the weekend and day, Future Islands readied the crowd for Neutral Milk Hotel and the night's headliners, The National.
After video showed the band making their way on stage to "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors, Matt Berninger took his place at the microphone for what turned out to be a sing-along version of "Don't Swallow The Cap." With both hands on the microphone, head tilted to the side, and eyes closed, Berninger's baritone voice accompanied by the trumpet and trombone echoed throughout the plaza during “Hard To Find.”
With the exception of him walking across the stage when he wasn't singing, there was very little movement from Berninger throughout the set. Then, halfway through “Mr. November,” to the excitement of the fans who were most likely waiting the moment the gates opened, he walked down the stairs and leaned over the barrier into the audience. The 90 minute set ended with an acoustic version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” which once again resonated throughout the plaza as everyone sang along.
They may be from Cincinnati (by way of New York City), but it's obvious that The National has a huge fan base in Boston. The band have won over fans around the world, and their live show is a big reason why. As with every Boston Calling, guitarist Aaron Dessner served as co-curator, helping choose the bands that filled City Hall Plaza over the weekend.
Boston Calling: Saturday, September 6th, 2014
Day two of Boston Calling began with a heat advisory. The self-appointed “water guy” came on stage to welcome the crowd and point out the location of the Quench Buggy water refill station. Festival organizers were diligent about keeping attendees hydrated throughout the 90 degree day. “Water guy” made the “drink plenty of water” announcement before every act, and security handed out bottled water to those standing in front who couldn’t leave their perfect spot in front of the stage.
Arriving early at festivals is a great way to discover new music. Boston Calling always recruits local bands for the first slot of the day, making it the perfect opportunity to see local bands before they make it big. Saturday's opener, St. Nothing, started the first full festival day with electro pop fused with the viola and guitar played by Meredith Nero and Sophia Carreras. Dressed in all black with his hair slicked back, singer Marco Lawrence laced the crowd with his somber vocals, dedicating their final song to all of their supporters.
Even in the increasing heat, the growing crowd remained in good spirits. They danced to local band CliffLight's synth based indie rock, then mellowed out to the ambient tunes of S. Carey. When Sky Ferreira walked on stage, her face barely visible behind over-sized sunglasses and long bangs, they cheered and sang along.
THE HOLD STEADY
Among Saturday’s line up, The Hold Steady was the most established rock band. Now in their 10th year, the group performed songs from five of their six albums. As he sang, Craig Finn stretched out his arms, pointed at the audience, and danced. The animated set ended with “Stay Positive,” which is what everyone would need to do very soon.
About 10 minutes before Volcano Choir was set to start, the voice of Production Manager, Bill Kenney, sounded over the speakers at the JetBlue Stage. This time it wasn't the usual hydration message. Kenney informed everyone that a thunderstorm was 15 minutes away and we had to seek shelter in nearby stores and restaurants. There were moans, groans, and tears from those eagerly awaiting at the Capital One 360 Red Stage, but everyone left peacefully.
If anyone questioned Boston Calling’s urban location, this storm proved why the location is advantageous. With numerous office buildings and businesses in the immediate vicinity, festival goers had ample locations to shield themselves from the heavy wind and rain. Once the rain stopped and news spread that damage to the grounds had to be assessed, the stragglers flocked to nearby Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, and Downtown Boston.
Festival organizers did a great job keeping everyone informed of the situation, and answering questions via social media. About two hours after the evacuation, the message was sent via social media that Boston Calling would return at with Lorde followed by Childish Gambino. Due to the 11 PM noise curfew, Volcano Choir and Girl Talk were canceled. There was definitely disappointment expressed on social media from people who traveled specifically to see those acts, but that was the logical resolution for all involved.
Forty-five minutes after her original start time, Lorde walked into the single spotlight on stage as the crowd cheered and shrieked. The shortened 50 minute set began with the low ominous bass of “Glory and Gore” and included a short dance break while the lights flickered with the music. Although the set had to be cut down, Lorde still took the time out for some crowd banter.
Before launching into “Ribs,” she explained its origin: the first time she felt like an adult. She went on to say that regardless of age, everyone knows what it feels like to run away from what’s to come. Listening to her talk about the song, it’s hard to remember that she’s only 17 years old.
What makes Lorde a great artist is the fact that her music is relatable to people of all ages. She managed to break into the popular music world without the formula most females singers use: dancers, flash, and happy-go-lucky lyrics. She presents her insecurities and concerns for anyone else who feels the same. As long as she stays on that path, she’ll be making music for as long as she wants. She won’t fizzle out and become irrelevant.
During a lull in Lorde's set, Childish Gambino fans mistakenly thought she was done and started chanting “Worldstar” and "Gambino!” They were silenced once her music started again, but grew restless toward the end of her final song, “A World Alone.”
Childish Gambino had one goal: deliver the most high energy performance of the night. It was pretty obvious the moment he leapt across the stage during “Crawl” that he would accomplish that goal. He danced around the stage, shirt flapping behind him to songs from his 2013 album, Because The Internet. After “3005” he declared that it was time for some “old shit,” and launched straight into "Do Ya Like" and "Get This Money" from his 2010 mixtape, Culdesac. His verses from “Bonfire” bounced off the buildings as he ended the night with the same energy he had when he started.
For any Donald Glover fans who are disappointed that his acting is taking a backseat to his rap career, I suggest you watch him perform live. The energy he releases when on stage can only come from his genuine enjoyment. Also, his discography includes four albums, two of which were released independently, and just as many mixtapes. At this point, it’s probably safe to say he’s not Michael Jordan and this isn't baseball.
Boston Calling: Sunday, September 7th, 2014
At festival time Sunday, the damage from the previous day's storm was still visible. The banners on both sides of the Capital One 360 Red stage were down and the left screen at the JetBlue stage was no longer hung, but upright on the ground. One good thing did came from the storm: the scorching heat was a thing of the past. The cool 70 degree weather was perfect for the final day.
Day three began with what no one knew they needed: a flute solo. Seriously. You know a band will be great when they start with a killer solo that isn’t from the guitar, bass, or drums. This wasn't a "here's a flute solo now you'll never hear it again" situation. Boston band Gentlemen Hall featured Flautist Seth Hachen prominently on the band's songs, including their cover of Kendrick Lamar's "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe." Gavin Merlot’s falsetto vocals and fast delivery of the lyrics also made this a great cover.
The day continued with a few bands whose sounds were completed by instruments other than the guitar, bass, and drums. Brooklyn-based San Fermin had two vocalists, a violin, trumpet, and saxophone for their set ending cover of “Heart In a Cage” by the Strokes. Lead singer of War On Drugs, Adam Granduciel, had a harmonica holder attached to his microphone stand for songs that called for spirited solos. The trumpet accompanied the soulful jazz of Lake Street Dive.
TWENTY ONE PILOTS
Like Gambino the night before, Twenty One Pilots came out with lots of energy. Performing with their signature masks, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun kept the energy of the crowd turned all the way up. They had crowd participation set to the maximum level, with Joseph’s crowd stand and Dun’s drum island (pictured above).They mashed up covers of “All I Do Is Win,” “Bugatti,” and “Drunk In Love,” followed by “I Can’t Help Falling In Love” by Elvis and Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness.” From there, the excitement continued with The 1975.
The 1975 have been touring for about two years and have solidified their stage performance. Lead singer Matt Healy walked on stage with a bottle of wine in hand, as girls screamed in excitement.
Of the girls in the audience, one in particular, Maggie, had an unforgettable experience. She was pulled out of the front row after Healy saw the drawing she made of him. (TIP: If you're in the front at one of their shows, bring some sort of attention grabbing fan art.) Everyone else watched jealously as he sang "Robbers" to her. He sat on her lap at one point and the budding artist handled that situation with so much poise. After making Maggie's year, she watched from the side of the stage as they finished up with "Girls," "Chocolate," and "Sex."
Since reuniting in 2012, The Replacements have played Riot Fest and Coachella. For their Boston Calling set, the band played a career spanning set, with songs from all of their albums. They also threw in a covers of “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5, “Maybellene” by Chuck Berry, and “Love You In The Fall,” from guitarist and vocalist Paul Westerberg's solo career. Their witty crowd banter kept everyone entertained until their encore of “Alex Chilton.”
NAS x THE ROOTS
On all of the promotional material for Boston Calling, Sunday’s headlining act was listed as “Nas x The Roots.” Since The Roots are the house band for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, one would expect and entire act with Nas backed by the full band. This was not the case. It turned out to be two different sets with a few songs performed together. Even better!
In honor of the 20th anniversary of Illmatic, Nas (accompanied by DJ Green Lantern) did a new rendition of "New York State of Mind," swapping out "New York" for "Boston," of course. He went through his hits including the still relevant verses of "If I Ruled The World," "I can," and "One Mic." Basically whatever song you loved and forgot was by Nas. The Roots joined him onstage for "One Love," before he left. Then it was party time.
From their work with Jimmy Fallon on NBC, it should be common knowledge that The Roots can perform any genre of music. That's exactly what they did. With Black Thought as the main vocalist, they played their hits including "You Got Me," which originally featured Erykah Badu. The 10-piece band displayed their ability to play any genre by covering Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie" and Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine." With the exception of Questlove, everyone was dancing on stage, including Damon "Tuba Gooding Jr." Bryson and his tuba. They ended the night with a funk inspired song featuring Black Thought's super fast rapping as the band danced behind him. The Roots know how to put on a show. Whether you're a hip hop fan or not, they are definitely a band worth seeing.
This was once again another great edition of Boston Calling. Even though the 2015 lineups won't be announced for months, it's looking like Boston has found special events to commemorate the beginning and end of summer for years to come.
For the latest information on Boston Calling, go to BostonCalling.com.