Photos and Review by Bethany Anna Packer
Galleries: Migos, Tkay Maidza, Strand of Oaks, Oh Wonder, Danny Brown, Tegan and Sara, Nathaniel Rateliff, The XX, The 1975, PUP, Converge, Piebald, Flatbush Zombies, Run the Jewels, Cage the Elephant, Major Lazer, Tool
This Memorial Day weekend, as on Memorial Day weekends past, Boston Calling Music Festival brought some of the moment’s biggest names in music to Boston kicking of 2017’s festival season. This year Boston Calling found itself in a new location; having moved from the more confined City Hall Plaza to the sprawling athletic fields of Harvard University’s Athletic Complex. The new, bigger and better location allowed for the festival’s growth in multiple ways including an additional 3rd stage, a comedy venue (housed in the University’s hockey arena) and even more food vendors and yard games than years past.
The comedy arena was a welcome addition to the weekend’s lineup that drew a large crowd all three days of the festival. Comedians like Hannibal Buress, Pete Holmes, Tig Notaro and more had lines curling out of the arena entrance each evening.
The new location did not come without a few obvious growing pains which seemed to be efficiently handled by organizers, security and food vendors alike. Food options were overwhelming in the best of ways, from the good old Boston favorite Tasty Burger to the Shuck Shacks local freshly shucked oysters to Boston Calling’s must try food item, the BBQ Bomb (a waffle cone filled with BBQ brisket, beans, mac and cheese and coleslaw created by the Smoke Shack) there was a ton to choose from! Multiple seating areas allowed for a cold beer out of the sun, including the Miller Lite sponsored Bar 75 as well as the Mikkellar Beer Garden hosted by Mikkellar brewery.
Unfortunately the plethora of rain Thursday into Friday made a muddy mess of the fields for opening day. However, the mud and spitting rain couldn’t keep Boston down and the crowd for Friday showed up strong. Christening the festivals new location and newly added Delta Blue Stage was Massachusetts very own Vundabar, who’s delightful mish-mash of garage-rocky free-wheeling abandon and country rhythms got the day off to a fun start. Lucy Ducas’ quirky indie rock, the avant-pop stalwarts Deerhoof and indie Americana pop group Whitney each owned their Boston Calling stage as the rain teased the crowd switching on and off. Marc Demarco and Hip-Hop group Migos played the afternoon as the crowd began to swell within the athletic complex, despite the less than desirable weather forecast. Bon Iver was one of the larger names on Friday’s bill and they definitely showcased why. The well-orchestrated performance flawlessly balanced live instrumentals with electronica that had the audience in a vice from the start of the set. Sigur Ross took the Blue Stage backed by a beautifully lit set up just after sunset as the sky opened up. Fortunately the downpour only seemed to add to the set’s ambiance and the crowd stood firm. The rain let up just as headliner Chance the Rapper took to the Green Stage. Crowds went wild for the rapper’s brilliant stage presence, confetti, and pyrotechnics display.
Saturday’s warm and sunny weather was a welcome change from the night prior and Day 2 was off to a perfect start. Alexandra Savior the artsy singer/songwriter and spunky Canadian based singer/rapper Tkay Maidza both appealed to their own unique crowds early in the day. Strand of Oaks picked up the energy at the Red Stage and drew rock and roll fans their way as Timothy Showalter’s grizzly lyrics captivated the audience. The London based alt pop duo, Oh Wonder was next up and delivered a charismatic performance as the crowds thickened. Again, Boston Calling played their cards right, cleverly presenting rapper Danny Brown and singer/songwriter Brandi Carlisle at the same time satisfying every audience. Danny Brown drew a significant crowd back to the Blue Stage for a high-energy rap set that had fans singing along, while on the Green Stage Brandi lulled crowds with her 70’s inspired bluesy folk rock sound. Back on the Red Stage Tegan and Sara, the twin sister fronted pop group kept the fans attention with a colorful inflatable backdrop and were followed by Nathaniel Rateliff on the Green Stage who always deliver a solid and entertaining performance. The XX was a popular draw for the festival and the three piece indie electronic group dazzled the audience with mirrored risers, beautiful stage lights and their distinct and uniquely minimalistic sound. The 1975 was next to perform and had the young girls in the crowd screaming lyrics along with frontman Matty Healy. Their flawless performance was my personal favorite of the day. By the time headliner Mumford and Sons took the stage the athletic complex was a packed sea of singing bodies that swayed along to the popular tunes flowing from the Green Stage.
Day 3 was my musically my favorite of the three. The lineup was the most solidly packed and the day was rock and hip-hop heavy. Mondo Cozmo’s high energy performance started the day off right with a flawless cover of Bittersweet Symphony that had every single person singing along, myself included. PUP’s crowd was one of the liveliest of the weekend, fans still hyped from their after party performance the night before at Great Scott and the crowd surfing fan in a shark costume said it all. Locally bred metal core band Converge was a refreshing dose of heavy, and much needed addition in my opinion. The group’s vocalist Jacob Bannon tore up the stage in his home state like a wondrous madman. Another Mass born band, Piebald took the stage to “the biggest crowd they’ve ever played for” after an adorable introduction from one of the band member’s son. Flatbush Zombies bounced around the red stage with an unbridled energy that stayed at a 10 for the highly anticipated performance of Run The Jewels, who’s loyal and ravenous fans chanted along to the lyrics. Cage the Elephant was next to perform and in my eyes, was the highlight performance of the weekend. The band is a ‘must see’ live, their performance, as always was peppered with crowd interaction. Guitarist Brad Shultz left the stage not once, but twice to play from within the ecstatic audience, and lead Matt Shultz is reminiscent of a young Mick Jagger as he dances, jumps and moves like he was born to be a rock star. Weezer and Major Lazer were up next forcing fans to choose between the two, and a seeming evenly split crowd either headed to the Blue Stage for Weezer’s classic alt rock set or to the Red Stage for Major Lazer’s show stopping performance which included Diplo walking the crowd in an inflatable ball. Tool was the headliner for Sunday and Tool fans in a significant radius flocked to see the rare performance. A visually memorizing video montage backlit the members silhouettes as they performed all of Tool’s fan favorites from the breadth of their career. Reclusive front man Maynard James Keenan broke mid-set for a speech, stating “As artists, we interpret and report, that’s our job. We are merchants of emotion. We have the privilege to do that because of active and former law enforcement and military defending our right to do so.” The former Army vet donned in full set of riot gear continued, “Those of you who are law enforcement and military, your job is defend our right to act like whining, entitled snowflake assholes. Myself being one.” The crowd roared in approval as the music picked back up, and on that note punctuated a perfect end to this year’s Boston Calling Festival.
I can’t wait to see what Boston Calling has instore for us next year!