The second edition of Boston Calling at City Hall Plaza did quite a bit to build upon the success of the spring’s inaugural festival. With a trial-run to work off of, this past weekend’s event was more polished logistically, and more adventurous musically. To give a sense of what went particularly well and what missed the mark, here are the highlights and lowlights of Boston Calling round two:
CLIP: Vampire Weekend kicks off their set with Diane Young.
A festival headliner is not the easiest thing to book. While the last Boston Calling delivered Fun. to massive ticket sales but groans from music snobs, festival organizers this time around found the happiest of mediums with Vampire Weekend. Not only did the Brooklyn collective caffeinate a crowd that seemed to be losing energy, but they reminded their audience just how many hits they’ve packed into three albums. Even material from their latest, Modern Vampires of the City translated exceptionally, providing a sweet extension to summer, even if just for a set. The band’s live show has maintained an eclectic and diverse sound, and hasn’t shaken that pep that made “A-Punk” so endearing five years ago.
CLIP: Paul Driscoll interviews Ezra from Vampire Weekend in the band's tour bus.
Upon first glance, you may be tempted to write off Brooklyn-based Lucius as a bit of a gimmick. They’re colorful, costumed, and duo Jess Wolfe and Molly Laessig provide a different spin on your typical band set up. But when they start singing the whole gimmick thing quickly goes out the window. The two frontwomen have a mature grasp on harmony, but individually, their voices have a mysteriously whispery quality, drawing similarity to folks like Feist and Lana Del Rey. Their rhythm section acts almost as a vintage R&B backing band, but shows versatility and locks up as a solid singular force.
Solange’s set was placed perfectly in the middle of sunny Sunday. Any move that the jovial vocalist made, any note that the neo-soultress hit, radiated positive vibes. She won many thumbs up with her bouncy cover of Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness is the Move,” complete with an “Xxplosive” guitar tease throughout. Extra thumbs up for her bass player who kept the low end extra bumping and the soul extra greasy.
CLIP: Solange hits the orange stage on sunny Sunday.
Easily the most explosive set of the weekend, dancehall DJ project Major Lazer have a brand of energy unlike any other act out there. Led by famous producer Diplo, it’s almost easy to forget that these guys even play music with so many additional stimuli incorporated into their set. Confetti blasts, vapor guns, whistles, handfuls of cash thrown into the crowd, lapdances, and traveling over the audience in a plastic bubble were just a few of the ways that Major Lazer displayed multiple levels of ridiculousness. On top of it all, audience members broke out dance moves that only seemed normal given the atmosphere.
After Spring's Boston Calling, many folks yearned for a higher local representation. This festival boasted four local acts, one of them a festival headliner. All these bands seized the opportunity to its fullest. Viva Viva made a grand return to the stage, not losing the slightest step and instead kicking off the entire weekend with their raw and dirty energy. Local duo You Won’t blew past the stereotypes that modern folk acts often attract and proved both their quirky performing ability and their affinity for mixed instrumentation. Electro-hounds Bearstronaut fit in perfectly on Sunday’s bill, stirring up a pre-twerk dancefloor, and marinating the crowd for the frenzy that the rest of the day provided. Of course, hometown heroes Passion Pit brought the heat to their closing set on Sunday night, squeezing dance moves out of tuckered out showgoers. Boston Calling was definitely a win for Boston bands.
CLIP: Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos talks about being from Boston and the city's impact on the band's success.
Sunday’s lineup delivered very likeminded electronic acts. While drum and bass can only go so far as to distinguish itself, the folks that spread stage presence beyond just the laptop were the hype men. Flosstradamus, between samples and dropping beats, entertained their spirited audience by making commands that ranged from having the ladies of the audience to get up on someone’s shoulders to having the youngsters in the front form a mosh pit. Whatever they asked, the crowd happily obliged.
Deer Tick weren’t bad, but they made some questionable choices. To many, they were one of the most highly anticipated sets of the weekend, but their signature reckless brand of joy seemed to be missing completely. Perhaps it was the choice to play their new album, Negativity, in completion that didn’t allow their audience to feed off of and return their energy. Don’t get me wrong, the band sounded good, and left a good taste for what is to come, but it definitely wasn’t the classic Deer Tick that Boston has grown to love.
Gaslight Anthem’s Hour and a Half Set
It cannot be denied that Gaslight Anthem are talented songwriters and players. The comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and The Killers are pretty accurate in very different ways. It also cannot be denied, however, that they have a pretty niche audience. Their alternative anthems translated with the masses for a little bit, but when the hour mark hit, it became a bit of an energy-suck. I heard more than one person compare them to Creed throughout the set, which unfortunately is anything but a compliment. Again, the band was on-point and talented, they just didn’t seem to hold up with the entire Saturday crowd.
It made sense on paper to book both days based loosely on genre. When played out though, both days could have used acts to change up the pace a bit. This was more apparent on Sunday when the multiple sets of loud drum and bass became a bit trite. Solange and Kendrick Lamar presented moments of refreshment, but it might have been nice to see some guitar-centric Saturday bands sprinkled into Sunday’s lineup and vice versa. Music festivals are places of discovery, and the grab-bag bills are what make them that way.
CLIP: Raw footage from the bouncing crowd while Flume spins on day 2.
All things considered, the second Boston Calling was very much a success. At this point, Boston has found its premiere music event, and while a lineup has not been announced for next spring’s Boston Calling, expect the magic to continue in 2014.
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Not only is Adam 12 Boston.com Radio's Production Director, he also hosts afternoons. 12 is a longtime fixture on the Boston scene, and when he's not out and about in the city, he's trekking around New England with his kids.
Julie enters the building every day with a big smile and trough of freshly brewed coffee. Shes Boston.com Radios Music Director and mid-day hostess, and will deliver Lunch At Your Desk every day from noon to 1 PM.
Henrys always on the lookout for news. Hes Boston.com Radios News Director and Morning Presenter. Hes also a music and art collector, and is a world-class cook with over 5,000 cookbooks in his library.
Paul Driscoll is Boston.com Radios Program Director who has the best ears in the business. Paul gets dozens of phone calls and visits a day, from bands and record labels looking to get their music played. Some even leave an apple on is desk.
Steph Mangan hosts Grrl Power and LocalBDC. When she's not at the studio, she is constantly on the look out for up-and-coming local bands and attending shows at Boston's many venues. She is an avid enthusiast of burritos and denim jackets.