Boston Calling is a three day festival that takes place every spring and fall on the brick Brutalist plaza of Government Center in the heart of the city. Last spring, Mayor Marty Walsh called for a redesign of the area. It was designed in 1962, and it shows. Hopefully, the festival, now in its fifth year, will help spur the transformation of the 200,000 square foot space that happily accommodated over 50,000 attendees – shade trees and seating would have been a welcome addition. The new era of culture as a populist activity shows off the city’s most popular food and beverage companies, many of which hale from the Boston area, and of course an interesting and eclectic host of musical talent.
One of the best things about the concert is that you can come and go as you please, but there is enough food, drink and space to keep everyone on an even keel. The bands seemed happy to perform, and the production was superb, two stages, beautifully placed, timed and managed. It seemed effortless, and everything went off without a hitch, from our perspective. The design is much better than other free fests where the band set up against the side of city hall on the Faneuil Hall side of the plaza.
Boston Calling stages were set up against Tremont Street which lent itself to the canyon effect, with the bright blue lights of other government buildings making a pretty cityscape back drop for the red and blue stages. The jumbo-trons were well placed and it seemed there was a decent view from almost anywhere on the plaza. You could sit right down on the bricks with your blanket, but no strollers backpack or chairs were allowed. Free water was dispensed from a water truck and you could bring in your empty to refill and even a camelback.
In the VIP area there were picnic tables, and a few sample snacks and drinks for the taking. Fun, artsy lighting and sleek, cream leatherette furniture made little seating areas to get away from the throng for a while, but watching from the ramparts on high afforded VIPs a terrific view.
Sharon Van Etten was sublime with her unique soulful, pop howl. She mused how grateful she was to be in Boston and set a cheerful Friday night vibe. The near-perfect weather didn’t hurt either.
The subdued vibe quickly took a a turn and the wind ushered in what was one of the highlights of our Boston Calling experience. Tame Impala, the psych-rock band from Perth that have now gotten their legs at big arena shows, put on a mind-blowing performance, from the visuals, to Kevin Parker’s John Lennon/Revolver-esque falsetto, Government center lit up like a psychedelic snow globe.
The area filled up quickly in anticipation of Beck. He talked about his love for Boston and never one to downplay his eclectic, musical range and knowledge, he broke into Donna Summer’s, “I Feel Love”-the ultimate tribute to Boston.
On Saturday, MØ crooned effortlessly on stage with her signature, Danish electro-pop. For a woman so young in age (and this might have been the year for ballsy, young women), MØ worked the crowd with complete confidence. She performed “Walk This Way” from her album “No Mythologies To Follow,” a fierce, unapologetic electro-pop masterpiece that echoes Gwen Stefani and SIA.
Run The Jewels came out swinging, opening their set with Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and Killer Mike proclaiming his allegiance to Tom Brady, “I ride with Tom Brady, I don’t give a f#ck what they say.”
Tove Lo had has memorized, even before she took her shirt off. Yes, she flashed the tatas during “Talking Body” and of course, the crowd went nuts. It’s her signature move, but also part of her involvement in the #freethenipple campaign.
Marina and the Diamonds kind of stole our hearts in a sticky-sweet kind of way with their fast, fun “Bubble Gum Bitch”. If Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons and Lady Gaga had a secret love-child, it would be Marina Lambrini Diamandis, a perfect combination of attitude and fun.
As the night wound down, Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals paid a special tribute to Boston–Roxbury, in particular. Harper dedicated “Burn One Down” to his brother-in-law. Harper recently tied a third knot with social advocate Jaclyn Matfus.
My Morning Jacket played a straight forward set. Jim James seemed a little low energy, but lyrically and musically, they are a great band.
St. Vincent’s saturday night performance was one of the main highlights of this round of Boston Calling for us. Vincent aka Annie Clark, the tough, pull-no-punches, Oklahoma-raised musical maven who fearlesslessly combines performance art with straight-up guitar shred and soaring vocals, crowd surfed with her guitar in tow. It was epic. Get ’em, Annie.
On Sunday, Halsey, all 20 years of her, put on an awesome performance. A little nervous as anyone would expect, this was her first big arena show (and was it ever big), she’s primed to take on the world, with her forthright lyrics, talent and level-headedness. During Roman Holiday, she mused how “fucking fantastic” her Memorial Day was and you can tell she’s a down-to-earth, tough chick you’d totally wanna hang with because she isn’t letting fame get to her head.
Lucius, the five-piece indie pop band from Brooklyn was like camp-fire magic. They had been a quick replacement for Chet Faker, who had cancelled due to injury. Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig sang new material with little accompaniment into one condenser mic and it was more than enough to bring the chills. Their album “Wildewoman” is not one to be slept on and a new one is in the works. Jess then asked everyone to sing “Happy Birthday” to Holly. It was a sweet set.
That evening, As TV on the Radio sang their last song, “Staring at the Sun,” from their album Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (2004), Tunde Adebimpe called out that it was for Boston, and it seemed more than appropriate given that everyone had been standing under a hot sun for hours.
Adebimpe threw a fake pitch out for the Red Sox fans as they left the stage and the crowd gathered in droves for the highly anticipated Tenacious D. I heard that they played to the highest concentration of festival goers, and they did not disappoint. Coming on like the heroes of rock they are – entering with an Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western film score – the band played and hammed it up ending in a rock opera where the lead guitarist was the devil. It made for an entertaining show, and only Jack Black can sing tongue-in-cheek metal while holding an acoustic guitar. He said the stoniest of Bostonians were there, and giving the wafting fumes, he was probably right.
The Pixies ended the evening with a ferocious set. They were enjoying themselves and relatively new bass player Paz Lenchantin looked like she was having fun. No talking between songs for them, but given their status in Boston as alt-music Icons, they didn’t need to do anything but play.
And the next one in the fall looks to be just as great a lineup.
— Boston Calling (@Boston_Calling) May 27, 2015