By Martin Smith
Days two and three of Boston Calling provided music that was as diverse as the weather (Saturday 90s, Sunday 50s). The contrast between bands was often stark, starting with hip-hop and moving anywhere from instrumental jam bands, to 70s soul, to top 40 pop, but always landing on high energy dance-your-face-off artists from around the world.
With all the big acts involved in this festival you could have flipped a coin to choose the headliners. Crowd favorites Miike Snow and Janelle Monáe finished earlier in the nights with Odesza and Robyn closing the show on Saturday night and Haim and Disclosure closing out the festival.
Disclosure’s futuristic sound and scene was the grand finale with their duo of U-shaped terminals packed with different electronic music boards, drum machines, and a bass guitar. The crowd danced and waved their giant blue glow sticks as the screen behind the duo displayed intense visual art mixed with an impressive synchronized light show.
Robyn’s performance started a little slow with an awkward strip tease in which she slowly removed her hoodie over the course of two songs. But once things got moving the city hall plaza no longer felt like Boston and she transported us to a European discotheque. Her sound and interpretive dance were hypnotic. She brought friend after friend to the stage to join her performance, which only added to the global, and other worldly atmosphere she had created.
Many attendees knew every word to the Haim sisters’ songs and their brand of rock and roll backed with synth sounds. They shredded the guitar, killed it in a three-way percussion song, and even added a little cowbell.
Odesza took the stage with their DJ stylings backed by a big band horn section. Government Center square seemed surreal as a light show was projected on the buildings. The visuals on the drop screen were striking, sometimes haunting and always beautiful. It was a treat to hear their electronic music (and backing live instruments) on this big of a sound system. You could literally feel the music pass through your body.
Nobody was sitting on the sidelines for Janelle Monáe’s R&B performance, which was as beautiful as it was powerful. She covered James Brown and the Jackson 5, but the most moving cover was when she closed her set with a tribute to Prince by playing “Let’s go crazy.”
Miike Snow was the shaman or yogi that transported the audience into space on his keyboard with wonderful, sometimes funky, soul music.
Sunday saw some standout performances from some of the performers not at the top of the ticket.
Christine and the Queens stole the stage. This performance blew the crowd away and left many wondering why she was not featured later in the day. This euro pop band, part dance troupe, was amazing to watch switching back and forth from English to French and covering “Chaka Khan” and “Pump up the jam.”
Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires have mastered the craft of funk and soul and had the crowd feelin’ it. Everybody in the plaza was dancing with their lovers, friends, and strangers. His soul rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” was so heartfelt and beautiful you would think he was the one who wrote it in the 60s or 70s.
Elle King brought the trailer park to Boston Calling and the audience loved it. She refers to herself as “white trash” and a “chain smoking hard drinking woman” as she belts out southern rock and blues. With a cocktail in her mic stand cup holder, she drew the crowd in with her baby-talk voice with a smoker’s rasp as she covered the Beatles’ “Oh Darling” and Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Both days kicked off with great energy from some of the early hip-hop acts. Lizzo on Saturday had the hippie chicks grinding to feminist hip hop, performing the dance move I only know how to describe as the modern day Charleston. Michael Christmas on Sunday got the party started off right getting the crowd turnt and chanting “get up off my dick” and even got the “one more song” chant to no avail. Both were able to set the tone for festival getting everybody dancing and jumping to the music. Vince Staples provided some additional heavy hip-hop with earth shattering bass. Despite his halfhearted PSA, don’t do drugs, the audience immediately lit up anything they could find. He led the crowd in a “fuck the police” chant despite his feigned reluctance given his perception of Boston police from the movies.
The rock n’ roll started with The Battles’ technical and beautiful jam band performance. Unknown Mortal Orchestra showcased their instrumental musical talent with a soul influenced rock set. BØRNS played a sensual set that had the power of arena rock. The androgynous nature of BØRNS performance made the cover of Bowie’s “Heroes” something special to watch and the crowd went wild when they played their hit “Electric Love.” Courtney Barnett provided a little southern rock/Reba sounding songs before she “kicked the shit out the stage” (as Dallas Green of City and Colour announced). She brought the dance party to the brink of becoming a mosh pit and had the whole place jumping to her hard rock and punk sounds. The Vaccines performed a well polished pop punk set that varied from Elvis crooning to the 80s style Cure to Ramones-esque power punk. City and Colour provided some beautiful stripped down acoustic folk punk ballads and beautiful storytelling. And the Front Bottoms had all of the teenage girls screaming like they just saw the Beatles with their pop punk tunes.
And no Boston music festival would be complete without the New England Patriots star wide receiver Julian Edelman jumping on stage to rile up the crowd up and scream “Free Brady.”