The little festival that could is flexing into a festival that has and will continue to impress, at least that’s what Friday proved at Boston Calling. Hours before the gates opened on opening night, plans for next year had been released: a solo Spring edition, sprawling across the Harvard athletic complex in Allston, and with a film festival curated by Natalie Portman. The rigidity imposed on Boston Calling by the brick plaza and city restrictions has often made the festival feel tame- as if Disney hosted the proceedings. So it was fitting that this swan song for the Government Center location would feature a grandiose pop spectacular and balloon-costumed song cycles.
Whereas Sia was the most recognizable name on the schedule, she complemented the other performers by matching the melodious lines of Lisa Hannigan and the anthemic, apocalyptic visuals of Sufjan Stevens. Garbed in an overflowing tule gown, motionless at center stage, white backdrop and white mic stand, Sia began “Alive” with demure pace. The song, and her set, crescendoed forth with dancers bursting from her dress, establishing themes of torqued relationships and self-empowerment. Boston got a special treat with “Breathe Me,” and the night ended with “Chandelier” reverberating from City Hall.
Equally exuberant, Sufjan Stevens transformed his Coachella rough drafts and belted a blend of rebirth (“Chicago”), struggling with physical ailments (“I Want to Be Well”), and maternal death (“Carrie and Lowell”) for Boston perfection. Banjo in hand, wings raised, Stevens flailed the closing chords of “Seven Swans,” bashing his instrument as segue into syncopated movements with neon adorned dancers Dawn Landes and Cat Martino. The metaphoric resonance, powerful.
Backed by the NoBS! Brass band, Sufjan orchestrated the stage from corner to corner. Part guitar, part keys, part liturgical dance, his performance transmogrified into a human disco ball for the 20 minute opus “Impossible Soul,” visually enacting the existential conversation between youth, woman, and God. And lots of balloons.
With Aaron Dessner taking side guitar for Sufjan’s final song, it showed the promise of Boston Calling in becoming a fully-formed festival. Collaborations, chaotic performances, and beautiful music- an amazing first night, foreshadowing great things in 2017.