Lots of festivals got hit hard by COVID cancellations, from SXSW to Coachella, but one hit particularly badly was Boston Calling, as it was forced to suspend for not one, but two years, as it occurs on Memorial Day Weekend (to get those college kids before they leave for the summer). But in 2022 it came back, Friday-Sunday, May 27th-29th, only to lost most of its headliners, rain delay, acts cancelling due to COVID, and more.
Yet the event was a success, well-run (even when evacuating & reopening), great music (even with last-minute fill-ins), and much more.
The weather agreed on Friday, making for an easy walk for all the kids coming off of the Harvard Square stop and heading across the Charles River. The festival takes place at the Harvard Athletic Complex, a former tidal plain of the river (you could still see some reeds in parts) that’s got tennis courts, a football stadium, and general green lawns for the fest. There were four color-coded stages, two pairs of alternating stages – though they weren’t exactly equal, the small & hard-to-find Orange Stage for local acts you might only check out after leaving the Blue Stage, while the Red Stage was not as loud as the next door main Green Stage.
Early in the day were the breezy & easy Backseat Lovers on the Red Stage, a nice fit for the festival on a sunny afternoon. But the real energetic kick-off was The Struts on the Green Stage, suitably glam-kicking ass from the get-go. They were a great active rock band to transition from the early easy part of the day to the more pumped-up later part. Frontman Luke Spiller was in fine form, including playing the two sides of the crowd against each other in amounts of cheer, to say nothing of when the whole band froze in place. Notably, guitarist Adam Slack (QRO interview) wasn’t there, but had a capable stand-in with Neil.
Spinal Tap’s manager once said that Boston isn’t much of a college town, but it’s also a classic rock town (think the band Boston), so it was fitting to have Cheap Trick at the Red Stage. Yes, they closed with “Surrender” (including bringing out earlier-in-the-day performer Paris Jackson), which is still alright (if just seems a little weird), but so would you if you’d written that song – that or “I Want You To Want Me”, which naturally they also played.
Unlike most music festivals coming out of lockdown, Boston Calling hasn’t leaned into the popular (and easier to set up) EDM DJs, but did have Oliver Tree at the Blue Stage. The singer came on to Smashmouth’s “Allstar”, his DJ asked/demanded if the crowd wanted another song, and Tree returned to ask if cowboys cry in “Cowboy Tears”.
Once upon a time, sister act HAIM came out of nowhere to big name success, most recently with Women In Music, Part III (QRO review) – and Alana Haim starring in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza (bringing in her sisters to boot), not to mention becoming besties with Taylor Swift. Yet they still put on a great show at the Green Stage, seventies throwback rock without just being seventies throwback rock, even if this “Man From the Magazine” couldn’t help but notice that they were all in matching black bikini/bra tops and leather pants.
A woman who’s been in music for years (yet still looks like a kid) is Avril Lavigne, who was unapologetically pop-punk at the Blue Stage. Yes, at this point, she’s kind of nostalgia, but “Why You Gotta Make Things So Complicated?” It’s just fun to listen to the Sk8er girl at this point, long since passed hating her (even if she might be a clone…), and now the kind of artist that her fans can bring their kids to.
Originally, Boston Calling was going to have Foo Fighters headline (actually, at one point even earlier, Rage Against the Machine were going to headline), but after the tragic too-young passing of their drummer Taylor Hawkins, they understandably canceled their dates. Thankfully, other big-name peers stepped up to step in, like Nine Inch Nails at Boston Calling. Frontman Trent Reznor noted that, while they were happy to be playing Boston, wish Foo Fighters were (a nice acknowledgement from the guy who was in Dave Grohl’s Sound City – QRO soundtrack review).
It was the giant NIN performance that they’d been waiting to play since COVID (and after having to cancel their own dates last year). And there was a suitably massive crowd, packed even if you were in VIP. They played the old hits – killed it doing Reznor’s song with David Bowie, “Afraid of Americans” – and the new.
-photos: Boston Calling / Active Coverage