The northeastern United States has always been short-shifted on big music festivals – perhaps because we’re not used to driving for hours to an event, or all the bands at a festival will play regular shows in big cities, it’s colder up here, or just every farm out there doesn’t want to rent itself out and end up like Woodstock, it’s been slim pickings. And that’s even more the case for festivals in our cities, as there’s less green space and tons of ‘not in my backyard’ types.
Yet 2013 looked to change things around. New York got the huge Governors Ball in June, right in the five boroughs – only for rain to make the whole thing a muddy mess (QRO recap). Faring much better was Boston Calling the prior month – situated as downtown as you could get, right in front of city hall (and on brick, so no mud…), it was a great success (QRO recap). So great, in fact, that they did it again in the same year!
So QRO headed back down to Government Center on Saturday & Sunday, September 7th & 8th.
The gates of Boston’s very own music festival opened up on an absolutely gorgeous late summer day. Festivalgoers traded in their ponchos and rain boots from the previous Boston Calling for sunscreen, tank tops, and brightly colored wayfarers for this time around. The weather was a welcome change from the rain that plagued the same festival just over three months ago.
The two days were split between a very heavy indie/folk/rock Saturday, and a more EDM based Sunday.
Viva Viva, 12:50 PM, Red Stage
Hometown rock trio, Viva Viva, took the opening slot on Saturday, providing an energy driven opening frame to the day. The band was one of two ‘Sonicbids Up-and-Coming Acts’ invited to play at the festival. Viva Viva, who just released their newest EP, Dead in Yr Tracks, are no stranger to the Boston music scene. From their beginnings rocking the infamous basement parties of Jamaica Plain and Allston, they have quickly gained momentum to become one of the most exciting live acts in town.
Matching their ‘70s sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll feel, the band casually smoked cigarettes and joked around on stage, letting everyone know that even though this may be the largest venue they’ve played at, this was still their city.
You Won’t, 1:30 PM, Blue Stage
The expansive brick and pavement of government center noticeably filled up by the early afternoon. The sun was shining, Friday night hangovers were mended, and the crowds started streaming in.
Adding to the greatly increased local depth in the Boston Calling lineup, You Won’t took the second slot of the day. To open their set, the band paid homage to the Bay State with an ode to Massachusetts.
A musical venture of two childhood friends from the Boston suburbs, Josh Arnoudse and Raky Sastri form You Won’t. The duo brought a playful, yet masterfully composed pirate-folk-pop to the festival. The amount of instruments that the band mates used during the set was easily in the double digits. You Won’t has seen dramatic growth since their inception in 2011, and the release of their first album Skeptic Goodbye in early 2012.
Mixing often humorous but always thought-provoking lyrics with a raw low-fi sound, You Won’t brought sophisticated charm to the stage. Their songs about growing up in the privileged and predominately white Bostonia (i.e. Three Car Garage) felt like they were describing each and every twenty something year old they were singing to.
Lucius, 2:00 PM, Red Stage
Enter Lucius, finally breaking the Boston band theme for the day, or were they? In a way, yes, the band was formed and is based in Brooklyn. However, both Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig got their start collaborating together at the famed Berklee School of Music, just a few T-stops down the Green line. Boom, more Boston love!
Lucius has only been together for about two years, but they have already received massive praise from major music media outlets. Their buzzed about performances at this years’ Bonnaroo and Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival were a lot to live up to in Boston, but they crushed it. These gals can perform. Currently on an extensive tour promoting their forthcoming album: Wildewoman, Lucius led the charge of female vocal based bands for the weekend.
A shout out to You Won’t started their set, in which they showcased some of their fan favorites, the ultra catchy Baltic-pop inspired “Turn It Around” and heart wrenching “Go Home”, as well as some new material. Much like the previous act, Lucius brought a great deal of interactivity and engagement to the early afternoon.
Okkervil River, 2:45 PM, Blue Stage
By 2:45 PM, the Roxy’s Grilled Cheese and Tasty Burger tents were cranking out fresh eats, and festivalgoers (at least those of age) were well into their second or third Harpoon IPA.
Okkervil River was up next. The Austin band broke the mold of locally sourced bands, and did so with the energy that they’re known and loved for. Oh wait, the band met and was formed at a boarding school in New Hampshire, just a two-hour drive away from Boston? Figures. Boston Calling 2, you’ve done it again…
While most of the afternoon was made up of younger bands, the 15+ years of collaboration behind the band immediately electrified the air. They opened with “It Was My Season”, the first song off their latest album, The Silver Gymnasium, just released on 9.3.13. Their seventh studio record is also their first with a brand new label ATO Records, home to successes such as Alabama Shakes and My Morning Jacket.
Okkervil’s set list dabbled in new album highlights such as “On a Balcony” and the delightfully-Bruce-y “Down Down the Deep River”, as well as older hits like For Real”.
Deer Tick, 3:30 PM, Red Stage
The Providence, RI indie/alt-country pioneer, Deer Tick, took the stage as the last in a bender of five straight bands with connections to the Northeast. Boston Calling was the official start of their fall tour to promote their new album Negativity, and they cut straight to the chase.
They took this promotion very seriously, as the announced before the set that, “We’re doing our new album top to back, and you have no say in it.” They then proceeded to do just that. Ensuring that the crowd would get the whole experience, friend of the band, Vanessa Carlton joined the band on stage for a beautiful rendition of “In Our Time”.
After thanking the crowd for their attentiveness and support, the band received roar from fans as they closed out the set with their War Elephant hit, “Main Street”.
Airborne Toxic Event, 4:30 PM, Blue Stage
Upon getting on stage, Airborne Toxic Event frontman Mikel Jollet proudly announced that Boston Calling 2 was the band’s 907th show since their Loz Filez, CA beginnings in 2006. The orchestral driven alt-rock band could easily be considered one of the highlight acts of day one of the festival.
Opening with the slow building cut “All at Once”, ATE set a driving tone for the set. The cooling temperature of the September night contrasted beautifully with the raw pulsing soundscapes flowing from the stage.
The band gave it all to the largest crowd of the day, performing a show chock-full-o-thrills to fans and Boston Calling security alike. Halfway through the set, Jollet climbed a good twenty feet up the scaffolding on the edge of the stage. The crowd went absolutely nuts. All in good fun.
Bat For Lashes, 5:30 PM, Red Stage
After an afternoon of testosterone-powered rock, the U.K.’s Natasha Khan brought some serious charm, playfulness, and overall adorable-ness in the form of Bat For Lashes. Natasha was all smiles and as she danced and twirled in her shining metallic colored dress. One of the more intimate performances of the day, Bat For Lashes showed firsthand why she has been creating such a buzz in the music world.
The first of only a few international stars present at the festival, Natasha oozed enthusiasm and intensity throughout her thirteen-song set. Song choices were diverse and spanned her three critically acclaimed records.
After thanking the crowd for sharing a gorgeous day with her, she closed with fan favorite “Daniel”.
Local Natives, 6:30 PM, Blue Stage
A lengthier than average break between Bat for Lashes and Local Natives indicated that something was up. The vibe in Government Center could not have been better. The weather was perfect, the performances had all be spectacular, and there was still a lot of music left to be had. Impromptu paper airplane flying contests started in the front row, Patriot chants broke out, there were even attempts at the wave while the 6:30 starting time came and went.
Suddenly, from the back of the stage, burly, earpiece-wearing men appeared. This could only mean one thing: Menino was back for BC2!
The crowd erupted as Boston’s longest running, and soon to be retired mayor, Tom Menino, walked up to the mic. Cane in hand, Menino thanked the coordinators of Boston Calling and the fans alike, and wished everyone a save and enjoyable evening. After introducing the Silver Lake, CA indie outfit, Local Natives, lead singer Taylor Rice joked, “No city has ever had the mayor introduce us, I’m blown away.”
The Local Natives’ harmonies filled the center of Boston just as the sun set over the city, providing a magical segue from an energy packed day into the night. Set highlights included their unique and beautiful rendition of the Talking Heads song “Warning Sign” and “You & I”, the single from their latest album, Hummingbird (QRO review).
The Gaslight Anthem, 7:30 PM, Red Stage
Reverb from the last notes of Local Natives last song, “Sun Hands”, was still audible as The Gaslight Anthem tore into their new song “Handwritten”. The Jersey rockers quickly transformed the vibe of the venue from mellow alt country to blue collar Springsteen-punk. Dance-y hipster swaying was quickly replaced by jumping, fist pumping, and some rather tame moshing.
Gaslight brought the hits. The crowd, while not as expansive as some earlier shows in the night, was far more intense. The collective age of Gaslight’s audience was also much more diverse than the endless droves of twenty somethings that characterized the rest of the day.
While Gaslight may not have attracted the same crowd as bands like Vampire Weekend, it was clear after playing songs like “45”, “Changing of the Guards” (Dylan cover) and “Handwritten” that anyone watching was thoroughly impressed.
Vampire Weekend, 9:00 PM, Blue Stage
“It’s still summer after all!” Vampire Weekend’s frontman Ezra Koenig exclaimed to an eager young crowd.
New York’s Vampire Weekend took the prime slot on Saturday night. With the release of the highly acclaimed Modern Vampires in the City (QRO review), the band has gone through a recent hype renaissance. Did they deliver? Yes.
It was very clear how much the group had been playing lately, in the best way possible. Completing an extensive European festival circuit earlier this summer along with numerous other shows, the prep-pop group displayed precision, energy, and stamina, as only well toured bands do.
Playing directly to the present audience, Vampire Weekend played the hits, and mentioned Cape Cod as many times as possible. It was no surprise to anyone that Vampire Weekend would be a fantastic show. Crowd pleasers included, “Holiday”, “A-Punk”, “Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)”, “Oxford Comma”, and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”.
As Vampire Weekend left the stage, everyone knew that it was time to get a good night sleep. Tomorrow would be Boston Calling 2, Day 2, the day of dance.