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.
After a Day 1 that primarily kept to indie, folk, and rock, Sunday of Boston Calling pulled a 180°, and could have been easily mistaken as a completely different festival.
Lose your ironic mustaches and skinny jeans and slap on your headbands and fairy wings. It was EDM time.
With the recent tragedies at Boston’s House of Blues, and the cancellation of an entire day of the Electric Zoo, there were murmurs and theories prior to the show that the ‘untz’ of Sunday’s electro-based bands, might be in jeopardy. Fortunately, for all of those in attendance, this was not the case.
Another nearly perfect day welcomed fans early afternoon for a dance party the likes of which Boston had never seen.
Royal Teeth, 12:50 PM, Red Stage
Things got started out with the second band invited to perform as Sonicbid’s ‘up and coming acts’ contest. Royal Teeth, the Louisiana dream pop outfit took the stage with tangible and enthusiasm, in spite of the smaller early crowd. Only three years out from their inception, Royal Teeth has accomplished a lot year.
The band released their debut LP, Glow, in mid-August, and produced a video for it’s single “Wild”.
This wasn’t the first festival that Royal Teeth was invited to this year; they were the winners of Nikon’s “Creative Invite” contest that landed them at SXSW (QRO recap).
The rhythm-based sextet is known for their fun and catchy pop songs and onstage excitement. The vocal harmonies of singers Gary Larsen and Nora Patterson ride on top of a standout rhythm section. Their songs conjure similarities to Temper Trap, Prince, and whatever Of Monsters and Men might sound like with a heavy synth (or while recording on a molly binge – not sure if that’s PC…)
The band displayed a remarkable tightness for a newer band with such young musicians. Highlights of the set were their hit “Wild”, a mesmerizing cover of The Knife’s (or José Gonzales’ to some) “Heartbeats”, and their ode to Louisiana, “Mais La” – proclaimed by the band as “really fun to sing”. They were right, it was.
Bearstronaut 1:30 PM, Blue Stage
Local rising stars Bearstronaut came next. Their music, aptly described by some as ‘tank top pop’, was certainly the match that lit the dance inferno that consumed Boston that day. Their ‘80s pop-synth vibe was placed perfectly in the day.
“Moniker”, off of their 2011 record, Satisfied Violence, was the most popular and sung-along song of the set. About half way through “Moniker”, the band switched to the song’s bridge. Suddenly the entire progression changed. It would be a lie to say that that only one festivalgoer screamed “Get Lucky!” at this point, calling the seemingly obligatory cover of the day.
After a bar or two of very RAM sounding disco/funk, a sigh of relief was breathed as the band slipped back into their chorus. The band had kept their dignity, and no Daft Punk (QRO album review) cover was played.
Taking full advantage of the warmed up crowd, the band introduced their newest single “Where I’ll Die”, which was released just five days before.
By the time Bearstronaut left the stage, Boston Calling was ready to go.
Big Black Delta, 2:00 PM, Red Stage
Back on the red stage, Big Black Delta brought a different breed of dance music. While the ‘80s-esque vocals of Jonathan Bates were reminiscent of Bearstronaut’s David Martineau (see above), the music was darker and driven heavily by their dual drummers.
The band showcased their newest single “Side of the Road”, from their recently released self-titled album. Highlights of the night included a very cool mash-up of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” and The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”.
Bates’ Mick Jagger moves and badass female drummer made for a unique and entertaining set.
Flume, 2:45 PM, Blue Stage
With three bands down, which were composed of multiple instrumentalists, Flume, a.k.a. Harley Streten, was the first proper DJ of the day. The size of the audience easily doubled as hundreds of rave kids emerged from the woodwork. The 21-year-old Aussie must have found the master volume knob at the festival, because the dub/house coming from the stage was absolutely deafening.
Flume’s music focuses more on complex sample layering and melodies than raw EDM bass drops. The sound is mellower, and arguably more refined than the pounding beats and Michael Bay-esque effects that have become so standard in the EDM scene.
Not much of a showman, Streten stayed focused on his decks for the duration of the set. The lack of musician/audience interaction had little to no affect on the crowd, which fist pumped enthusiastic to the beats.
Solange, 3:30 PM, Red Stage
While the rave kids retreated to the beer garden for a quick pre-Flosstradamos beverage, Solange Knowles, or Solange for short, brought a welcome change of pace to the festival. The kid sister of Beyoncé and her band kept the crowd dancing with stripped down and funkified versions of her songs.
If one song could capture the vibe of Solange’s set, it would be the cover of The Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move” set to the music of Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive”. A nod to the performance by TDP on the same stage in May (QRO photos)? Maybe. Was it awesome? Yes.
Flosstradamus, 4:30 PM, Blue Stage
Up next, was possibly the perfect ying to Flume’s yang: Chicago’s DJ duo Flosstradamus. These two cranked the twerk-o-meter to 11. In a similar style to Girl Talk, Flosstradamus injected a healthy dose of gutter rap and R&B into their mix. While most Boston Calling attendees may have come to see Major Lazer or Passion Pit (see below), the party of the day was hosted by Flosstradamus.
Possibly more entertaining than the ‘drop’ heavy collection of pop music guilty pleasures was the on-stage antics of J2K (Josh Young) and Autobot (Curt Cameruci). Phrases heard from the stage: “Where my twerk team tonight?”, “When I say roll, you say up”, “Legalize dat sh*t” (on at least 5 different occasions).
The highlight of the set was when Flosstradamus demanded “All the ladies out there, get ‘em on them shoulders!” The crowd obliged. More than 300 female fans rose above the crowd.
Wolfgang Gartner, 5:30 PM, Red Stage
By the end of Floss’ set, Government Center was in full-on rage mode. Wolfgang Gartner was passed the baton with a thoroughly warmed-up crowd. The electro-house DJ might not have had the same stage presence as the previous act, but he certainly sustained the energy level of the night.
Major Lazer, 6:30 PM, Blue Stage
Major Lazer could be considered the EDM headliner of the day, and many in attendance were present simply to see their set.
The frontman of the Major Lazer crew, Diplo (Tom Pentz) held down the decks while cohorts Jillionaire and Walshy Fire attended to crowd-work duty. From their opening song “Pon De Floor” to their closing cover of Bunji Garlin’s “Differentology”, Major Lazer ensured that all in attendance were dancing.
Along with the moombahton beats came more crowd interaction than any band of the weekend. Female dancers wielding fire extinguishers, huge blow up M & L letters, and a Flaming Lips (QRO spotlight on)-style ‘man-in-a-inflatable-ball’ stunt are only a few of the numerous visual goodies given out during the set.
The band threw in their popular hits, such as “Get Free”, “Watch Out for This” and “Bubble But”, but also added covers of Nirvana’s “Rape Me” and Snoop’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot”.
Kendrick Lamar, 7:45 PM, Red Stage
Throughout the duration of the festival, a sign language interpreter accompanied each act. The interpreter epitomized what a high school music teacher from the Boston suburbs looks like: White. Middle Aged. Probably named Martha. In all honesty, she was a hit. The lady was always dancing, and very enthusiastic. She was even given shout-outs by a number of acts.
When Kendrick Lamar took the stage, it was questioned that our ‘Martha’ would ‘sign out’ his sometimes profane and racially charged lyrics. Lo and behold, she didn’t miss a lyric, although, it was general consensus that she played the radio edit versions of songs like “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “Swimming Pool”, and yes, “F*cking Problems”.
Passion Pit, 9:00 PM, Blue Stage
While Saturday at Boston Calling was mostly comprised of northeastern bands, Sunday was far more diverse. However, the local band theme made its reprise when Passion Pit took the stage.
Frontman Michael Angelakos attended college at Emerson College, which is within earshot of Government Center, and the rest of the band went to also-near Berklee College of Music.
The local band took the headline slot on a very dance-centric Sunday. On paper, the band seemed a bit out of place in Sunday’s lineup. While they have some electronic-y songs, such as “Folds In Your Hands”, they’re more widely accepted as an indie pop band. However, after their set, no one could argue that Passion Pit was the best possible choice.
Passion Pit, who always introduce themselves as a, “band from Boston,” performed graciously to a packed crowd. Angelakos satisfied the masses with Boston-based banter, name dropping popular small venues and enunciating their Boston pride.
The weekend closed with sing-a-longs and what felt like a celebration of the City of Boston. Quite fitting for the festival. Boston had improved their proven ability to run an urban festival, and did so with locally sourced talent. Bravo.