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. Khan 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, Khan 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.
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.
-words: Ryan Reading
-photos: Mike Condon