Friday September 5, 2014 – Boston, Massachusetts
The reason why the headline above indicates that this edition of the Boston Calling Festival takes place in September, as if that weren’t obvious, is simple: there was already a Boston Calling Festival this year, back in June. I’m still sorry that I didn’t ask for press access, especially since it was apparently Jenny Lewis’ only Boston area appearance this year. Suffice to say I am so grateful that I was approved to cover this September’s festival, which included several of my other favorites, namely The National, Sky Ferreira, Bleachers, Girl Talk, Lorde, Childish Gambino, The 1975 and Nas, the latter of which performed a unique set with The Roots, who also performed a set of their own. Other artists appearing included The Hold Steady, Volcano Choir, The War On Drugs, Twenty-One Pilots, Spoon and The Replacements. Lots of big names! And there were plenty of newer artists and solo projects to discover as well, including St. Nothing, Clifflight, S.Carey, Gentlemen Hall and San Fermin.
The cool thing about Boston Calling is that they have two stages but only have one going at once, although Friday’s artists were all on the Jetblue Stage, which I’ll simply refer to as the blue stage in my coverage from this point on. Friday and Saturday there were also many artists appearing on the Capital One 360 Red Stage, which I’ll simply be calling the red stage. Aside from the fact that only one artist is playing at a time, the stages aren’t miles away from each other, so you can potentially see all of the artists, unlike other festivals where you have to pick and choose and half of your favorites are playing at the exact same time. To that end, I caught almost all of the artists, though I missed Lorde and Childish Gambino because the threat of a second thunderstorm sent me heading home, wrongly assuming that the show would be canceled. The two did ultimately end up performing though. Only Volcano Choir and Girl Talk did not get to perform.
Another totally awesome thing about Boston Calling is that it takes place in the city. Boston is an exciting city, giving off a constant, vibrant energy, so to have all of this energy surrounding me while I was digging all of these great performances was amazing. I’ve rarely felt so alive. Definitely more so than I’ve felt at the average concert I’ve been to – and I’ve been to some great ones. What also made the event feel so special was the fact that everyone was so peaceful. You didn’t overhear people arguing, much less see any fighting. At least I didn’t. People felt so safe there that many of them brought children, some of which looked as young as three. You might think it inappropriate to bring kids to what is essentially an extra long rock concert, but they seemed to be enjoying the experience. I suppose through their eyes it looked like a weird carnival with no rides and very strange music. And I saw kids who were probably no older than six actually dancing to the music along with their parents. Amazing. You didn’t see anyone smoking around them either. In fact, you didn’t see anybody smoking anywhere at all. Granted, it must not have been allowed, but usually you see people smoking anyway, especially at outdoor shows. What you did see was people eating and drinking. To that end, the festival had plenty to offer. My favorite was the three cheese grilled cheese from Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, who were mass producing them right before your very eyes along with a hugely popular grilled cheese made with muenester cheese, guacamole and bacon. Other things I believe I saw people eating included Japanese food – lots of edamame – and sheppard’s pie. Plus, upscale versions of the usual festival fare like fancy sausages and gourmet hot dogs. And in the beverages department Samuel Adams Octoberfest easily dominated the festival and they were selling Angry Orchard Hard Cider and decent wine as well as their reknowned beer. Suffice to say that they had something for everyone, both in their line up and on the menu.
Now, onto my coverage of the artists… Note that there aren’t many photos of the artists because I didn’t have an appropriate camera to get a photo pass. And the photos I took from where I was situated just make them look like super tiny, skinny versions of Hobbits.
The festival kicked things off with a three artist line up Friday night, probably because most people have to work on Fridays and wouldn’t be able to get there in time to see earlier artists. The first artist to go on was Baltimore, Maryland’s synthylicious band Future Islands, who were actually formed in January 2006 in Greenville, North Carolina. They’re a trio consisting of Gerrit Welmers (keyboards and programming), William Cashion (bass, acoustic and electric guitars), and Samuel T. Herring (lyrics and vocals). They’ve grown increasingly popular during recent years following the success of their beautiful 2011 album On The Water, which they followed up earlier this year with their fabulous new record Singles. They began their fantastic Boston Calling set with “Back in the Tall Grass,” a song with a title that would be perfect for opening at a farm style festival but which was just as appreciated in the heart of Boston. “Home isn’t open / It’s like, when you get here,” Samuel fittingly sang as the song began. Later, the song went, “We’re a long way from home / A long way from home / How did we get here?” Good question! My guess is by playing great music! And the crowd loved them, people swaying about to their bouncy drum beats.
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL:
Neutral Milk Hotel were formed way back in 1989 by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Mangum of The Olivia Tremor Control fame. Since 1997 the line up has also included Jeremy Barnes, Scott Spillane and Julian Koster, all of whom are multi-instrumentalists as well. Crazy talented cats and they generated lots of kinetic energy Friday night with truly unique and experimental songs that blurred the lines between psychedelic rock and heavy metal like “I Will Bury You In Time” and their three part “The King of Carrot Flowers.” They might not have released any new music since 2011’s EP Ferris Wheel on Fire, but Friday night they sounded as vital and in chic as ever. But their performance was also noteworthy for two offenses no other artists that I saw would make. First, they asked that no photos or videos be taken “and that includes cell phones.” This I can understand, having been to other concerts where the artists have made such a request, such as She & Him. The idea is for people to watch the show and enjoy it, rather than documenting it. But the other thing the band didn’t do isn’t so understandable: they didn’t let the festival show the stage on its three large video screens. Which basically meant that they just looked like faceless ants to the people far away, to whom not using the video screen felt like a slap in the face. I was off in the back, under City Hall – it has an open space between its foundation and the rest of the building – so I was frustrated by not being able to see their expressions, to be able to see their fingers move as they did their fancy fretwork, etc. I did, however, enjoy their wonderful and highly original music nevertheless.
(You probably already know what the next few sentences will read, but I felt like I needed to write them for the rare reader who doesn’t know.) Although they’re currently based in Brooklyn, indie rock darlings The National were formed in Cincinnati, Ohio back in 1999. But it was only after moving to New York that their popularity really started to take off, largely due to their frequent shows at the Lower East Side venue Luna Lounge. Although they gradually built up a bigger and bigger fan base, it was their fourth album, Boxer, that really had everyone talking. (And that’s when I became a fan.) What you probably don’t know is that vocalist/lyricist Matt Berninger was one of the co-curators of the Boston Calling Music Festival, so chances are he selected the two artists to perform before them. (Also, The National performed at the very first Boston Calling.) And I’m sure he had a hand in picking The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm” as the music that played while the video screens showed the band making their walk out onto the stage. They began their nineteen song headliner set with “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” which quickly made it clear that The National sound much heavier live than they do on their albums. And, as it turned out, heavy suited them just fine. Next up was “I Should Live in Salt” followed by “Ada,” the later of which they ended with some of Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” Their monster hit “Bloodbuzz Ohio” followed. And while the album version has plenty of energy, live it was over-flowing with it, thanks in part to multiple people playing sonorous horns. Their set also included some softer moments, though. Among them was my favorite song of the night, “I Need My Girl.” They closed their set with “Mr. November,” “Terrible Love” and a lovely acoustic rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” Ultimately, they set the bar very high for the headliners who’d follow the next two nights.
Day Two coverage coming soon…