Special thanks to Maia Kennedy, contributing editor, for her excellent photos.
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DAY TWO: SATURDAY, MAY 23, 2015
Krill is not a band you can easily describe. On their Bandcamp page they have their latest album, A Distant Fist Unclenching, tagged with “experimental garage krillwave pop rock Boston.” Actually, I suppose that does sum things up nicely. And, yes, they are a Boston band, so cheers to Boston Calling for booking locals, something they always make it a point to do. Listening to Krill live Saturday afternoon, many of their songs reminded me of early Nirvana and The Strokes. With a dash of Meatpuppets thrown in for good measure. Some of their songs were on the mellower end of the spectrum, but for the most part they were rather aggressive with their playing, unleashing the kind of kinetic energy you usually get from heavy rock bands like Foo Fighters or Motley Crue, though their sound is nothing like those bands. In any case, they sounded great and played well, getting Saturday off to a crushing start.
By the way, A Distant Fist Unclenching is on sale on Bandcamp for only $6 for the digital download. If you like experimental music that falls somewhere between garage rock and psychedelic pop, then I highly recommend you buy it.
Hailing from Newtown, Australia, DMA’S are a trio consisting of Tommy O’Dell, Matt Mason and Johnny Took. The interesting thing about the band is that each member is a frontman. They describe themselves as “three friends who came together making nostalgic garage pop in a bedroom in Newton.” They’ve been getting high praise ever since releasing their debut single “Delete.” NME picked them as a buzz band to watch and Blur’s Dave Rowntree named “Delete” is Record of the Week on XFM. Meanwhile, they’re selling out their first international tour, playing everywhere from Amsterdam to London. Suffice to say they were a band that a lot of people were looking forward to at Boston Calling, myself included. And they did not disappoint, giving festival-goers some shiny, melodic rock to bask in. Rock that split the difference between Oasis and The Killers. And I dare say that they have the potential to be just as big as those two if they continue kicking ass like they did at Boston Calling. Check out their self-titled EP on Spotify, it’s more than worthy of your attention: https://open.spotify.com/album/0zbc12ZzHWkfA0IjsVbWV9
MØ, otherwise known as Karen Marie Ørsted, is a Danish singer/songwriter. She also happens to be one of my favorite artists these days. Her album No Mythologies To Follow is incredible art pop, absolutely perfect from its potent beats to her soulful vocals and deep lyrics. If her name sounds vaguely familiar, it could be that you heard her fine collaborations with Iggy Azalea (“Beg For It”), Avicii (“Dear Boy”) or Major Lazer & DJ Snake (“Lean On”). But it’s when she makes songs by herself that she truly shines, in my opinion, and I think that is something just about anyone who was at Boston calling would agree with. As she sang the very first song of her set, the bass-heavy “Pilgrim,” people who weren’t already in front of the stage kept turning their heads to see who was playing and then they walked on over to watch her in action. On the album version of “Pilgrim,” she says mostly “hey yo” off in the background, but live she shouted it at the top of her lungs and had the audience shouting along with her and screaming with excitement. As she moved across the stage in a yellow sports bra and black workout pants, she reminded me of Sporty Spice. Speaking of which, I believe she actually did a partial cover of a song by The Spice Girls, but it was done before I could figure out which song it was. I was too busy swaying in my seat anyway. Plus, in my defense, it seemed like most of the audience didn’t even realize there was a bit by The Spice Girls in her set. Even before that, though, I had a hunch that The Spice Girls were one of the many acts that have informed the retro element of her sound. In any case, the highlight of her set was easily “Don’t Wanna Dance,” which was every bit as infectious as it is on her album.
RUN THE JEWELS:
Run The Jewels is the highly praised rap duo El-P and Killer Mike. They’re loved by fans and critics alike for their captivating beats, outstanding overall production and thought-provoking lyrics. I’ve been a fan ever since they released their self-titled debut as a free download. But it’s their recently released album Run The Jewels 2 that blew me away. The quality of their music is superior to just about any rapper you could name, especially in terms of their provocative lyrics. They’re not conformists or misogynists, their music has a sense of purpose. And that’s refreshing. I had high expectations for their set at Boston Calling and they did not disappoint. Far from it. On the contrary, they held me in a trance just seconds after they kicked things off with their self-titled song, “Run The Jewels.” (The interaction between the two was like watching a heated rap battle.) And they had all of Boston’s respect after El-P told the crowd, “I love Tom Brady. I don’t give a fuck what they say.” Highlights of their set included “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck),” “All Due Respect” and “Banana Clipper.” But their biggest moment was when they did a call and response with the audience during “Lie, Cheat, Steal.” It’s a wonder we didn’t all turn into criminals by the time they were done that one.
When I think of Tove Lo I always think of how you could switch the T and L and it would spell Love To. But that’s not why she’s called herself Tove Lo. At least I don’t think so. What we do know for certain is that her born name is Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson, so that’s obviously where the Tove comes from. And if you couldn’t tell from her name, she’s Swedish.
A superb and unique pop singer/songwriter, Tove Lo has been on my radar for quite some time now. Her music tends to be rougher around the edges and darker than your typical pop music, which made her the perfect artist to go on after Run The Jewels; she lightened the mood but not so much as to seem ridiculous after the gravity of their set.
Tove kicked things off with the first song from her album Queen of the Clouds, a sexed up number called “My Gun.” “Rip off your clothes for me,” she sang and got the audience screaming. Rather than keeping both of her hits (so far) for the end of her set, she performed “Not On Drugs” next, her voice brimming with emotion as she sang, “I’m not on drugs / I’m just in love.” A couple of songs later she did “Talking Body,” a punchy number if ever there was one, and those who weren’t already dancing a little where they stood started to do so. Obviously, you can only dance so much when you’re at a crowded festival, surrounded by other people, but the crowd did move. It was as though the crowd was actually one organism and the people were just its cells. In any case, it certainly responded well to Tove, who eventually closed her set with “Habits (Stay High),” which you could say is the antithesis of “Not On Drugs,” but nobody was about to call her out on that. They were too busy singing and dancing.
It should also be said that Tove’s set sounded exceptionally well and you could understand all of the lyrics, whereas some of the other artists had their sound mixed in such a way that you could barely make out a word that they were singing. So, cheers to Tove for that, too.
Gerard Way was the frontman of the popular alternative rock band My Chemical Romance. He’s since gone solo and I’ve been listening to his solo debut Hesitant Alien regularly for months. It’s raw, it’s aggressive, it’s heavy and it’s a whole lot of fun. It deals with dark themes, like most of the music Gerard has ever written, but his brutally honest lyrics are one of the main reasons he has such a loyal and large following. In fact, he’s one of those artists who could be hated by critics left and right and it wouldn’t cost him a single fan.
I had no doubt that Gerard would deliver one of the heaviest and most aggressive sets at Boston Calling. Sure, Tenacious D were going to be heavy, but their songs don’t carry the gravity of Gerard’s, being that they’re a comedy act. Which isn’t to say that they don’t take their music seriously. They do. But they’re more about provoking laughs than provoking thoughts. So, if a monster was going to be unleashed at Boston Calling, it was going to be Gerard Way. Unfortunately, he seemed to be having an off day, or maybe the sound mix wasn’t quite right; his songs sounded too raw for their own good live. So raw they might as well have been abrasive. That said, there was a lot of energy there and he was in good spirits. I just expected the songs to sound more like they do on the album, which is plenty raw enough already. For me, the highlight of his set was when she spoke up about transgender rights, saying, among other things, “I’m very supportive of people who are transgender.”
MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS:
Marina and the Diamonds is the stage name of Marina Lambrini Diamandis, who’s half Welsh and half Greek. And she’s 100% pure pop perfection. Ever since she released her debut single “Obsessions” in early 2009 I’ve been in love with her. To that end, the two artists I most wanted to see at Boston Calling were Marina and the Diamonds and St. Vincent; I wanted to see both equally. Why Marina? She’s has such a beautiful, unique voice. She could sing Bible verses and I would listen to it, her voice so flawless. Every song she releases is like a major moment in the world of pop. Don’t believe me? Just look around the internet. She’s loved by just about every pop fan on the planet. She has over 1.1 million likes on Facebook. Of course, she’s not another Britney Spears. Her brand of pop is artsy. It’s quirky. If I had to compare her to other artists I would say she’s like a cross between Lady Gaga and Kimbra. In any case, I was a little nervous before she hit the stage at Boston Calling. Her recordings are always top notch, but could she do her songs justice live? The answer: absolutely! She was truly amazing and gave my favorite performance of the festival.
She came out wearing a gold crown. At first glance, it looked like a lightning bolt. But upon further inspection I realized the lightning bolt was made of letters. Letters which spelled out the title of her new album, FROOT. But before she got into that, she kicked off her set with “Bubblegum Bitch,” which is arguably one of the catchiest pop songs ever written by any artist in the history of everything. OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the point – “Bubblegum Bitch” is delicious. It’s delicious on her album Electra Heart and it was even more delicious live. This is something most people who were at the festival would agree with, I do believe. Going into the show, I really didn’t know how popular she was, but hearing people sing along to “Forget,” a song from Froot, it was obvious that she is beloved by many. And they certainly take her music seriously, if the fact that they seemed to know the lyrics to all of her songs means anything. When she did “I Am Not A Robot” the audience was so loud at times that it was difficult to hear her. At least from where I was. However, it should be said that her sound was crystal clear, just like Tove Lo’s. If you were paying attention, you could easily understand Marina’s witty lyrics. Speaking of which, a highlight was definitely when she performed “Happy,” a syrupy ballad about finding happiness within yourself and all that good stuff. It’s a very emotional song on FROOT and she seemed to pour her heart into it once again as she sang it at Boston Calling. Later, as she performed hits like “Primadonna” and “Radioactive,” you couldn’t help but wonder why she isn’t as popular as Lady Gaga already. Her songs certainly do have the hooks. Maybe the problem is that her songs are a bit quirky, but that’s just part of her personality, part of what makes her unique. It’s a reason to like her, not shy away from her. Suffice to say, you should ignore the fact that she’s not on radio and go out and buy her albums and see her live the next time she’s in your area, because she gave one of the most tremendous pop performances I’ve ever seen. I have a feeling she’ll be headlining if she ever performs at Boston Calling again.
St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, is like the new Björk, so wild is her imagination, her songs bursting with creativity. When Annie gets an idea, she just takes the ball and runs with it. And each of her albums has its own unique sound, yet they all still sound like St. Vincent. Her latest album, which is self-titled, is the one she feels sounds the most like her. To that end, it’s because she felt that it sounded so much like her — like the music in her head — that she decided to make the album self-titled. So, what does St. Vincent sound like? To my ears, I would probably call her electronic pop because there are always electronic flourishes all over her songs; the devil is in the details. But that’s just one way of looking at her music. I suppose most would call it indie pop. But that could be anything, right? So, I guess in that sense it’s fitting, being that St. Vincent can and does do anything. One consistent element to her songs is her guitar work and she certainly showed off her chops at Boston Calling. Damn, she can shred. Her voice sounded fabulous but at times her guitar work was so on fire that it stole the spotlight at times. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
St. Vincent opened with “Birth In Reverse,” one of the most addictive songs on her self-titled album, and she was shining like a diamond, lighting up that stage with her arresting presence. She might have a different haircut now, but as she moved about the stage, everything appeared to be choreographed – like when I saw her at the House of Blues last year – and it added a unique element to her performance; it was as though you were watching an alien. And people were nothing short of worshiping her for it. As she moonwalked across the stage, she held you in a trance. You felt as though you were actually watching someone walk on the moon, that’s how cool she was. And hearing her sing was like witnessing an act of God. But, then you either got her or you didn’t. She’s one of those artists you either love or hate. Fortunately, the people attending Boston Calling loved her. And it was a two way street: as she sang catchy songs like “Rattlesnake” and “Digital Witness,” cracking the occasional smile, it was obvious that she loved the audience as much as they loved her. It was wonderful. And, boy, she can play some blistering guitar solos. Her and Beck should team up and do an album of guitar solos, just jamming out together.
BEN HARPER AND THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS:
The first thing that must be said about Ben Harper is that he’s a living legend. Beyond that, he’s known for his ability to do everything from folk to soul to rock to blues to reggae to polka. OK, so I’m kidding about polka, but I’m sure he could do polka if that’s something he ever decided he wanted to do. Another thing he’s known for is being a remarkable singer with memorable voice that you can’t forget once you’ve heard a few of his songs. He’s also known for his passionate guitar playing, though guitar is merely one of the instruments he can play. I wasn’t sure what to expect from his set at Boston calling because we weren’t just seeing Ben Harper, we were seeing Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals. And while I have a few Ben Harper albums, I do not have any with The Innocent Criminals and all I could find on Spotify was a live album they did in 2001. Based on that live album, I speculated that his set at Boston Calling would be heavier, more in the rock vein, than the albums I have, which are more on the folk side of things. But I was mistaken. Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals struck me as being more of a blues band. And they seemed more intent on jamming than playing actually songs. Don’t get me wrong – songs were played, but there were long solos here, there and everywhere and it felt like it was meandering after a while. It zig-zagged so much that I really couldn’t wrap my head around it. I truly wanted to love it but I just couldn’t. It wasn’t accessible to me. And that’s just fine, the whole point to a festival with an eclectic bunch of artists like Boston Calling is to have something for everyone. So, I’m sure there were people there who totally dug their blues explosion. Just not my cup of tea.
MY MORNING JACKET:
My Morning Jacket were formed in Louisville, Kentucky in 1998. They released their debut album The Tennessee Fire the following year and they’ve been trotting along ever since, picking up fans here and there, growing quite a large fan base. At times they’ve sounded like psychedelic rock, roots rock, country rock and southern rock. You might as well throw alternative rock in there, too. But here’s the thing: the band has long since finished dabbling in different musical styles. Instead, they’ve taken what they liked from each style and incorporated it into a sound that’s wholly their own. A sound that’s damn near unclassifiable. This has been especially evident on their three latest albums, Evil Urges (2008), Circuital (2011) and the just released new album The Waterfall. The problem I have with this is that it seems like they’re just rewriting the same handful of songs over and over again at this point. And that’s how I felt about their set at Boston Calling. One song blended into another and sometimes I couldn’t tell where one ended and the next began. I was able to get absorbed in Tame Impala’s psychedelic voyage but My Morning Jacket’s just never took flight for me. But, as I just wrote about Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals, I’m sure plenty of people loved them. I just kind of felt like I was being told a joke that I just didn’t understand.
Stay tuned for our day three coverage coming soon!
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