Review & Photos | Boston Calling Music Festival | Massachusetts

Images by: Andrew Bruss

Words by: Benjamin Tan

Boston Calling Music Festival :: 9.7.13 - 9.8.13 :: City Hall Plaza :: Boston, MA

Andrew Bruss's Photos followed by Benjamin's review...

The Boston Calling music festival returned to Boston's City Hall Plaza for its second installment of the year this past weekend. New JamBase contributor Ben Tan shares his take on both days of the event.

SATURDAY

The first day’s lineup leaned towards rock, mixing blues and folk tradition with quirkier alternative sounds. Viva Viva jump-started the festival with minimalist blues-rock straight out of the Woodstock era. The seven-piece ensemble recalls the Doors and the Brian Jonestown Massacre with its three-chord appropriations of classic rock tropes, but keeps the raw energy up with command akin to the Rolling Stones. Local duo You Won’t followed, blending folky songwriting with unorthodox two-man instrumentation. Indie outfit Lucius hits the spot if you dig unconventional percussion, heart-wrenching vocal harmonies…AND TWINS!

Okkervil River kicked off their set with the piano-driven shuffle of “It Was My Season,” a '60s pop permutation of the band’s characteristic woe-is-me sound. Deer Tick brought on some more bluesy, roots-rock sounds, anchored by the growl of John McCauley. The band made the daring decision to play their latest album, Negativity, in its entirety at this very festival, a bold move that disappointed fans but cemented the group’s faith in the album. The new tunes move away from alt-country and freak-folk and towards soul – the rhythms conjure horn lines even when brass isn’t present.

The Airborne Toxic Event raised the bar with their incredible energy and stage presence, carried by the raw, emotional singing of Mikel Jollett, not to mention two of George Harrison’s Gretsch guitars and stagediving violist Anna Bulbrook. The band saved the best for last – they already won over the crowd with a cathartic set of originals, but truly erupted the city with their cover of rock classic “I Fought The Law.” The day had been leading up to this, like an upper kicking in, and the band killed it so hard that the next couple acts felt like a come-down. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve always respected the offbeat, experimental flavors of alternative rock. Bat for Lashes brought on the chill wave, with an ultra-European blend of soaring female vocals, keyboards and trip- hop percussion. Local Natives kicked off their set with “World News,” a thumping, harmony-drenched number reminiscent of Fleet Foxes, with hints of the polyrhythmic afrobeat and baroque guitar and synth lines that define the sound.

With tough acts to follow, Jersey boys The Gaslight Anthem headlined the Red Stage with an instrumental arsenal of three guitars. But front man Brian Fallon’s husky voice proved the band’s true weapon for the performance, and no other acts on the day’s bill matched Gaslight’s energy. This power can’t be fully appreciated through the recordings. The Springsteen-on-crack combination - heavy drums, melodic-but- forceful guitar hooks, and Fallon singing his ass off for an hour – must be seen live to be believed.

Vampire Weekend took the stage to a flowery wallpaper and enormous funhouse mirror as their backdrop, visuals that further embrace the band’s posh, clean-cut, super-suburban image. For better or for worse, the band tends to reproduce the studio versions of its songs to the letter live, incorporating digital tricks and carefully-timed recordings. This approach does keep the quartet on their toes, and the live renditions preserve the intensity of rockers like “Diane Young” and “A-Punk,” as well as the intricate afrobeat of songs like “White Sky.” I became familiar with a lot of these songs at my college radio station, but it took this performance for me to fully appreciate songs like “Giving Up The Gun” as some of the catchiest anthems of the festival.

SUNDAY

The second day broke from past lineups by venturing into dance, rap and R&B. Louisiana dance pop band Royal Teeth commenced the festivities on Sunday, with plenty of energy and percussion to get people moving and reward them for arriving early. Boston boys Bearstronaut strike an upbeat balance between analog and digital elements, with '80s rhythms and lounge-singer crooning from David Martineau. Big Black Delta had an unusual onstage visual: crooning lead singer Jonathan Bates backed by his laptop and two drummers, busting out a tricked-out cover of “Bittersweet Symphony.”

Solange came off as a stylistic anomaly in the bill – taking the stage flaunting an Afro and in full retro-soul mode, an old-school song-and-dance artist backed by an old-fashioned band in the middle of a bill dominated by digital gear. Her tight band owned grooves straight from the '70s and '80s, and Solange proved to be a charismatic performer in her own right, demonstrating a dynamic vocal ability and some impressive dance moves and stage presence. She truly held her own amongst the day’s dance and hip-hop giants, proving to have a sizable following once they sang along to the '80s Madonna jam “Losing You.” Considering whose genetic shadow she lives in, the adoration and respect she’s earned from fans and critics becomes all the more impressive.

Rave mode kicked into full gear as DJs took to the stage. DJ sets from Flume and Flosstradamus brought the dubstep with plenty of atonal but rhythmically thumping samples and scratching. DJ Wolfgang Gartner came armed with bone-rattling bass and stinging treble in his loops. Samples ran the gamut from strings and a choir, tribal percussion and the familiar sound of a dial-up modem, by now such an EDM cliché that Gartner’s use of it to introduce his set comes off as self-aware and tongue-in-cheek.

The day’s DJs and bands all worked the crowds quite impressively, but as the day progressed and heavier hitters took the stage, the showmanship and command of the crowd increased. Reggae jocks Major Lazer took theatrics to a new level with twerking dancers, a plastic ball on loan from the Flaming Lips, a costumed mascot and a gun full of confetti. But the music itself beckons the crowd to dance, jump, and mosh, adding dancehall embellishments to club standards like “Jump Around,” “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “Harlem Shake.” The team equally engaged the audience with chill-out anthem “Get Free,” sung by Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors.

As red-hot rapper Kendrick Lamar took the stage, each member of the crowd became a hype-man for songs like “Fuckin’ Problems” and “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Finally, hometown heroes Passion Pit capped the festival with their signature blend of upbeat, synth-laden melodies, played with the intensity of punk, and carried by the unique falsetto voice of Michael Angelakos. The crowd sang along to the hooks of “The Reeling,” “Carried Away” and other dance-pop gems, a triumphant ending to another star-studded Boston Calling.


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