Boston Calling 2022 Review & Photos: Nine Inch Nails, Metallica & More

Andrew Bruss recaps the weekend of music and Bryan Lasky shares photos of the three-day event.

By Andrew Bruss May 31, 2022 10:38 am PDT

Boston Calling, the first held since COVID-19, already has a spot in the history books. Whether you consider the reasons good or bad, the folks who made it happen at Harvard Athletic Complex overcame every hurdle thrown their way, dramatically enhanced the inclusivity of the event and put on a hell of a show in the process.

In spring 2020, Boston Calling announced that Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters were going to be their headliners that year. Anyone covered by a Venn diagram of millennials and massholes was ecstatic. When COVID-19 proceeded to turn the world upside down and inside out, there was hope early on that the event could still take place over Memorial Day Weekend but those hopes faded fast.

Two years later, when the event was permitted to move forward, RHCP’s new tour schedule meant they would no longer be involved so they were replaced by The Strokes. Within 24 hours of Rage pulling the plug due to one of their numerous tour delays, they were replaced with Metallica, leaving Foo Fighters as the lone headlining act from the original bill on deck. Then, due to the recent passing of drummer/vocalist Taylor Hawkins, Foo Fighters canceled all of their upcoming performances and when, or if, they will play again is anyone’s guess. Enter Nine Inch Nails to take their place.

To the credit of event producers Crash Line Productions, Metallica and Nine Inch Nails are both acts of equal or greater status with considerable crossover appeal between their fans. And as far as plugging in The Strokes, two out of three ain’t bad! Yet still, moments before Nine Inch Nails took the stage Friday night, the audience found out that someone in The Strokes caught COVID-19 and NIN would be playing again the following night.

The next day was met with a thunderstorm that required an immediate evacuation of the festival grounds just after the audience discovered that King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard also had COVID-19 and wouldn’t be able to perform. Nobody knew if we’d be allowed back onto the grounds and if the show would go on, but even if it did, the two acts atop the bill that day (not counting the Red Hot Chili Peppers), weren’t going to perform.

So what happened? Folks got wet. They schmoozed with strangers. The skies cleared and Nine Inch Nails established themselves as the accidental hosts who saved an event that would have been a disaster without them. Had Trent Reznor declined their invitation, the headliners Friday and Saturday would have been Rüfüs Du Sol and Run The Jewels and with all due respect to both acts (who put on excellent sets), neither of them would be remotely adequate headliners for an event that had Metallica playing the same role two nights later.

Reznor said on Friday night it was a weird situation because they weren’t even supposed to be at Boston Calling and now they’d be there the next night as well. He joked on Saturday that he’d never have believed you if you’d told him that Nine Inch Nails would be known as The Reliable Band. He joked, “Birthday parties, Bar Mitzvahs… If anyone is going on vacation and needs us to water your plants, we’re here for you.”

What likely would have been a more conventional, hits-heavy festival set Friday night was converted into a show heavy on material from The Downward Spiral as well as a performance of “The Perfect Drug” off the soundtrack to David Lynch’s 1997 film, Lost Highway, and “Burn” from the soundtrack to 1994’s Natural Born Killers. Reznor, friend and acolyte of David Bowie, paid homage to his late hero both nights, playing “I’m Afraid of Americans” on Friday and the next, covering The Thin White Duke’s 1980 hit, “Fashion.” Over both nights, only a handful of songs were repeated and material from every obscure corner of the Nine Inch Nails discography had some light shone upon it.

An important aspect of the 2022 event’s DNA was the inclusion of a stage dedicated to local acts that had overflowing crowds the entire weekend. Born WIthout Bones played Friday evening to a crowd so loud their singing could be heard over the PA. Imagine how The Killers would sound if they actually had some horsepower under the hood and you can paint a picture of what Born Without Bones sounds like. Given the number of venues like Great Scott that served as incubators for local acts but closed due to COVID-19, the importance of a platform like this can’t be overstated, and frankly, it makes the job of the event’s promoter that much easier. After seeing Born Without Bones slay the crowd like a dragon, that’s one less act they have to find to play on the main stage next year.

While the very top of the bill wouldn’t show it, the acts performing over the weekend were considerably more inclusive than the event had been in years past. Between Orville Peck’s country singalong, the sheer showmanship of the HAIM sisters, Black Pumas endlessly engaging afternoon set or the unusually early set by Japanese Breakfast (who just played on the season finale of Saturday Night Live yet found themselves opening for Ripe), this was a bill that shined a light on a plethora of acts made up of people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, members of the LGBTQ+ community and women from all walks of life and a more inclusive lineup made for a considerably more diverse crowd than the event has had in years past.

Additionally, Boston Calling had a world-class ADA team that had ASL translators up on the stage while staffers driving wheelchair-capable golf carts gave folks with mobility issues help getting from one stage to another

The crowd on Sunday was at least double the size it had been the previous two days and was easily the largest in the history of Boston Calling. A source with the event confirmed that there were tens of thousands in attendance on Sunday and it was the only point throughout the weekend where Boston and state police deemed it necessary to monitor the sizable crowd by helicopter.

Without question, Metallica is the largest act Boston Calling has ever had perform and whether it’s Tool, Eminem, Travis Scott or Mumford and Sons, these acts, which regularly perform at the 19,580-person capacity home of the Boston Celtics, don’t have the draw that Metallica does. Metallica’s last show in this market was at the 65,878-person home of the New England Patriots and Metallica is a bigger draw than Rage, Foo Fighters or RHCP will ever be. The density of the crowd on Sunday was all the proof you needed.

The last time Metallica played a venue in this market with General Admission was at the old Foxboro Stadium before anyone had heard of Tom Brady, and given the cost associated with getting a close spot at a Metallica show with assigned seating, the opportunity for the most devout fan (with the most stamina and endurance) to get the best spot proved to be a draw no metalhead in New England could resist.

While the Boston Celtics were punching their ticket to the NBA Finals, Metallica put their fandom for the Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors aside to close out Boston Calling 2022 as only the prototypical metal gods could. With a hits-only set that completely ignored their three most recent albums, Metallica surprised no one by demonstrating consummate professionalism and a master course in showmanship to provide a predictable ending to a weekend that had been anything but.

Metallica used the kind of cable-suspended Spidercam you see hovering during NFL games to provide the audience with any number of views that both demonstrated the sheer size of the crowd while simultaneously getting so close you could see the chipped black nail polish on the fingers of guitarist Kirk Hammett and literally read the tattoos on the knuckles of frontman James Hetfield.

Metallica may not have been the first act to play an arena on a stage at the center of the floor, but starting with shows in support of 1996’s Load and continuing on tours behind 2003’s St. Anger and 2008’s Death Magnetic, they’ve mastered it like a science. For their end-stage performance at Boston Calling, they had mic stands set up on both far wings of the stage to accommodate Hetfield, Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo performing from one of any number of positions on the stage, ensuring that whatever your view, it was constantly changing. Up-and-coming rock acts would be wise to study the way Metallica uses the stage and this isn’t hyperbole.

Boston Calling had plenty of opportunities to go off the rails and get national attention for all the wrong reasons, but they took a plane that lost three of its four engines and pulled off a smooth landing someplace with better weather than their intended destination. You have to hope they have an easier go at things next year, but even if they don’t, it won’t matter.

Short of the emergence of a global pandemic, nothing can stop Boston Calling from putting on a world-class event where everyone is welcome.

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