Boston Calling kicked off the weekend to a mid-sized crowd on a hot, windy day, which gave me major flashbacks to the Big Day Out and Falls Festivals past. Within the first ten minutes I was sweaty, covered in dirt, and had sneezed about a hundred times. But if you don’t get a little grimy and uncomfortable, did you even go to a festival?
Boston Calling is held at Harvard Stadium in… ah, Boston… and hosted five tents: Red, Green, Delta Blue, the IKEA Music Lab for electronic acts, and the Arena Stage for a variety of comedians and live podcast shows.
Big Thief were playing on the Green stage when I arrived, and could be heard throughout the festival grounds. The songs in their set didn’t provide a lot of variety to those gathered to listen, and unfortunately their sound was a little jarring in such a large space. Their acoustic sound may have been better suited to a smaller tent, but despite these problems they delivered an overall enjoyable, relaxing set.
Over on the Delta Blue Stage, Citizen played an energetic set. Lead singer Mat Kerekes’ voice was clear over the top of the band’s instruments and it added an emotional element to every song.
While many, myself included, were driven by curiosity to see what Pussy Riot had to offer, many, myself included, chose to leave after their politically charged intro, where they answered questions including, “What’s the deal with Putin and Trump?” and, “Why are you angry?” All four members remained masked during their set, as they jumped along to their energetic beats and told us about their time in prison.
Maggie Rogers had an influx of people arrive at the end of her time on the Red stage, and her harmonious melodies were the perfect interlude into Portugal. The Man.
The band have been killing it over the last 12 months, mainly a result of their cross over hit “Feel it Still”, which is still my most Shazam-ed song ever, since I kept forgetting it was them every time I heard it. I’d bet about 50% of the crowd were waiting for that track, but they didn’t give it up easily. The band have grown as performers since the first time I saw them at Splendour 2013, and have added some real depth to their stage presence and energy, even though they didn’t banter with the crowd or each other.
They mixed riffs from “Brick in the Wall” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” into their own tracks, and delivered a consistent set, complete with a brass section. While “Feel it Still” got the biggest reception, special mentions go to “Creep in a T-Shirt” and “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.”
The National played to a large crowd on the Red Stage, and hosted a couple of special guests. Natalie Portman was the first, who came out to introduce them.
I am of the opinion that when a band plays a festival, they should open strong with a track or two that everyone knows before easing into anything new, but it seems The National are not of this opinion at all.
I do know the band have toured their earlier albums extensively, and are likely excited to perfect tracks from 2017’s Sleep Well Beast, however, playing four – rather slow, subdued – songs from it first up at a festival may not be the best way to go. The National are already a band who have to work to keep a festival crowd interested, what with their melancholy, quiet songs that pop up in each set, so opening with brand new songs was a risk that didn’t quite pay off.
The opening chord to “Don’t Swallow the Cap” caused a guy near me to incorrectly identify it as “AC/DC!”. The song did inject some energy into the set, which continued with old hit “Afraid of Everyone”, that had the crowd clapping and singing along.
Other highlights included Maggie Rogers joining them on stage to sing “I Need My Girl”, the always manic “Mr November”, and Matt Berninger jumping off stage to walk through the crowd for “Terrible Love”.
The National took a risk, but The Killers took an even bigger one by opening their set with their biggest hit.
The first line to “Mr Brightside” got everyone going, and the band barely missed a beat for the rest of the night. Lead singer Brandon Flowers ran around the stage as he sang, and encouraged the crowd to sing along during all of their hits.
“Somebody Told Me” also made an early appearance – sandwiched between two new tracks – and they showed every other band on the lineup exactly how to headline a festival.
Of the many, many highlights, the biggest were when they paid tribute to Tom Petty, with a cover of “American Girl”, when they pulled out “Can You Read My Mind”, and followed it with “All These Things That I’ve Done.”
They took yet another risk by waiting a while to come out for an encore, which meant a lot of people had started walking toward the exit by the time they played “When You Were Young.”
The first day of Boston Calling was an enjoyable mixed bag.
The reviewer attended this event on May 25th – stay tuned for more Boston Calling coverage on the AU!