Boston Calling Music Festival made its third annual appearance Memorial Day Weekend. The festival is still gaining its footing and the weekend was unique to say the least.
Lisa Hannigan and the National’s guitarist, Aaron Dessner, kicked off, or rather quietly strummed and softly whispered their way into the festival Friday evening. They played before a modest size crowd, but added a mellow acoustic touch to the entire plaza.
Following, Sufjan Stevens was by far the most surprising act. His performance was more theatrical than anything. He came out with his band in bright, exotic, workout outfits and immediately broke into a synchronized choreographed dance. He ended his opening song by smashing his banjo. Stevens told the crowd his band had just finished touring the world, “singing songs about death and loneliness,” and that they was ready to have some fun. And that he definitely did. He changed outfits twice more during his hour-long set and kept to more up-tempo songs. His second outfit was a metallic, tinsel get-up and then he somehow changed into a suit made entirely of balloons. For the last 15 minutes of his set, the stage exploded with five air-balloon dancers, you know the ones that you see outside car dealerships. These added a spooky psychedelic effect to his alternative, pop-techno beats.
Headliner Sia closed the night with a mesmerizing performance. The Aussie pop star came out with her signature black and white wig covering her face and opened with “Alive.” I think I saw more Sia wigs than flower crowns at the festival and I’m not sure if that was a good thing. Her performance was rather minimal. She came with no band, just a DJ. She modestly stood in the corner of the stage; her set had no flashy lights or colors – just pure singing for an hour long. The coordination between the dancers and Sia’s vocals was impeccable. However, the dancing that was shown on the big screens was pre-recorded. So no, Kristen Wiig and Paul Dano were not actually there. She finished the night with a simple thank you after a jaw-dropping rendition of Chandelier.
Saturday came in hot. Literally. With temperatures in the 90s nearly the entire the day, the crowd lacked energy. Because the festival is set up in an open terrace in the middle of the city, the chances of you finding shade were slim to none. In addition, there was one water filtration system with a line that was never-ending. Saturday’s line-up was a bit random as well. It seemed to lack a sense of direction and focus. The day went from the hip-hop artist Lizzo to Battles, a rock band, and then threw in The Vaccines, an indie band. Unlike larger festivals where they get away with having a mash up of artists because you can pick and choose whom you see, Boston Calling’s two main stages are adjacent to each other, so there can never be two bands playing simultaneously. The festival did incorporate a third stage this year, but it was solely dedicated to a few local bands and comedic acts.
Towards the middle of the day, the lineup started to make a little more sense.BØRNS came out fast with his androgynous vocals. He put on a magical performance, opening with Seeing Stars and closing with Electric Love. Following, Australian rock artist, Courtney Barnett and Canadian indie folk band City and Colour slowed the day down a bit before EDM duo ODEZSA took the stage. Many argue ODEZSA shouldn’t be considered EDM. I even overheard one person say, “They’re almost like an EDM band.” I think we’re seeing more up and coming EDM artists adding a softer and more deep house touch to their music Their performance was by far the best of the day. It was cosmic and tranquil. The sun had finally begun to set and the temperature wasn’t suffocating. They came with a full band and featured songs mainly from their 2014 album ‘In Return.’
Saturday ended with a rather dull performance from Robyn. For a headliner, the crowd was scarce. Perhaps her decision to remix all of her songs wasn’t the best move. Overall Saturday could’ve used more notable artists, some shade, and a larger crowd.
The sun took a break and it was a breezy 60 degrees for Boston Calling’s final day. Sunday had the largest crowd and a well-packed lineup. Boston Calling has lacked the incorporation of female artists in their previous lineups, but this year was much different. Sunday had three back-to-back female performances. First with Ohio native Elle King, who has a twangy country rock style voice. She was engaging and hilarious on stage. With her electric blue hair and glittered eye shadow she told the crowd, “The funny thing about the banjo – they’re more temperamental than I am. And I’m a bitch.”
Janelle Monáe put on an incredible performance right after. She truly rose the festival’s energy to an all time high. She gave several speeches on equality and fighting for what you believe in. She closed her set by covering Prince’s “Lets go Crazy” as a tribute to him.
Monáe wasn’t the only one to honor the rock legend that weekend. Female rock band HAIM covered Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” with French band Christine and the Queens, who had performed earlier that day. HAIM also debuted several newly recorded songs from their upcoming album that is set to come out this year.
The day ended with a bass-heavy performance from the English electronic powerhouse duo, Disclosure. Both brothers had their own station equipped with a few drums, a base guitar, and we heard vocals from Howard Lawrence during their song Jaded.
Boston Calling definitely has some kinks to work out, but it has potential to make its mark as a great music festival. Hopefully with its expansion to Harvard University’s recreational facilities in Allston, MA and its decision to remove its September festival, Boston Calling will be able to bring more bands and have stages where performers can play simultaneously.