Lorde, The 1975 and more Win over Bean Town at September Music Festival
It was a musical weekend for everyone as Boston’s biggest music festival sprouted two stages for the fourth time at downtown Government Center. Approximately 45,000 people filed into City Hall Plaza to see what was perhaps the biannual festival’s most diverse lineup of artists to date. Boston Calling, which has since its inception strived to strike a balance between local and national/international acts, this September played host to 23 artists spanning a wide array of genre and popularity/acclaim. Saturday and Sunday night saw the unlikely pairings of Lorde and Childish Gambino, and The Replacements and Nas. While fans of one artist were often unfamiliar with the other’s repertoire, the Boston crowd spent the weekend side-by-side in musical reverie.
In short, the crowds were an eclectic mix of the young and the old, the male and the female – from screaming high school girls to tight-jeaned twenty-something professionals and gray-haired adults, Boston Calling’s fall lineup attracted quite the demographic array. Offering something for everyone is certainly a good sell for a city-wide music festival – as well as for artists out to make new fans – but it definitely has its fair share of risk. Still in its second year of existence, Boston Calling has not run into this issue yet, in part due to its innovative marketing schemes: This past May’s Boston Calling lineup was introduced via a city-wide, social media-fueled vinyl scavenger hunt, and September’s Boston Calling included within its walls the Samuel Adams Octoberfest celebration.
Or perhaps folks just have a more varied music taste than we assume? After all, who says you can’t be a fan of Lorde’s indie pop, San Fermín’s baroque-influenced orchestration, White Denim’s hard rock, The Roots’ flavorful hip-hop, The Replacements’ alternative stylings, and Childish Gambino’s rapping? It could happen.
Whether fans came to see their favorite artist perform (wearing shirts like “Lorde and Savior” and “Praise the Lorde”) or with the sole purpose of being introduced to a smorgasbord of new acts, Boston Calling delivered. The festival, temporarily shut down (and evacuated) on Saturday by a midday rainstorm that unfortunately led to the cancellation of Volcano Choir and Girl Talk‘s sets, went down successfully and with relatively few hitches.
With that in mind, enjoy:
Boston Calling Highlights Reel, Sept. 2014
Lorde: Lorde – “Tennis Court” (9/6 Boston Calling)
All hope seemed lost as 8:00pm struck the evacuated City Hall Plaza on Saturday evening, but after a Boston Calling tweet gave festival-goers hope for a happy ending to a long day, Lorde gave us the musical salvation we prayed for. The New Zealander approached her crowd as the superstar sensation she has become, giving her all while acknowledging how much it meant – both for her and for the audience – to perform after the evening’s scare: “Boston, you have been so magical tonight. Thank you so much.” After much hair whipping, chest pumping, light flashing and cheering, the Pure Heroine artist took her bow and left the stage.
Apologies for the poor sound quality. The bass overpowers everything here:
twenty one pilots: twenty one pilots – “Car Radio” (9/7 Boston Calling)
If you have not experienced a twenty one pilots concert, skip to 3:00 in the band’s “Car Radio” music video, and imagine that energy level pumping up and down for nearly an hour. It’s exhausting, but exhilarating at the same time. Drummer Josh Dun may have also crowd-surfed on his drum kit while continuing to play his drums; for this action, and for a drum-off between Dun and bandmate Tyler Joseph while both musicians were being supported by fans below, twenty one pilots earned their spot as one of the weekend’s notable artists.
Bleachers: Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better” (9/6 Boston Calling)
Fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff came out swinging his axe from side to side with a beautiful faux-starry sky backdrop on Saturday. This was Bleachers’ first show as Bleachers in Boston, and the band made it a memorable one with a mid-afternoon set full of high-energy Killers-esque arena rock. An hour long festival setlist gave the band time to play “music they wouldn’t otherwise do” said an on-stage Antonoff before Bleachers proceeded to perform a long, experimental sampling-heavy song featuring a mix of EDM and rock influences. Bleachers may be a new band, but Antonoff is certainly no amateur to the stage – a fact he made very clear as he worked the crowd and led his band through song after song while somehow managing to find time for band member introductions and extended solos. Notable moments included a cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams,” the hard-hitting “Wild Heart” set opener, and the group’s catchy single “I Wanna Get Better.”
The Manchester boys famous for singing about marijuana and sex (in songs like “Chocolate” and “Sex”) have gotten used to crowds full of screaming female fans, but their Boston Calling show may have just earned them a sizable male following, too. Witty frontman Matthew Healy couldn’t help but poke a little fun at his festival crowd, noting how the stage felt “like a narcissistic playground” and saying to one woman in particular, “You have my name written on your breasts. Proud mother in tow, I imagine.” Healy also expressed his and the band’s gratefulness to be at Boston Calling, attempting a Boston accent as he said, “Thanks for having us, Boston – Bahston, pahk your car and whatnot.” Fun quips aside, the music reigned supreme for The 1975 as the band ran through a set that so very well showcased their distinctive ethereal alt-pop sound. Whether audience members had heard of The 1975 or not, folks in all quadrants of Government Center were singing along to the festival’s only British band by set’s end. The 1975 certainly left their imprint on Boston.
Nas x The Roots:
The set went Nas, Nas and The Roots, The Roots. Each artist had an equal amount of time to shine, which could not have been a better setup for these veteran hip hop acts. Nas has been performing songs from 1994’s Illmatic in promotion/celebration of the 20th Anniversary Edition Illmatic XX. The emcee did not disappoint, and after rapping a few numbers backed by The Roots, Nas bade the crowd a good night and left the stage to the legendary Philadelphia hip hop group. The Roots also performed a set full of classics, hitting songs like “The Seed” as well as covers of Phil Collins, Guns n’ Roses, and more. Much was expected of these artists and they delivered in full, rounding out a musical weekend in high fashion.
Sky Ferreira, Childish Gambino, San Fermin, Lake Street Dive, White Denim
Sky Ferreira: Sky Ferreira – “Heavy Metal Heart” (9/6 Boston Calling)
The dark indie pop queen in the making opened her set strong on Sunday, immediately introducing Boston Calling’s audience to her electro-synth sound with the song “24 Hours.” The 22-year-old continued to push through tracks from last year’s debut album Night Time, My Time, establishing a solid foundation with songs like “Ain’t Your Right” and “Boys” as the audience’s screams grew louder. Sky’s connection to her audience reached a pinnacle toward the end of her set with “Everything Is Embarrassing,” the breakout song that arguably paved the way for the artist’s current success. Sky Ferreira is young and new to the music scene, but she proved her talent at Boston Calling with an impressive, all-around solid performance.
Rounding out the storm-swept Saturday night was rapper Childish Gambino. The rapper/actor’s latest album, Because The Internet, is based around a screenplay written by Glover himself. The first half of the hip-hop artist’s Boston Calling performance came from that album, with a media-heavy backdrop full of lights and synchronized videos that either added or took away from the set, depending on your opinion of Childish Gambino’s increasingly production-heavy music. The second half of the set was fueled by older hits and mixtape medleys, including a beautiful rendition of “Fire Fly” that struck the perfect balance between Childish Gambino’s old and new sounds.
Composer/songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone named his experimental “baroque pop” group after Spain’s world-famous running of the bulls. The title fits the ambitious project, assembled by Ludwig-Leone over the past three years since his college graduation. An eight-piece band greeted Boston Calling’s assembled crowd early on Sunday afternoon, playing a form of big-band influenced funk and rock that perfectly fit the midday sunshine. Their rendition of lead single “Sonsick” was orchestrated to a T, but the band proved themselves to be more than a single-song group with their limited stage time. If a dazzling guitar and baritone saxophone solo wasn’t enough, the band’s rendition of The Strokes’ “Heart In A Cage” – with baritone saxophonist Stephen Chen playing the song’s fast, driving lead guitar riff on his woodwind instrument – was both impressive and memorable.
Lake Street Dive:
Boston-based Lake Street Dive converted their intimate club-style jazz and soul performance into an intimate festival-style performance on Saturday afternoon, proving that they can work a stage and crowd no matter what the size. Singer Rachael Price’s booming vocals echoed across the plaza on songs like “You Go Down Smooth” and “Bad Self Portraits.” Though increased brass instrumentation would have certainly added to the band’s sound, the guitar/trumpet-bass-drums setup was enough to provide a great introduction for those who were new to Lake Street Dive. It was also a perfect opportunity to belt your heart out for those already familiar with the band, who expressed with sincerity how much it meant for them to play their hometown’s music festival. Lake Street Dive’s music was unique among the plethora of indie-genre artists playing Boston Calling, which helped the band to stand out amongst other acts performing that weekend.
White Denim: White Denim (9/7 Boston Calling)
Texas rock quartet White Denim played much of their Boston Calling setlist to The Sinclair’s packed club crowd on Saturday night, making use of the pre-festival set to play extended solos and medleys that they then trimmed down the following day. The difference between the two shows was palpable from the start as White Denim fed a tight, rock-heavy set to Sunday’s music-hungry audience. The band members, who are their own roadies, were patiently waiting onstage during San Fermin’s last song, and took off from there into a musically and technically complex performance featuring material from across the band’s eight-year career. Forty-year-olds smiled and head-bobbed next to twenty-year-olds as White Denim wound through original songs and medleys with sounds reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, The Black Keys, Black Sabbath, Yes, and more.
A Final Shout-Out To The Local Acts:
St. Nothing, Gentlemen Hall, Clifflight, Lake Street Dive
Boston Calling’s reach has steadily increased over its past four iterations, but it has remained true to the core principal of showcasing local Boston acts alongside bigger names. This not only increases the local artists’ credibility, but it also introduces them to a larger network of possibilities. This local focus makes Boston Calling all the more praiseworthy.
Boston Calling and much of the 2014 music festival season have now come to an end, but the success of this September’s festival in particular still remains. Festival organizers were prepared for the worst when they evacuated City Hall Plaza, and Boston police calmly handled the situation, from evacuation to reentrance, in a well-executed fashion. Lorde and Childish Gambino’s Saturday night impressive post-storm performances could not have happened without communication and cooperation between all parties. For all those involved, we are thankful.
Congratulations to the performers of Boston Calling’s September festival. It may be a little early, but we’re already excited for May 2015!