It’s felt so fulfilling to watch this young musical celebration grow up into a full-blown festival. Over this past Memorial Day weekend, Boston Calling finally carried out it’s destiny of being more than just a slowly blooming musical experiment awkwardly placed smack dab in the middle of Boston’s concrete haven known as Government Center. Moving to Harvard University’s athletic facilities obviously allowed them to expand the musical lineup and add other amusing attractions like comedy acts and additional food vendors, but that’s not where the augmented magic really lied. At the heart of the festival, the illusory ethos came from the crowd. The exponentially larger mass of concert-goers had auspicious hopes, high energy, and consistent exhilaration that was downright contagious from start to finish. Due to prior commitments, I couldn’t attend the concert on Saturday and was only able attend Friday and Sunday’s performances. Regardless, I couldn’t have been happier with the event experience that I was able to be a part of. Below are some of my notes from the concert, presented in the form of pseudo-awards.
- Best Overall Performance: Chance The Rapper
This young man has been changing the genre of hip hop, as well as the music world as a whole, for several years now. Finally experiencing that transformative power in person was nothing short of elating, as Chance’s ability to truly connect rather than simply entertain was an unparalleled anomaly. Bon Iver said it best, finishing off his own performance by saying that the crowd was in for a treat that night since Chance is “one of the rare jewels of our time”.
- Worst Overall Performance/Worst Opener: Xylouris White
I’m not completely sure what locale would be appropriate for Xylouris White, but Boston certainly isn’t it. The Greek/Australian duo scared away massive portions of the crowd with their bizarre chanting and weakly structured instrumentals. Their inability to make any sort of connection with the crowd was off-putting, while they represented the only performance all weekend where more people were walking away from their set instead of walking towards it.
- Best Opener: Vundabar
The hometown opener of any festival rarely ceases to amaze in their newfound opportunity to impress crowds at a larger-than-normal venue, and Vundabar certainly made Boston proud. The singer was very interactive in getting the crowd’s attention, while other members like the drummer were eccentric in their movement as if to exude irrepressible emotions that were going to come out whether the crowd liked it or not. After their set, crowd members were audibly walking away saying that the first band of the weekend may have been one of the best, which was especially true considering their Bostonian derivation gave them a leg-up on the competition with all the homers in attendance.
- Best Individual Song: Skinny Love by Bon Iver
The festival gods were with us during Bon Iver’s set, and “Skinny Love” was living proof. Throughout the overcast, lightly drizzly day, attitudes were sour towards the depressing weather as shoes and pants were ruined wading through mud and gunk. With the sun fully descended beneath the trees and Bon Iver finishing off his set with his international mega-hit “Skinny Love”, an imperceptible number of fans and fringe admirers alike gathered to sing the acoustic song together. In the middle of the emotional set, the rain began to come down especially hard for the first time all night. Light smirks lined the faces of nearly every member in the crowd as they continued to sing the light and impassioned ballad, though now more fervently with soaked clothes and ecstatic emotions to motivate them. It was an unforgettable scene for a timeless song.
- Worst Individual Song: “Feels Like Summer” by Weezer
It’s always a shame watching a great band release a song that’s indescribably bland. Weezer’s most recent attempt at conforming to a relatable summer-time motif was a conceptual flop from a studio perspective, and that perception translated linearly to the live stage. After being obligatorily thrown into their set for obvious promotional purposes, the crowd had a collective look of confusion as this classic 90’s band apathetically blurted out an absolute snore. A once excited and mobile crowd became still as they waited for Weezer to “Get on with it” and drop the conformist 2017 BS. Luckily, the rest of the set was incredible, igniting a nostalgia that exploded out of every fan’s rousing dance moves, supporting voice, and sentimental mind.
- Best Cover Song: “Bittersweet Symphony” by Mondo Cozmo
“Bittersweet Symphony” is easy to mess up. The instrumentals are intricate and the vocals can be exhausting and hard to hit. In other words, if you attempt to play it (just like most star-emulating covers), you will be judged very strictly. Mondo Cozmo successfully swung for the fences in their attempt to cover The Verve’s ageless jam, pumping up the audience in yet another impressive opening act. As the song concluded, a thought lingered that this day (Sunday) would be the most impressive, well-rounded day yet. That hunch was not wrong.
- Most Energetic Performance: Cage The Elephant
Cage The Elephant’s entire set was electric, but I’ve never seen a more Rock n’ Roll ending than this band’s Boston Calling finale. The concluding song “Teeth” tailed out with respective extended guitar and drum solos that lasted minutes on end. While the band jammed out, lead singer Matt Schultz took off his shirt and shoes and headed towards the crowd. Schultz looked as if he was going to start crowd surfing, but he surprised everyone when he actually stood on top of the crowd and started flailing violently in a cathartic punch dance that got the crowd’s energy pumping. As he climbed back up on stage, guitarist Brad Schultz slammed his guitar on the ground and then threw it 20 feet in the air, letting it hit the ground with a noisy bang as he jumped up and down in excitement. There was something abiding about the performance that spanned generations in it’s complete disinterest for anything material.
- Least Energetic Performance: Migos
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a lazy attempt at entertainment in my life. Solange’s last minute set cancellation led Boston Calling to scramble for a late signing, and truthfully, Migos was an amazing name to sign one day before the actually event. A humongous crowd gathered to experience organized ignorance (in a good way), but the first 20 minutes of their set was nothing but a DJ pressing play on his MacBook and yelling at least a dozen times “Who’s wants to see the Migos!” When Migos finally emerged, only Quavo & Offset were present, while their third member Takeoff was nowhere to be found. Despite the crowd being incredibly energized, Migos uttered about 1/3 of their actual verses, letting the audience do most of the singing while they lazily wandered around the stage. Without the hyped crowd singing the songs for Migos rather than with them, this performance would have been a complete dud.
With complete experiential maturity right around the corner, Boston Calling has a lot to look forward to. As a tribute to this year’s event, below is a playlist of my favorite songs from artists participating in the festival on Friday and Sunday (note – some or all songs from artists like Chance The Rapper & Tool are unavailable on streaming sites & therefore not in the playlist).