For those who’ve never been to Boston’s City Hall Plaza, let me paint you a picture real quick: the place is a giant hunk of brick and concrete, one full of hard angles and steps and unforgiving surfaces. Its blandness has been accurately captured in The Departed; it’s served as the backdrop for Chowderfest, an annual, gigantic clam chowder feast and competition, and numerous concerts and performances that’ve fallen prey to poor layout decisions and shoddy acoustics.
In short, it’s a bit of a bear to throw an event in, much less a large-scale rock festival with two stages and an intimidating lineup to match—so imagine my complete and total shock (and elation) when Boston Calling transformed that cement fortress into a vibrant, raucous affair that sounded as epic and superlative as any major stage these rock stars had seen before this weekend.
Boston Calling, in its inaugural year, excelled at two things especially: tearing [the dance floor] up and rocking the fuck out. The 18 bands of the lineup—featuring The National and Fun. as headliners—were evenly keeled in either department, guitar gods (The Walkmen, Dirty Projectors, Caspian) trading off time slots with pop fiends (Marina and the Diamonds, Matt & Kim, Bad Rabbits) and vibes of an electronic (Ra Ra Riot) and experimental (Andrew Bird, Portugal. the Man, Youth Lagoon) nature.
Into crowd-surfing (which I wound up doing from the photo pit, but more on that later) or banging your head in solidarity? The Shins were happy to oblige you, despite the merciless downpours on Saturday. Felt like shakin’ it or dancing around like a maniac in a poncho? MS MR and Cults delivered. Needed a breather from bodacious beats or a crashing wave of reverb? Of Monsters And Men and Young The Giant at your service. Not to pull a Stefon (“This club has EVERYTHING—“) or anything, but if you came to Boston Calling looking for anthems, ballads and choruses that work their way into your grey matter and permanently move in, you found plenty—and likely more than you bargained for.
Though the festival wasn’t without its imperfections—can we all agree to forget Fun.’s disastrous attempt at a cover of “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard,” please?—the weekend provided more opportunities than otherwise for Boston Calling attendees to discover new favorites in between sets from their old ones. Boston Calling also doubled as a lucrative launching pad, as nearly half the lineup used the festival as the jump-off for global tours, album drops or triumphant returns: The National gave songs off Trouble Will Find Me a proper arena rock treatment, while Cults came out of hiding (“This is the first time we’ve left the studio in six months!”) and Portugal. the Man rode the beats of forthcoming Danger Mouse-produced record Evil Friends. Boston’s own Bad Rabbits—who, together with Caspian, represented the city’s own soundscape—had the honor of kicking off the festivities with the first set on the first day of the festival, one they demolished bar by bar as frontman Dua Boakye roared his way through “We Can Roll” and the rest of their latest full-length American Love. The audaciously affable quality the guys present not only drew in an eager crowd at the onset of a dreary day but set a kinetically euphoric tone that ebbed through each of the following sets.
My list of highlights includes some universal favorites (Nate Ruess effortlessly hitting the high notes of “Some Nights;” Matt Berninger growing hoarse over the course of “Mr. November” while belting his face off from the crowd; MS MR’s “Dance Yrself Clean” cover; the collective facial expressions and musical prowess of The Walkmen) and plenty of off-the-record anecdotes (namely one involving Irish Car Bombs and a toilet paper wrapping contest at the dive bar across the street with a very talented songwriter as well as a Jameson ice luge at the after-party), but those are stories for another time. (Or another pint of Guinness, if I ever go near one again). But my favorite Boston Calling moment happened when I misbehaved, myself, and took the liberty of diving headfirst into the crowd from the photo pit after The National finished the third song of their set.
I’ve never crowd-surfed before, and as a Bostonian, a Bostonian music journalist and a Bostonian music lover, I figured that was as good a moment as any to take a short cut out of the photo pit and hope that my brains didn’t wind up painting the brick floor of City Hall Plaza. Call it liquid courage from the previously mentioned libations, or exhausted euphoria, or just plain stupidity, but crowd-surfing over City Hall Plaza with a tidal wave cascading from the amps of The National behind me in spite of the concrete towers in the background? I wouldn’t have ended my last night at the first Boston Calling any other way.
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Pre-show with Of Monsters And Men
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Ra Ra Riot
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Youth Lagoon's Trevor Powers
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Amber Bell of The Dirty Projectors
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