The 10th edition of the Boston Calling music festival took place Friday through Sunday under mostly sunny skies at the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston. Performers included Travis Scott, Tame Impala, Hozier, Twenty One Pilots and Greta Van Fleet. Item reporters Bill Brotherton and Bella diGrazia, joined by photographers Spenser Hasak and Mark Sutherland, joined the tens of thousands in attendance. Here are their takes on the extravaganza.
By Bill Brotherton
Call me Mr. Cranky Pants, but I wish Boston Calling was still at City Hall Plaza, its home from 2013 to 2017. Sure, the sound reverberated off the skyscrapers and the bricks, but there was something special about enjoying live music outdoors in the heart of downtown.
I understand the limitations, financial and otherwise, that came with presenting Boston Calling there. This was the fest’s second year in Allston, and it’s just not the same. The experience isn’t as personal on this vast expanse of artificial turf. We could be standing on a field anywhere.
Maybe I’m just too old and jaded to dash from one stage to the next and stand all day and some of the night. Maybe I yearn for the fest’s young and innocent days, when local artists, like Lynn’s Tigerman WHOA and superstars-to-be were given the opportunity to perform in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd.
Lil Nas X was a special guest during Anderson .Paak’s Saturday set, singing his crossover hit “Old Town Road.” Billy Ray and Miley didn’t join him on stage, as was rumored; it was still enjoyable.
Many concertgoers — including Mr. Cranky Pants — were miffed that Hozier’s and Odesza’s sets were booked at the same time on different stages; both artists were on many’s “must-see” list.
For the most part, this year the acts I most wanted to see — Hozier, Betty Who, Christine and the Queens, Mitski — were disappointments.
Hozier was very good, but not as spectacular as his memorable Boston Calling showcase in 2016 or his Halloween show at the Paradise in 2014, when he and his band bought clothes at the Goodwill next door and performed in various get-ups. The arrangements of his songs now have a jazzier vibe, with offbeat percussion dominating, and his soulful voice is a wonder, but Saturday it was “Take Me to Church” and other songs from his organic debut album that hit the mark. The new stuff didn’t connect with much of the crowd.
Betty Who, a product of Berklee College of Music, was anointed The Next Big Thing in pop music when she delivered a terrific show at Brighton Music Hall in 2014. Saturday, she came off as a Katy Perry wannabe, with a slickly rehearsed stage show that was fun but meh.
When Christine (Heloise Adelaide Lettissier) and the Queens played an early-day set at Boston Calling in May 2016, they were a revelation. Friday, their catchy pop with innovative theatrical overtones and dance, with snippets of Bowie’s “Heroes” and Miss Jackson’s “Nasty” thrown in, never caught fire.
The same can be said about Mitski’s set Saturday. In a small club, she’s incredible and her fans are among the most vocal and devoted in pop music. She and her band did their best, but the venue was too big … and I couldn’t figure out the message behind her writhing and contorting herself on a white table and chair for an hour-plus.
Please don’t think I’m a totally unfeeling cretin, though. There were performers who knocked my socks off. Most of them I had not seen before.
- Chvrches, a synth-pop band from Scotland, delivered Friday’s best set. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry was captivating, racing around the stage in a pink tulle prom dress, while her bandmates whipped up pure-pop bliss. They replaced Janelle Monae, who canceled, with a sterling show.
- The outlandish Tank and the Bangas, a 10-piece funky hip-hop act from New Orleans fronted by tiny dynamo Tarriona Ball, got a serious groove going Friday.
- Greta Van Fleet, a throwback to classic bands like Led Zep, Free and AC/DC, looked like true rock stars. Fronted by lead singer Josh Kiszka, who howls and wails like an adenoidal Robert Plant, this Michigan band might not be the most original outfit, but they were fun Friday.
- White Reaper, a punk garage band from Kentucky, delivered 45 minutes of butt-shaking rock and roll on Saturday. Each song started with drum blasts and licks from a classic rock song, like Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good,” and took off like supersonic rocket ships. They praised the audience for being “well-behaved Bostonians”; and then moshing and crowd-surfing erupted at set’s end.
By Bella DiGrazia
My first weekend at a music festival was, mainly, a success. The weather was beautiful, aside from the sunburn that sneaked up on me sometime during Saturday, and there was all the music and food I could ask for. While I can only speak on the last two days of the three-day event, Saturday offered the best lineup.
Saturday was also the day I got to shake hands with vocal powerhouse Hozier and interview music’s current biggest artist, Lil Nas X.
Hozier, more humble than I could ever imagine, told me it was a pleasure to meet me and he hoped I enjoyed his show, which I most certainly did. Lil Nas X, the 20-year-old who has dominated the music charts for more than seven weeks with his “Old Town Road” remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, told me he “has no words” and it’s “unreal” in regards to the impact he has made on both the hip-hop and country music genres.
The biggest performance highs on Saturday were from the festival’s young women. Twenty-year-old Clairo and 20-year-old King Princess took control of their stages and absolutely excelled.
Massachusetts native Clairo, or Claire Cottrill, was the perfect choice for a daytime slot with her sweet vocals and sensual, groovy set. King Princess (Mikeala Straus), a Brooklyn native, was a true, modest pop star that stuck to her vocal strengths and wooed the crowd with her sultry set.
Also an exceptional performance, but much less of a surprise, was multi-instrumentalist Anderson .Paak. He was groovy, he was soulful, and the crowd didn’t want him to leave. Most endearing was his tribute to the late Mac Miller with a performance of their song “Dang!”
Sunday was a vastly different vibe, filled with hip-hop sounds and DJ sets. Logic, the artist and rapper I was most excited to see, was a disappointment and it was not because of his performance skills. He, apparently, was not pleased with the crowd’s participation level and left the stage during the set, only to be coerced back by his hype man/DJ.
As a longtime fan of the lyrical genius, I was disappointed by the gesture. But I cannot deny that his whole set, even after coming back on stage, did not miss a note. The man sounds better live than he does through my car stereo, and that is a hard job to accomplish.
Sunday’s biggest surprise was the daytime set of Cautious Clay (Joshua Karpeh) and his band. They were adored by the crowd for their soulful, alternative twist. It was as if you took the sultry R&B vocals of Khalid and gave them a full band. When Karpeh whipped out his saxophone, and later his flute, the 20-something’s old soul became very apparent.
Travis Scott (Jacques Berman Webster II), the final day’s headliner, had the most hyped-up fans I had ever seen, and that’s coming from someone who spent her preteens at Jonas Brothers concerts with screaming girls. I was at the other end of the field complex during the end of his performance and I felt the turf shaking beneath my feet. While I think many people would sound OK with decent Auto-Tune and a good sound team, Travis Scott knows how to put on a good show.
Even though 90 percent of Sunday’s crowd was there to see Scott, the real credit needs to go to his production and light team. Without them, it would just be a man jumping up and down while he screams his own lyrics on stage.
- Pile, an indie rock band from Boston, really set the stage for Saturday’s lineup as one of the first performers. Their grungy, yet modest, sound was an enjoyable listen. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the lead singer’s screams, the gentle vocals that flowed when they brought it back down blew me away.
- Tame Impala, the Australian pop/rock band with a twist, gave a truly psychedelic performance as Saturday night’s headliner. The trippy visuals and groovy melodies brought the modern crowd back to the 1970s.
- Easy Life, an alternative indie band from the United Kingdom, put on a far-out, urban show on Sunday. The whole 45-minute set was just a bunch of groovy dudes having fun on stage.
- Rainbow Kitten Surprise was definitely a pleasant surprise toward the end of the final day. They offered a feminine vibe and a masculine touch with vocals that could kill. The five members truly put the alternative in alternative rock.