Despite it being a rather corporate affair and priced out of the reach of many of this city’s music fans, the Boston Calling Festival did a lot of things right, as large outdoor concerts go. They made an effort to include two more local bands and support a Boston charity through their Sonicbids contest, with a portion of proceeds from the submission fee donated to Boston Children’s Hospital (VIVA VIVA! played on Saturday and Royal Teeth on Sunday). Though they served alcohol (naturally), they did so in a special “beer garden” set away from the stages, which I think contributed to the fact that most of those close to the music were there for the music, and not just to get shitfaced with their friends. This was no small thing, and was greatly appreciated. The downtown setting was unique, convenient and was I’m sure a great sales boost to local businesses. There were a few problems at the start (mostly to do with what was and wasn’t allowed on site and consistency between various entities), but as they sorted out the stage placement, I’m sure they can deal with this as well. I still believe the cost is prohibitive, considering that festivals elsewhere with more performers and stages are similarly priced. I’m disheartened by all shows that cost more than $20-25, but the whole “concert-going elite” subject is a much larger topic.
Onto the music, which was absolutely superb. They wisely divided up the bands between the more “indie rock” types and the “dance/hip-hop/electro” types, which made sense and helped those who could only afford to go one day. I planted myself in front of the blue stage for most of the day, so my photos are of those bands. Everyone was clearly energized by the audience, which was among the best I’ve seen at something like this. Extremely engaged, friendly, supportive… just great. I’m sure this might not have been the case further back or as the night wore on, but my experience was very positive, and typically I’m not a lover of large music events, far preferring the small sweaty (more intimate) club scene. But I have to say, this was a lovely day. Onto the photos and my personal favorites.
Eclectic, sophisticated, quirky — just my kind of guys. It’s difficult to imagine a mere duo being able to hold their own on a big festival stage, but they did and were entrancing. From a sweet falsetto and charming old-world folk and Americana into raucous garage punk and back again (and sometimes in the same song). The duo features Josh Arnoudse on lead vocals, guitar and wind chimes (yes, wind chimes) and Raky Sastri (brother of Mali Sastri, the amazing chanteuse of Jaggery) on everything else. And I do mean everything else. That includes drums, melodica, toy xylophone, harmonica, shaker and harmonium. A harmonium brings instant class to any affair.
They’re supporting their new release Silver Gymnasium, I’ve been wanting to see them for some time and they sounded fantastic. Folky, vibrant and lively; a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, piano, trumpet and lots of charm.
Airborne’s way-too-short set was nothing short of incendiary, celebratory and poignant, and I’d expect nothing less. What seemed like a medium-sized crowd grew to huge proportions just before they came on. Boston truly adores this band, and I’m very happy for that. They’ve been here a lot and they’ll be back again, often. Highlights? Mikel being obviously very happy with and inspired by the crowd’s focused intensity and emotional reaction. The surprisingly crystal clear sound. Anna’s sparkling viola and crowd surf with the delighted little boy being held aloft nearby her. Noah’s sense of style and quintessential Rock Star Poses. Daren’s amazing drumming. Steven’s clean, elegantly-stated guitar riffs that I’ve come to hear in my dreams. Mikel’s stellar songwriting, especially evident in the beautifully-performed “Safe” from Such Hot Blood, and the slow build to powerful explosion of “All I Ever Wanted.” During the classic “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?,” he climbed the scaffolding to take an aerial shot of the crowd. Nice. Next year’s headliners?
Eastside L.A. transplants Local Natives have come a long way. From a sparsely-attended middle-of-the-winter gig at T.T. the Bear’s Place to Mayor Menino introducing them at a big festival and then watching them perform from the back of the stage. They recently released their second album, Hummingbird, which continues with their tribal, world-beat, heart-pounding and infectiously danceable enthusiasm. Lead singer Taylor Rice gave T.T.’s a shout-out and asked who had been there for that first gig. “YEAH, TT’S!!!” “Oh, just one person,” he observed. Yup.
For me, it was all about the really, really good “support bands” who played this day — all of whom could easily (and do) headline their own shows. Honorable mentions to VIVA VIVA!, Lucius, the irrepressible Deer Tick and Bat for Lashes, who performed on the red stage and who all sounded marvelous (Bat for Lashes especially — amazing vocals, ethereal and haunting). And yes of course I stayed for the two headliners. There was Gaslight Anthem, with their straight-ahead, working class, Springsteen-esque vibe (who played a FREE set in that very spot along with Airborne, Passion Pit, Metric, Ra Ra Riot and The Bravery at WFNX’s Best Music Poll show back in 2009) and crowd favorites Vampire Weekend, who got the bone weary audience moving with their bouncy ‘touch of calypso’ upbeat pop, on a clear, cool Boston evening.