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Boston Calling Bids Farewell to City Hall with a Bang

Monae was wheeled “Silence of the Lambs” style into position

Going into this Spring’s edition of Boston Calling, many did not expect it to be the last to grace City Hall Plaza with it’s raucous presence. However that’s what many came to learn Friday morning when the fest broke the news seemingly out of nowhere.

So needless to say people were hoping it was going to be one hell of a time. This is Boston after all.

The weekend kicked off in spectacular fashion following visionary performances by Sufjan Stevens and Sia however found itself stuck in bit of rut on Saturday. Overbearing heat mixed with a confusing level of energy amongst the crowd following mellow sets by BORNS and City and Colour, crowd pleasers such as Miike Snow and Odesza and finally an achingly disappointing set by the eagerly anticipated Robyn left Saturday attendees in a weird state. So how did Boston Calling react to this? They pulled out the stops for Sunday.

I have been attending Boston Calling for a year and a half now (that’s three editions). I have seen giants like Beck, Tame Impala, The Pixies, Alabama Shakes, TV on the Radio, St. Vincent and many more. I have lost my voice, thrown out my back and worn out at least one pair of shoes and sweated through countless t-shirts. But it has always been worth it. Boston Calling has come under fire recently for not consistently providing the big names as it used to (i.e. Lorde, Kendrick Lamar, Foster the People, The Shins, Vampire Weekend and Matt and Kim to name a few.) But theres one thing to always be had: a damn good time with some really cool people.

Walking around City Hall Plaza during a day of Boston Calling is like hanging in one of your friends massive backyards with an even bigger amount of other friends. People are hanging out, lying around on synthetic grass playing backyard games, cracking Sam Adams, chowing down on burgers and fried Oreos and genuinely having a great time, all while catching the sounds of the fest’s always eclectic lineups.

Plus theres nothing like watching a band perform to the crowd at Boston Calling. Theres that rush of energy when they finally take the stage and then its all up the crowd. Will they respond to the music? Will they connect with the artists on stage? Will the mood fall flat or soar over the surrounding buildings? It’s typically the latter. Hearing remarks from musicians such as “I knew Boston   would be a good time”, “It’s always magical when we get to play for you guys”, “Well this is definitely the craziest show we’ve ever done”, really puts a warm feeling in your stomach. Knowing that you are a part of making one of your favorite musician’s evenings is a feeling many will never forget. These people fill the silence in our lives with pure joy, the least we can do is thank them by blowing out our voices trying to make sure they hear every lyric thrown right back at them.

That feeling remained strong through Sunday’s lineup. Starting off with a boisterous set by Boston’s own Michael Christmas the day was already gearing up amid the unseasonal chill in the air (who knew after Saturdays 90 plus degree forecast). Christine and the Queens took the Jet Blue stage to a crowd of people who had, to their knowledge, never heard of them before. The best part if that front-woman Heloïse Letissier used this to her advantage. Connecting with the audience by referencing American known superstars like Rihanna, Beyonce and even Chaka Khan. And with the help of her all male backup dancers she held it down delivering precise choreography with upbeat sounds.

The low-key vibes from Unknown Mortal Orchestra wafted over the modest crowd in front of the Xfinity Red Stage while Blue stage watchers readied themselves for the dry humor and bouncing that comes with a Vince Staples performance. The rising talent showcased his lyrical skill while delivering one liners in between songs.

Charles Bradley commanded the Red stage next, showing his years of experience through stellar costume changes, impressive high notes and a youthful spirit far before his years. The Front Bottoms brought their cynicism and love of Marijuana to a hungry crowd of stoners and passionate fans. I was skeptical of the Jersey based band as my experience with them goes as far as hearing a few songs in passing as I walk by my roommates bedroom. From what I had heard in those brief moments I didn’t find myself particularly excited. But what they lack on recording they make up for on stage.

Elle King seduced fans at the Red Stage proving she’s much more than her one-hit-wonder “Ex’s and Oh’s” paints her to be. She’s a sexy powerhouse with a no-nonsense attitude and one hell of a voice. But she was no match for the rest of the evening.

I have wanted to see Janelle Monae live since I graced my ears with the sweet insanity that is “Dance Apocalyptic” off her third album Electric Lady. Maura Johnston of The Boston Globe swears by her live performances and not long into her raucous set did I see why. Her attention to the music is almost as impressive as her sheer level of energy. Revving up the crowd in between songs and, with her two gorgeous backup singers, dancing fire right into our souls as she reminds us to “choose freedom over fear” and to fight for equality. Wrapping up her set with a touching tribute to Prince by way of his party anthem “Let’s go Crazy” she sent the evening into high gear.

Wrapping up the Red Stage for the evening were the HAIM sisters. If you haven’t seen them live, it’s a must. If you haven’t even heard their music then you are doing something wrong. Very wrong.

The members of HAIM: (L to R) Alana, Danielle, Este on the Xfinity Red Stage

The three sisters played favorites from their debut 2013 release Days Are Gone while sharing two new songs with the crowd from their forthcoming sophomore LP. Which the band promises is coming… soon. Before launching into an epic showcase of their collective percussive skill by taking turns hammering away on a massive drum set upstage they too paid tribute to the late Prince (bassist Este Haim’s idol) by playing his 1984 track “I Would Die 4 U”. Once the drums had stopped banging and they had wrapped up the best set at Boston Calling since Tame Impala last May, they cleared the grounds for Disclosure to close out the weekend.

Lots of excitement pulsed through the air as the DJ-duo set to take the Jet Blue Stage. The crowd tightened up, doubled in size and eagerly awaited favorite’s including “Latch”, the track that helped Sam Smith rise to his current fame. Those who were in on the local gossip also knew that Smith had been spotted several times throughout the Greater Boston area at spots like Mija Cantina & Tequila Bar in Faneuil Hall and the harbor of Rockport which lead many to speculate about a possible reunion with Disclosure on stage for the signature song. But when time came for the closing number, fans were met with mild disappointment as the “Stay With Me” crooner didn’t show, however the duo made sure fans didn’t leave unfulfilled.

So as City Hall Plaza cleans up the aftermath of another weekend of artists, we look towards Allston where the festival will begin setting up shop starting next May. Who will headline? Will there be more stages? Will bands be forced to play at the same time? What does Natalie Portman have in store for us all? As we eagerly await the answers to these questions and many more, let us not forget the home Government Center gave us for the past three years. Thank you to your acoustics and generosity, even if City Hall truly is one ugly building.

Featured Image: Disclosure on the Jet Blue Stage. Credit: Lyndsay Bianco


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