Live Review: A subtle folk explosion kicks off September’s Boston Calling

During its still nascent history, Boston Calling hasn’t gone out of its way to book terribly “risky” national acts. Rarely does anyone or thing that might offend my grandma — who is very easily offended — grace either of the two stages at City Hall Plaza.

Maybe that’s for the best.

If I was in charge of Boston Calling, most of it would offend my grandma, but the three-day sonic bonanza would lose a lot of money, and at least 30 attendees would leave the premises in the backs of police cruisers. If, in an alternate universe, the organizers announced they were canceling The Avett Brothers in favor of a last minute Choking Victim reunion on Friday, I would’ve been happy. But I would’ve been a lot less surprised to find face painting and pony rides offered to complement the thoroughly non-controversial festivities. And if we’re all being honest with ourselves, I think even the most diehard of crust punks would rather go for a pony ride than see a Choking Victim reunion. So where the fuck are our pony rides, Boston Calling?

Also, what the fuck is this? Seriously. I don’t understand what this is supposed to be.


Despite the absence of ponies or crack-rock-steady beats, Gregory Alan Isakov, Of Monsters and Men, and the Avetts more than adequately booted up the fall of ‘15 Boston Calling. What follows is a recap.

First of all, everyone in the audience was wearing jeans. It was strange.

Gregory Alan Isakov

Gregory Alan Isakov lives on a farm alongside fellow ruralists who named one of their sheep “T-Swift,” according to the Village Voice. Wikipedia claims Isakov licensed a song for a McDonald’s commercial, then gave all the money to a sustainable farming non-profit. He sounds like a pretty interesting dude! His set was probably sort of interesting, too! Right?! Maybe? I don’t know! Due to a handful of miscalculations and false assumptions on my part, I showed up too late to catch a note.


Of Monsters of Men

About a year and a half ago, a few Boston Calling onlookers — including myself — thought they saw Of Monsters and Men deliver a pretty not bad set of not-quite-overwrought Americana-pop. Then we noticed the band we thought was Of Monsters and Men neglected to play “Little Talks,” (a.k.a. the “Hey!” song, not to be confused with “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers). That’s because we had just listened to The Head and The Heart — a completely different band with a similar sounding name, musical sensibility and aesthetic, presentation, and target audience. More egregiously on our part, Of Monsters and Men hail from Iceland, and therefore aren’t even allowed to play Americana music.

Not that they need to. Singles — in this case, “Little Talks” — can be deceiving, and OMAM mustered more oomph than a mere alt-folk flavor of the month could manage. You know winter is coming when even the Icelanders mention the cold but, via their Fleetwood Mac-ish, vaguely mystic aura, OMAM emphasized the glaringly obvious death of summer. I couldn’t tell whether the chorus of “Empire” goes “The Empire fucks you,” or the “Empire loves you,” but either way, this “empire” OMAM speak of doesn’t sound so bad.

Speaking of ambiguous sovereigns, we also know OMAM have signed up to probably get murdered in an upcoming Game of Thrones episode, possibly by the white walker/zombie members of Mastodon.


The Avett Brothers

Vanyaland correspondent Rob Duguay built the Avett Brothers up as one of the best live bands currently roaming planet Earth, thereby heightening my expectations well beyond reasonable levels and guaranteeing that the North Carolina quasi-hillbillies would disappoint, despite their best efforts. Thanks, Rob. Thanks a lot, jerk.

Nah, really, the Avetts were dagnab alright. The siblings plus their orchestral cohort adeptly maneuvered from high-octane banjo freak outs, a triumphant yet genuflective piano ballad, a not-so-triumphant but also genuflective piano ballad, a lightly-demonic gospel stomper, among plenty more angles without any of it scanning as abrupt or out of sync. Except for one time they cranked their voices up to super soprano for a few brief, befuddling a capella bars. That was weird. Regardless, it’s always refreshing to not hear 12 songs that all sound the same.

To be honest, as the Avetts crooned on, my verbatim thoughts read like, “Buh Buh Buh, Mumford and Sons laaaame, Guh Buh Sluh, write a joke about how much white people like this music, Guh Guh,” until I realized that if I had been watching this exact same band play this exact same set in a divey third-tier rock club with a maximum capacity of 175, I would be crapping my pants. But I can’t take a guy playing banjo seriously when I know for certain that he’s not poor and probably not a legit scumbag. Is that fair? Probably not, but my loss, I guess. The psyched up people in the front row got hi-fives and saw up-close ‘n personal geetar shredding when the Avetts jumped to the floor for some quick socializing. I didn’t get a hi-five, because I was way in the back, thinking about Mumford and Sons.


All live photos by Eddy Leiva for Vanyaland. Follow Barry Thompson on Twitter @BarelyTomson, and stay tuned for more updates from Boston Calling all weekend long.