Live Review + Photo Gallery: Boston Calling opens with theatrics from Sia and Sufjan Stevens

So I had this intro written about too many kids taking pictures of themselves and how much I sincerely love complimentary KIND snacks but none of that qualifies as worth mentioning anymore because jeez louise, did you guys get a load of Sia?!

Let’s dive right into recapping Friday night’s Boston Calling tunes and get ‘em out of the way so we can talk about Sia sooner.

Lisa Hannigan and Aaron Dessner

Damn, this sure was a folksy performance. If you looked up “folksy” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Sarah Palin lecturing and berating Lisa Hannigan to quit smoking pot every day and go find a husband. Fortunately for Hannigan, she hails from Ireland, where everyone smokes pot constantly and weddings are thought of as a bizarre and principally American custom. Therefore, Lisa Hannigan remains immune to Palin’s shrill moralizing. This makes me glad, because she’s the only musician I can recall playing a ukulele without making want to end my own life. Aaron Dessner is a member of The National (and co-curater of this festival) which means he probably has way more money than you do.

Sufjan Stevens

I came to Boston Calling with some preconceived notions about Sufjan Stevens, and maybe I wasn’t exactly misinformed, but I only knew half the story. Maybe not even half.

As was my understanding based on the few songs I’d heard and no other information whatsoever, Sufjan Stevens is essentially a version of Elliott Smith who grew up in a loving, stable household and would never, ever try heroin. Or, he’s ersatz Bright Eyes for an audience who has never known bitterness. People who think like me feel the same way about Sufjan Stevens that people who thought like me in the ‘80s felt about Phil Collins, or so I thought.

However nobody who would steal his look from The Rockers — a legendary (and controversial) vintage pro wrestling tag team — ever deserves to be compared to Phil Collins. Clad in neon, multicolored shorts with silver streamers billowing from his arms, Stevens could’ve passed for the long lost third member of the classic tandem, which included future mega-champion “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels and eventual cautionary tale Marty Jannetty.

But the awesome bullshit didn’t end with probably-on-purpose callbacks to old school wrestling. At one point, Sufjan Stevens had angel wings. Because why wouldn’t he?! Also, he smashed what was probably a very expensive banjo! Because fuck that banjo! Fuck everything! Alongside a pair of backup dancers/singers, Stevens deployed a caliber of synchronized choreography not seen in this town since Babymetal played here a few weeks ago.

Later on, a disco ball jumpsuit mysteriously replaced the retro-HBK outfit. Then, a giant tinfoil cock appeared on the center of the stage. Stevens ascended the cock, struck a messianic pose, and morphed into a Sufjan Stevens-sized pan of Jiffy Pop. Before I knew it, Sufjan Stevens and his cohort has shifted once again — this time, into singing, dancing, balloon animal disasters. Not since an assignment to review KISS several years ago have I been so rigorously delighted by the performance of music for which I felt total ambivalence, if not disdain.

I no longer consider Sufjan Stevens a watered down Smith or Oberst. He’s more like a 40-year-old male version of Miley Cyrus, except with boring music, and he’s never been dry humped by Robin Thicke.


We were told by a fairly reliable source that Sia’s Boston Calling set was pretty much identical to the performance that eviscerated Coachella last month. If true, that means any celebrities we thought we recognized on the projector screens may well have been prerecorded, while mimikry courtesy of clearly talented but non-famous stand-ins transpired on stage. As far as any attempt on my part to correctly name dancers and actors, this fucks everything up.

Was that Paul Dano wallowing in office job anguish during “Bird Set Free” or Kristen Wiig making a sad face under an umbrella, or were those basically stunt doubles? Probably the latter, but maybe not? Did we see Maddie Ziegler reenacting her iconic turn in the “Chandelier” video, or was that Stephanie Mincone? Both were onhand for Coachella , so, um… uh…???? Was Tig Notaro there, as has been speculated-slash-tweeted? I don’t know! I don’t know what Tig Notaro looks like.

Maybe none of that’s important. The Aussie songsmith stood stationary, veiled beneath a half-blonde half-brunette wig, as is her custom, throughout the proceedings while interpretive modern dance routines and mini-dramas provided all the visual oomph. Most of the crowd possessed the imagination necessary to appreciate what they saw, but only “most of.” I overheard several inquires that could only come from realms of intense confusion. A few people sounded pissed.

It was glorious.

Between 1000 Forms of Fear and This Is Acting (not even including tracks like “Diamonds,” which Sia penned for Rihanna and borrowed back for herself on Friday), Sia wields more than enough material to fill a setlist with total jams and belt ‘em out while accompanied by a plain ol’ guitar player, piano player, drummer, whatever — that’s all she needs to do to keep her concertgoers pleased as punch. Instead, she delivered a very different animal to Government Center, opting to boggle a few minds in lieu of playing it samey and safe.

Four guys with guitars and the same haircut can be fine, even great, and so can rappers and DJs, and pop singers doing a standard pop singer thing, and ect. Ect. But Sia did not at all scan like another version of something we’ve seen a million billion times before.

So, yeah, the weekend’s off to a good start.

For all our Boston Calling coverage, click here, and follow us @Vanyaland.

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