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Live Review: Lifted by HAIM and Janelle Monáe, Sunday night’s Boston Calling concludes with a loud pop


Okay, looking back, Saturday had bigger problems than the heat.

On its second day of 2016, Boston Calling fed us a big sack of immediately forgettable placeholder/time killer acts and left it up to Courtney Barnett to singled-handedly salvage the entire program. Graciously, she was up to the task. But I’d rather be sweaty and dizzy than feel nothing at all, so perhaps we should thank The Sun for giving us something to remember Saturday by, and not detonate nuclear missiles at its core as previously suggested.

But if this was to be the final Boston Calling at City Hall Plaza, Sunday’s lineup sent the three-year-old institution off with …well, not quite a “bang.” But definitely a very loud “clap” or “pop” of some sort.

Let’s glance back at what unfolded…

Charles Bradley

According to trusted sources, the nearly 70-year-old r&b dynamo Bradley brought forth one of the, if not the, greatest performance Boston Calling has ever seen. Meanwhile, I was wrapped up with the business of typing things at the media table and missed the whole thing.


The Front Bottoms

I admit projecting unfair and unreasonable expectations on this New Jersey quartet who may or may not qualify as emo (we seriously can’t decide). My preparatory “research” into hitherto unfamiliar Boston Calling bands devolved into repeat listens of Back on Top, The Front Bottoms’ excellent 2015 long-player.

And yet as I gazed down at the JetBlue stage while TFBs endeared themselves to festivalgoers with “Cough It Out” — a track destined to inspire a whole new genre called “snugglepunk,” which TFBs will loathe and futilely struggle to distance themselves from whenever asked about the connection in ensuing years — something felt wrong. The Front Bottoms weren’t as cool as I hoped they would be, yet I couldn’t identify any specific reason for feeling let down.

Then I realized I was only ever excited to see The Front Bottoms because their records remind me of Andrew Jackson Jihad, and like most things, The Front Bottoms make a damn poor substitute for Andrew Jackson Jihad.

Elle King

“Elle King” is the somewhat unimaginative stage name of Tanner Elle Schneider. If an eerily familiar nausea set in the second you read her last name, that’s probably because you were forced to watch Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, The Animal, or maybe even The Hot Chick at some point.

I wrote something yesterday about the inverse correlation between the authenticity and bank accounts of country bands, and while the same paradigm applies to blues musicians, King is a special case. Of course, it’s all too easy to roll your eyes when someone who grew up in the iron bubble of privilege known only to movie star offspring picks up a guitar and strums out “Folsom Prison Blues.” If you yelled something like, “Go join the cast of Girls!” at King during her Sunday afternoon showing, you were being totally rude and mean. But maybe you were also on to something.

But let’s take a moment to consider what it must be like to wake up every morning, every day, knowing that 50 percent of your DNA came from Rob Schneider. Imagine having to carry that festering pile of shame and self-loathing on your shoulders throughout your life, with no reprieve, and the certainty that the pain and constant reminders will never go away unless Adam Sandler finally stops giving your dad bit parts in his shitty movies.

So yeah, maybe Elle King never has to worry about money, but maybe her childhood was super duper mega miserable. Probably way, way worse than the guys from These Wild Plains, and if they get to be an authentic country band, shouldn’t we grant King the same validation?

At any rate, it was probably a bad idea to schedule anything remotely blues-ish so soon after Charles Bradley.


Black Beach

It’s nice when a bunch people are like, “Hey man, you should see this. It’s pretty great!” And then it turns out they were right and it is, indeed, pretty great. The scruffy Massachusetts power trio’s Verizon Stage presentation provided a welcome jolt of fury — injected directly into our eye sockets, straight into our brains — amid a weekend otherwise devoid of truly noisy guitar bands.

Walls of sound were built around the insane-sauce guitar work of Steven Instasi, then recklessly knocked down, thus allowing bassist Ben Semeta and drummer Ryan Nicholson to gleefully stomp on the debris. Black Beach were also the first band to call attention to sound from the main stage bleeding through the Verizon Stage’s sonic borders — an annoyance we’re glad somebody finally called attention to.


Janelle Monáe

I went straight from an aural pummeling to Janelle Monáe’s effervescent renditions of James Brown’s “I Got You” and The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” which might’ve been jarring if I wasn’t used to such sensations from two days of wandering around in a stranger’s Spotify playlist.

Remember a few weeks ago when Britney Spears performed at somesuch awards show, and a few blogs said she was brilliant, but all she did was lipsync a medley while correctly reciting her choreography, more or less? We’ve been conditioned to expect and embrace lipsyncing — even though it preempts the possibility of any raw emotion leaking into a live performance — because we can’t expect anyone to devote equal attention to singing and dancing simultaneously, right?

Well, wait a minute, as we all saw, Monáe can sing and dance at the same time, and demonstrate utter mastery of both crafts without appearing the slightest bit winded. Likewise, Heloise Letissier cut innumerable rugs and belted out her songs sans noticeable backing track, no problem at all, earlier that very same day.

If I learned anything at Boston Calling this year, it’s that Britney Spears is very, very lazy.

When Monáe dedicated her last song to her “hero,” “mentor”, and, in her opinion, “the greatest rock star of all time” right around the same time the stage lights turned purple, most of us probably had a good idea what the immediate horizon had in store. I suppose covering “Let’s Go Crazy” — one of maybe two or three Prince songs absolutely everybody recognizes and gets hyped up to hear immediately — wasn’t the riskiest way to go about honoring The Purple One. But in this instance, the direct approach was the best way to cause ample bouncing around and make me to admit to myself a near-bottomless apathy toward Disclosure and, temporarily, HAIM.



By this point the desire to crawl back to my apartment, watch Game of Thrones and pass out felt all consuming, so I prepared myself to give zero fucks about HAIM. But the sibling trio — who have kept a relatively low profile after their run as a flavor of one of 2013’s months — weren’t having it. Unless you can afford season tickets to Blue Man Group, you get maybe one or two lifetime opportunities to hear a rock set end with a triumphant four-person drum solo. Tyrion, Arya, the White Walkers, and the rest of the gang would all still be there when I got home. (Well, Tyrion wasn’t in last night’s episode, but the point stands).

Other standout moments included HAIM’s unveiling of a new track entitled “Nothing’s Wrong” — featuring a moody, spacious bridge section somehow seamlessly dropped in the middle of an otherwise peppy composition. Plus, the band requested us to unleash any hitherto withheld aggression for “My Song 5.”

“Cripes, HAIM, are you sure?” I thought. “I mean, I’m down to wall of death to this song, couple other folks here look t’be in the same boat, but wouldn’t that be really dangerous? Like, I can see a bunch of little kids and a baby, like, five feet away from me.”


We got to hear Lorde when Disclosure piped in her vocals for “Magnets” but as bitterly anticipated, no actual real life Lorde appeared. Instead, we just got two DJs and a pretty neat-o light show, which is all fine and well if you’re into that sort of thing.

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