Live Review: Music saves the day at Boston Calling’s Allston debut


All photos by Eddy Leiva for Vanyaland; see his full Day 1 gallery here.

Confession: I experienced relatively little in the way of specific frustration Friday (May 26) at Boston Calling.

However, I showed up with a magic media wristband that entitled me to leapfrog the general admittance entrance and urinate in portable rest rooms set aside for members of the press. Also, I live down the street, ergo didn’t have to rely on onsite food for sustenance.


It is pertinent that some festival goers without my privilege reported soul-crushingly long waits for security check, bathrooms, and noms — so, y’know, those people would probably write a more pissed off review than this one.

But taking into account the venue switch from Calling’s old digs at City Hall Plaza to its new home at Harvard Athletic Complex, the expansion from two music stages to three, the addition of a “comedy club” where the Harvard ice hockey team skates, and the turnout swelling in proportion (I don’t have a scientifically gathered headcount on hand, but I’ve heard the numbers 35,000 and 40,000 tossed around) the organizers deserve a mulligan if they didn’t execute every single aspect of their first try at this with immaculate perfection.

We all could’ve gone to Fyre Festival instead, y’know?


And from my vantagepoint, the music was consistently solid, so let’s chat about that…

Vundabar [red stage]

Grey skies beamed down ominous overtones all day, but nobody can control the weather, and only Solange can control Solange, who dropped off at the zero hour. “Solange was supposed to play, but she said… So long, Solange” cracked one of the dudes from Vundabar as I stepped in my day’s first — but definitely not last — pool of mud. The irreverent garage trio provided an unlikely soundtrack for underdressed coeds who were attending Coachella in their minds (which, in every respect that matters, is the same thing as literally attending Coachella) posing for Instagram likes. Even while the rain made me feel doomed, the salvo of good ol’ fashioned irony left me feeling optimistic.

Lucy Dacus [green stage]

Then along came Tim Kaine’s preferred Matador Records artist who, judging only by her set, lacks a single snarky bone in her entire skeleton. While sonically inconspicuous, her 40 minutes onstage was memorable for phrase turning that included, “I don’t believe in love at first sight — maybe I would if you looked at me right” from “Direct Address” and “I don’t need to be the front man. If not, I’ll be the biggest fan,” from “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore.” Dacus observed a notable amount of faces mixed in with the crowd of Chance The Rapper baseball hats singing her words back at her. Never underestimate the enduring popularity of spot-on wordsmithery.



Deerhoof [blue stage]

Soon after, across the stadium, experimental guitar music vanguards Deerhoof found themselves faced with a festival audience who — with the exception of three or four obvious Deerhoof superfans — had no idea what the fuck they were hearing. But after spending more than 20 years as the weirdest band on virtually every bill they’re ever booked on, Deerhoof can withstand and shrug off literally anything. For this particular outing, Satomi Matsuzaki played while dressed as a lime green Pop Tart, and I really hope that look catches on. Whatever youth-and-music-related subculture adopts Giant Pop Tart Chic the way punks did with mohawks and 2000s hipsters did with bad mustaches — well, that’s a metaphorical high school cafeteria table where I’d wanna sit.

Francis And The Lights [green stage]

Okay to be totally, 100 percent, maybe a little too honest? I fully expected to crap all over Francis And The Lights. This summary of Francis Farewell Starlite’s contribution to my day was supposed to be a photoshop of Donald Trump licking Joseph Stalin with the caption “Not A Good Look, Fatso” or something along those lines.

I’m still not sure if I like Francis’s music. Maybe it sucks? I don’t even care anymore, because what a goddamn showman. Motherfucker’s like Tom Jones and all five Backstreet Boys squashed into a single personality and programmed into a replicant body based on Max Headroom’s genetic blueprint. Plenty of festival circuit hacks press “play” and try to look busy for 45 minutes. Francis And The Lights hit the “play” button and got BIZ-AY — owning the multitude with no tools aside from his keyboard and his dancing shoes. Evidently, Chance joined Francis for the first of (I believe?) the day’s two runthroughs of “May I Have This Dance,” but by then I had migrated to watch…



Car Seat Headrest [blue stage]

It’s going to be Sunday afternoon before I can find the Blue Stage or the media tent without getting lost for 15 minutes along the way, and these particular navigational difficulties don’t make me unique. But as Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in Beyond Good And Evil, “Any good party should be a little hard to find.” The accidental secrecy surrounding the Blue Stage only enhanced the atmosphere for Car Seat Headrest. Last year’s Teens of Denial makes highly suitable listening during any reprieve from scrambling across astroturf fields, and/or for watching people be awesome at hula hoops.

Mac DeMarco [blue stage]

I decided to watch Mac DeMarco instead of Migos, the last-minute replacement for Solange. Before that moment, I’ve never felt so blatantly, obviously like a white person.

Based on the fervor of his still-expanding audience, DeMarco has the potential to do for Captured Tracks roughly what Fall Out Boy did for Fueled by Ramen. Dude closed out by throwing his socks — assuredly moist with a sweat and rainwater cocktail — into the throng, and the kids went so giddy to snatch the disgusting things up I’m surprised I can’t find DeMarco socks on eBay.

The appeal makes sense from the right angle. DeMarco’s slovenly charisma, lo-fi production sensibilities, and grab bag of exhaustively vetted reference points meld into a slightly-challenging, but thoroughly inoffensive figure tailormade for listeners predisposed to like really bland music, but don’t want to see themselves as the kind of people who like really bland music.



Bon Iver [red stage]

My attempts to get close enough to hear or see much of Bon Iver led to a crowd-squash claustrophobia panic attack and even muddier feet. But later, I met a Bon Iver superfan who expressed total disappointment with Justin Vernon’s neglect to dispense much in the way of hits, as well as a willingness to let the band’s keyboardist do most of the heavy lifting. I don’t know if Bon Iver did good or not, but one guy who kinda seemed to know what he was talking about thought Bon Iver totally sucked.

Chance The Rapper [green stage]

The sky exploded sometime in the ballpark of Bon Iver’s conclusion (and Sigur Ros’ first few songs on the other side of the grounds), but the buckets only kept pouring for maybe 10 or 15 minutes. After not the shortest day ever, I figure we all kinda needed Fireworks! Sparkly lights! Fire! Big Bright Beaming Cartoons on the Video Wall. A Fog Machine on Overdrive which gelled with the lights and from afar, looked like a massive combustion of sheer sensory confection with Chance and the Social Experiment doing their usual deal right in the middle as if NBFD.

I have two gripes with the way-too-wholesome 24-year-old headliner — who otherwise received deserved lauds and accolades across the board. 1: His Jesus thing is easier to ignore on his records than it is during his live show, and at points, I felt like Mike Pence at a Mayhem concert. 2: He didn’t include “Runaway” or “Monster” in his medley of Kanye West covers.


But “Same Drugs” is handedly my favorite Chance The Rapper song, and that just-so-happened to be the one he performed on a platform miles deep into the crowd, so the people in back (like me) didn’t have to keep squinting. So, y’know, I’ve got minor issues, but certainly no pertinent complaints.



On the way back to headquarters as I gathered up energy drinks in the far corner of the N. Harvard Street 7-Eleven, a mediocre young gentlemen was denied access to the establishment’s employees only restroom. Young Sir did not accept this denial graciously.

From the back of the substantial post-festival line for the cashier, I couldn’t see much, but I did hear 1: Young Sir reprimanding the clerks with severe indignation and disdain. 2: Another fellow in line advising Young Sir to “shut the fuck up and get the fuck out of here” which was very good advice in this instance. 3: A flurry of homophobic slurs. 4: A scuffle that concluded with Young Sir sobbing in the lap of a visibly shaken (but hopefully not injured?) woman I’m pretty sure he knew who got caught in a punchy crossfire.

Right before I paid for my Rockstars, the customer in front of me glanced at this scene which had drifted out to the sidewalk by this point, and asked the clerk “How long has this been going on?”

Says the clerk, ‘All day.”



For all of Vanyaland’s continued Boston Calling coverage, click here; follow Barry Thompson on Twitter @barelytomson.