Live Review: Fiending for smokes and musical delights Saturday at Boston Calling


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


I get that society collectively agreed to vilify smokers and it’s too late for anyone to do anything about that. I get that Boston Calling has an obligation to follow the rules of Harvard Athletic Complex to the greatest possible degree. I get that what I view as a professional necessity to focus, others may view as a malign sense of entitlement to privileges beyond those of everyone else.


But if the caucasian, grey mustached, I’m guessing 60-something security guard at the VIP and media entrance who told me I could hide my tobacco and lighter outside the fest did what I strongly suspect he did — i.e., snatched my plastic baggie of cigarette gear up and tossed it in the contraband pile as soon as I headed inside — then he is a profoundly unpleasant, power-tripping bag of assholes.

If he didn’t, then maybe he’s not quite The Most Awful Ever, but still, the interaction kind of fucked up my whole day, tbh.

“Actually, let me see that bag,” he commanded as I tucked my cigarette works away in a cinder block underneath a trailer, well out of sight of passersby.

“Sure thing! Only brown stuff in there!” I responded whilst thinking, “Motherfucker, if I was trying to sneak drugs in this bag, then why did I already show it to you and one other security guard?”

If I’m Luke Skywalker, Friday was A New Hope, Saturday was Empire Strikes Back, and boy am I ever hoping Tool turns out to be me and my Ewok buddies dancing on Palpatine’s decimated corpse at the end of Return of the Jedi.

Anyway, here’s what we saw on Saturday.

Strand of Oaks [red stage]

Sometimes location is everything. If Strand of Oaks played this exact same set five years ago to a 65 percent blacked out weekend crowd at T.T. The Bear’s, they’d be legends. But basked in sunshine and bubble wand-wielding Calling patrons on an early afternoon, it didn’t quite click. Physically, Timothy Showalter resembles a de-Splitknotted version of WWE big bad Bray Wyatt, which lets him project a quasi-southern, quasi-country sorta vibe, even though he’s basically playing arena rock with little to no significant degree of bumpkinism. This explains why they booked his band the same day as Mumford, but by his own account, his personal excitement corresponds to Tool’s looming arrival.

Moses Sumney [green stage]

Oddly enough, Sumney’s avant-garde pop(?) meshed easily with the surrounding brightness, though there’s zero chance he ever envisioned sequencing a pile of rhythms and sounds — some of which were genuinely rough on the ears — and thought, “Oooooh, this will go over like gangbusters with kids who just want to hear something simple they can dance to.” His first song reminded me of tUnE-yArDs for superficial and obvious reasons, but a new track opened with guitar ambiance that could’ve been the first few bars of an Alcest album.


Russ [blue stage]

And then there was New Jersey’s Russ, who announced that organizers told him to wrap it up and, heedless of their warnings, played at least three more mediocre songs. So I’m not allowed to handle my own tobacco — which I paid for with money I made covering events just like this one so people know they exist and might consider purchasing tickets — but Russ gets a pass on blowing his set time and potentially fucking up his entire stage’s schedule for the rest of the day?

Cousin Stizz [blue stage]

Now and again, Boston Calling takes flak for perceived under-representation of the “Boston” “local” “scene.” In some respects, that’s valid gripe, in that if Boston Calling represented the “local” “scene” on the scale that would make the “local” “scene” happy, it would lose a massive amount of money and go out of business immediately. On the other hand, I’m not sure if everyone in the “local” “scene” — which is 17 people who only go to each other’s shows — knows who Cousin Stizz is. Most of them haven’t heard of The Hotelier, either.

Aside from a degree of illness that has become customary for all Stizz performances, the Dorchester prodigy accidently called for the Lamest Mosh Pit I’ve Ever Seen when he asked to audience to (safely) wile out to “Gain Green.” Whilst grinning at the silliness of it all, what looked like a preparatory school state champion sailing team gently knocked against each other.

“Me? In a ‘mosh’ ‘pit?’ Whatever will mother say?” they thought to themselves, all in fake British accents.


Tegan And Sara [red stage]

As afternoon shifted into evening, the enormity and madness of Calling’s attendance became woefully clear. Crooning and wandering across the stage in front of an inflatable, faux-ramshackle “T” and the same kind of “S,” the Quin sisters felt like a miraculous, effervescent music video filmed during the best day of the 2000s plopped before a mob of screaming teenagers taking pictures of themselves in the mud with no idea it was happening.

Bummer for them. Now eight albums and two major stylistic shifts into their career, Tegan And Sara must address the problem every band faces when they can’t grind out a checklist of fan favorite tracks without boring themselves into a coma. Their solution = fresh arrangements of old numbers. They mustered up “Northshore” — originally an uncharacteristically grisly punk throttler — in synthpop form. “Nineteen” leans harder on pianos and keys than guitars now. I don’t know if they consciously played a more expansive version of “Living Room,” or if the version that appears on 2002’s If It Was You was simply recorded by a different version of the Quins. Whatever the case, this way, Tegan And Sara don’t fall asleep going through the same motions they’ve gone through for years, but their diehards can still sing along.


Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats [green stage]


The xx [red stage]

By this point, exhaustion and involuntary nicotine abstainment had rendered me pretty glum. Aptly, The xx might as well have been playing on my earbuds for all the disinterested red stage onslaught of humanity noticed or cared. But the Londoners’ icy blend of I See You tracks and older material summoned up a solemn optimism against the abyss which cut through the bedlam in a way Tegan And Sara couldn’t quite. I chalk that up to the practical applications of atmosphere (The xx) vs. songs (Tegan and Sara). You can ruin a song by screaming inanities over the chorus, but you can’t do the same thing with an instrumental crescendo.

Oliver Sim mentioned something about a breakup before dedicating “Dangerous” to all the single folks out there. I assumed he had been dating someone famous, but there’s nothing about his uncoupling on any of my celebrity gossip sites, which is weird — you’d think The xx would be dating famous people exclusively by this point.

The 1975 [blue stage]

I wrote yesterday that the blue stage felt like a low key, hidden venue compared to the perpetual upheaval over at the red and green. But something unexpected happened when I dragged myself over to sit through The 1975.

Y’see, In the red and green sections, everyone was so preoccupied yelling and pushing each other out to the way to get somewhere else, most of them completely ignored one of the greatest songwriting duos of, like, the last 20 years. But the gathering at the blue stage appeared genuinely interested in hearing The 1975. Many danced, a few sang along; Suddenly I was at a concert instead of a “music” “festival.”


“Hey buddy, Do you know where I can score some molly?” asked a young woman who was dressed waaaaay too goth to be a 1975 fan.

“I do not,” says I.

“Do you know where I can score some blotter?”

“I don’t know where any drugs are,” I confessed. I also didn’t know what she meant by “blotter.” I just looked it up. She probably meant acid.

As for The 1975, they’re what people who were born in 1996 think the ‘80s were like. It’s a magical time where AIDS, crack, and Reaganomics never happened. It’s Stranger Things without The Upside Down, where everyone’s parents fell in love watching Molly Ringwald movies and playing Pac-Man. Of course it’s a lie, but it’s a comforting lie, and those are the best kind.

Mumford & Sons [green stage]

I tweeted something dumb about my intention to trash Mumford & Sons at least an hour before their scheduled performance. This was foolish of me, because 1: If you announce a plan to write a bad review of something you haven’t seen yet, then you’ve negated any pretext of, y’know, meaningful criticism, which is supposed to be the whole point of stuff like this. And 2: Even without the advance warning, there’s no compelling reason to pan Mumford & Sons. There’re plenty of regular reasons to do that, but no reasons with, y’know, gravitas.

No sexy reasons, in other words.

Mumford’s easy hateability isn’t on the level of Creed or The Chainsmokers, but still, they’re one of their generation’s safest punchlines for critics and listeners who wish others to perceive them as “edgy.” Mumford fans have already read and heard all the snarky comments. They don’t care if I think a Mumford & Sons concert is exactly the same as two hours soaking in lukewarm bathwater.

And maybe they should care, because I’m a hypocrite. 1: Tonight Alive does a stellar cover of “Little Lion Man,” which would be impossible if “Little Lion Man” was an objectively bad song. And 2: If you knock up Mumford & Sons’ BPM a few notches, suddenly they’re Flogging Molly and I guess then I’d think they’re great?

Frozen Birthday Party [my house]

The family who lives on the first floor of my building tossed a Frozen-themed birthday party for their daughter (we know this is her second-consecutive Frozen birthday — her interest hasn’t drifted to a more recent Disney movie since last year). Because they think of birthday parties less as carefully managed exercises in child socialization and more as birthday parties, a multigenerational dance-a-thon had been raging out — albeit raging out in a G-rated manner — for several hours before I maneuvered through the revelry on my lawn and front porch.

I don’t know that my neighbors’ Frozen Birthday Party was more fun than Boston Calling on Saturday, but from the snippet I saw before climbing the stairs to my apartment and passing out, it sure looked that way.

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