Live Review: Loneliness among the masses on Day 2 at Boston Calling

Featured image by Matthew Shelter for Vanyaland.

I have no doubt there are numerous emo lyrics I could reference here to illustrate the obvious irony of loneliness emerging in the midst of a massive crowd. Dunno if anybody’s even written a song about how that type of de facto solitude can be a positive thing? If not, maybe someone should! If you find yourself needing a break from interacting with humans right around this time next year, consider Boston Calling!

No need to feel spooked by the tens of thousands of other people in your vicinity. As long as you’re a dude, or can manage to look like a dude, it’s likely to very likely that no one you don’t already know will try to talk to you. It’s the fuckin’ best!

For a more sophisticated take on isolation, let us look to Tyler, the Creator. As he notes on the Flower Boy tentpole track “911/Mr. Lonely,” Tyler is demonstrably lonely as fuck… relative to other artists often scheduled to appear at major music festivals. Tyler performed 8:30-ish on the Blue Stage on Saturday (May 26) alongside no other musicians, no props, no backup dancers; a pretty sick lights and visuals production, sure, but the only entity occupying any physical space up there the whole 60-something minutes was Tyler, The Creator.

As aesthetic choices go, this one was spot-the-fuck on. A song about loneliness will resonate more effectively when its source is literally, as you can see, all by themselves. Tyler’s digital backdrops included a starry night sky, a grassy field; images that evoke natural stretches of empty space. This also scanned as absolutely deliberate; maybe even necessary. Without the soothing, minimalist scenery Tyler couldn’t have espoused on boredom — like, for one example, in the song literally called “Boredom” — without it feeling wildly out of context.

“I’m going to pass the fuck out doing that one of these days,” he mused after unleashing an unholy shriek to signal the conclusion of “ORKA.” That could happen during any number of moments in his set, really. Tyler, the Creator was lonely as fuck on Saturday, but he was also intense as fuck. Will we ultimately remember Sunday headliner Eminem as Boston Calling 2018’s second-best mega-famous rapper who started his career getting too much attention for being offensive? Dunno for sure yet, but, I mean, of course, right?

Tyler, The Creator photo by Emily Gardner for Vanyaland.

Aside from Tyler I spent the whole Saturday watching guitar bands. Music festivals have a well-storied tendency to pluck performers who thrive in seedy, nighttime clubs, drop them onto sunny midday stages, and watching them sink. But exactly those sorts of clumsy, accidental aesthetic and contextual conditions didn’t kill The Menzingers’ 2 p.m. engagement on the Red Stage.

To give a capsule explanation of The Menzingers: Picture The Gaslight Anthem, except instead of singing about their warm, sentimental feelings about the good ol’ days, this venerable Pennsylvania outfit gazes back at a litany of bad choices and the grim realization that they were pretty much miserable during what may, nevertheless, pan out to be the best years of their lives. The Menzingers are basically the realistic version of The Gaslight Anthem, and to be clear, The Menzingers are fucking awesome.

But does it make any sense whatsoever to toss dirty, semi-tragic, creeping mid-life bummer pop-punk on in the middle of an avalanche of merciless nightmarish Saturday afternoon sunshine? Next to a Ferris wheel, no less? It totally did this time! Because how many other possible circumstances in our lives could ever create the sound and image of Greg Barnett wailing, “I will fuck this up… I fucking know it” during “The Obituaries” — one of the most depressing songs ever recorded by a generally depressing band — in what’s not too far of a cry from fucking Disneyland?

Helpfully, the Red Stage/Green Stage/Red Stage back-and-forth block containing The Menzingers, Thee Oh Sees, and the lately reunited Belly complemented itself without approaching anything akin to sameness. Let’s say this trio of acts hail from three different planets, but in the same solar system.

The Menzingers’ utilitarian, heartfelt punk rock segued into Oh Sees noisy, brainier take on the genre. There is no time to sob into your pint glass of PBR when your pair of drummers appear incapable of calming down and your guitar solos are easily mistaken for police sirens, flying saucer landing alerts, and what I imagine large quantities of aluminum sound like whilst being ground through a recycling compactor. The confounding San Fran organization surely boggled a few minds with their technical prowess and aggressive abnormality, even if their whole cacophonous deal started to feel like too much right around 4 p.m. Happily, Belly swooped in bring our situation back down to just the right amount.

“Are you ready to pogo like it’s 1993?” asked Tanya Donelly — who totally talked to us, btw — before cranking out “Gepetto” off the record Star from that very same year.

Donelly spent the Reagan years doing this sort of thing in Throwing Muses. Oh Sees have been at it in one form or another since 1997. But The Menzingers — who formed in 2006, and are all, what, 30-somethings? — were the band who sang about the bygone years “When we were both lookers” and whatnot. Who would’ve thought?! It figures!

A bit later on, Royal Blood made for a fine and splendid jolt of garage rock bombast, even if I couldn’t shake the notion that I was basically hearing a version of The White Stripes with a not-as-good drummer. (Meg White was incredible at the drums don’t @ me). Over on the other side of Harvard Athletic Complex, Brockhampton rapped several bars acapella, which was the Blue Stage version of having two drummers. Oh Sees had already blew my weirdness threshold by that point, so I decided to watch a completely normal St. Vincent set instead.

A rumour circulating around the media tent raised speculation that an artifact resembling The Infinity Gauntlet somehow found its way onto the festival grounds. If true, the ridiculous glove of omnipotence likely came into St. Vincent’s possession, because she was heavily into some Adam Warlock shit.

The ex-Berklee student referenced The Middle East — “the only mother fuckers in the city who can handle,” her, as it were — as a segue into “New York,” and managed shout outs to Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Waltham into her between-song banter. We can now credibly speculate that St. Vincent — an international rock star who hasn’t lived here in something like 15 years — knows more about Boston than 75 percent of the largely suburban-based audience at Boston Calling. In fact, I’m almost certain I’ve never even been to Waltham.

After Tyler, The Creator, a true life Tim Burton character was playing country music on the
Green Stage, so I went outside and listened to a busker cover “Friday I’m In Love” on the sidewalk instead. Apparently his name is Sean Yox. Let us all put a dollar in his guitar case on Sunday.

Follow Barry Thompson on Twitter @barelytomson. Click here for our Boston Calling coverage throughout the weekend.