Boston Calling officially marked the beginning of festival season yesterday as it kicked-off day one of its fifth year to the sound of the alt-rock anthems that dominated its Friday lineup. While the event itself features an eclectic genre-pull of artists and bands, day one was an emphatic sucker-punch of blistering riffs and maniacal percussion antics that was punctuated by The Killer’s shut-out finale last night. Brandon Flowers and company exploded onto the main stage with as much glam-rock gusto as could’ve been expected, ripping through their hit-gushing discography and hemorrhaging adolescent nostalgia all over the crowd. But as meteoric as The Killers always seem to be, the band still never fails to hinge their sets on an almost precarious feeling of intimacy. While their songs at their core are guitar-driven and at times electronica-infused stadium-crushers, Flower’s croons have all the emotional tenacity of a balladeer.
Of course, the notion of intimacy seems pretty moot at a festival like Boston Calling. With its three large stages dominating the already low skyline that surrounds the Harvard Athletic Complex on which the festival is now erected, the event has lost that cozy, local vibe that many festivals enjoy in their infancy. Yet, that being said, Boston Calling’s pragmatic move last year to the athletic fields that sit on the edge of the Charles River hasn’t hindered its experience. With an aggressive expansion of the size of the lineup, which now features a hefty array of showcases and guest speakers, Boston Calling is poised to become a pivotal festival on the east coast.
But for all its growth, the festival’s first day reveled simply in the magnificence of its performers and the unbelievably reasonable pricing of its food. Early performers like Big Thief dazzled their crowd with noisy, atmospheric rock plays that were doused in the tender but wearied croons of Adrianne Lenker. Then there was the collision of art, movement, and music that was Perfume Genius‘ set, orchestrated by the sobering vocals and gesticulations of Mike Hadreas. A standout performer in just about every way imaginable, Perfume Genius halted the crowd with his stratospheric vocals and theatricality. Just next door Noname did much of the same, cutting through the afternoon humidity with her rap-meets-spoken-word inflections.
Maggie Rogers, channeling an ethereal energy in her blue, star-spangled cape, breathed a breath of life into the festival and gave it it’s second-wind with her set. Reminiscent in spectacle and sentiment of other singer/songwriter icons like Jenny Lewis, Rogers imbues a beguiling sense of bliss from her pop-tinted songs. Their momentum, powered by her own euphonious howls, left the crowd as energized as it did breathless.
Portugal. the Man was the first to really accentuate the day’s rock persuasion, giving fans a wild run-through, with scenic stops at all the best face-melting riffs and anthemic peaks. Opening with a bit of satirical, self-depreciation via Beavis and Butthead, the band themselves never fail to milk their crowd for all their worth. With an arsenal of raucous rock pieces and hip-hop inspired beats pounding away at the underbelly of most of their songs, Portugal. the Man decimated as well as reinvigorated with their set. If you weren’t pumped before, you without a doubt left their stage in bee-line toward the Miller Lite installation to shotgun two beers and then crush them on your head in true Animal House fashion.
One of the bigger dilemmas of the entire weekend really came down to Paramore and The National’s time conflict. You really couldn’t go wrong with either and your decision hung really on who you were planning on crying to on a Friday night. Matt Berninger’s croons could be heard grumbling across the green fields in all his bittersweet wonder from the edge of the lacrosse field Paramore was playing on. On this night, we chose to lay down our adolescent angst at the feet of Haley Williams and for a moment we were blinded to our sadness at being unable to be at two places at once. Paramore, for many, soundtracked and continue to soundtrack the bleeding-heart growing pains of adolescence–while their recent pursuit After Laughter tackles in no shy manner a lot of the more matured evolutions of that angst that come with early-adulthood and adulthood. It’s that sense of growing up with the band and essentially Williams herself that made their set so visceral–that and her astounding command of both crowd and stage.
Williams tackles all the heavy rock and pop-punk tendencies of the band with the same fire and grit, shouting into her microphone until the very sonics are drowned out by her fury. Like their music, Paramore is an amalgam of emotion, blending in a curiously sublime manner all the constructive and destructive forms passion can take. Yet, for all their energy live, not an ounce of the quieting and even introspective nature of their music is ever forsaken. Williams role is two-fold: she is the rock-star, lightning rod through which it’s all conducted, and in doing so she exposes herself in a manner that invites our own. Last night Paramore did open-heart surgery on every mangled organ in their crowd with an onslaught of hot-licks and wild percussiveness, but instead of a surgical knife Williams wielded a megaphone–and she cut deep, she cut fast, and not once did she miss her mark.
Words & Photography: Steven Ward