Boston Calling

Traveling to Boston for the Boston Calling Music Festival

Memorial Day weekend not only kicked off the start of summer this year, it also kicked off the summer concert season with one of the biggest music festivals on the east coast, the Boston Calling music festival. Set along the sprawling turf of the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston, Massachusetts, the fest featured three stages of music, an indoor arena, tons of better than average food vendors and a diverse list of amazing artists including Jack White, Eminem and the Killers, among others. The space was incredibly accommodating, the music was consistently top notch all weekend, and the entire event seemed very well organized and precisely put together.

Though the heavy hitters and headliners commanded the three main stages throughout the weekend, the arena offered an eclectic array of more intimate artistic performances for people who wanted to take a break from the big bands. One of these performances was Harvard University's own Natalie Portman, who was billed “with friends” in the arena on all three days. Though she did little more than introduce some other artists the first day, on day two and three she slowly and sultrily read poetry over a silent film being projected on a movie screen. The performance was both creative and utterly captivating, leaving me wishing music festivals had this kind of thing going on more often.

Later on in the afternoon on Friday, the Russian revolutionists, Pussy Riot, came out in their trademark ski masks to push through a predictably political performance about all things ranging from Putin to pussies. Though the set started out slow, with a 10-minute long list of global society's shortcomings projected on a screen, the bands blend of electro-punk and rap got the Boston crowd bouncing along through the entirety of the set. Other acts including Portugal. The Man and Maggie Rogers performed throughout the afternoon before the headliners hit the stage.

Paramore. Photo by Scott Perham.

Both the National and Paramore went on at the same time on different stages, so like many other music festivals I found myself having to choose between bands. I attended the Paramore performance, and though I would've liked to have seen the National, the Paramore performance was one of the highlights of my weekend. Right out of the gate, the band blasted out a non-stop juggernaut of tight tunes that engaged the audience from the first song to the last. Hitting home with both old and new fans alike, the band performed a solid selection of songs that spanned its entire catalog.

After Paramore's performance, the sun went down and the energy amped up for the Killers to take the stage. Because no other bands performed at the same time as the main stage headliner, the place was packed with fans anxious for a “killer” close to the evening, and they weren't disappointed. Opening the show with their biggest hit, “Mr. Brightside”, the band had the crowd eating out of the palm of its collective hand from the get-go. Rocking through other hits like like, “Somebody Told Me” and an upbeat cover of Tom Petty's “American Girl”, the band kept the crowd constantly cheering for more. Another notable moment in the performance was when the band brought a local fan up to play drums on “For Reasons Unknown”.

St. Vincent. Photo by Scott Perham

Saturday was yet another beautiful day at Harvard, with plenty of sunshine and even more great music. Bands like Tyler the Creator, Brockhampton and St. Vincent provided the soundtrack for the afternoon outside. Though all three acts created a festival-wide buzz surrounding their solid performances, St. Vincent wore the crown as the standout set of the afternoon.

Queens of the Stone Age brought in the evening with an ultra-energetic set of tight tunes, which primed the audience for Saturday's headlining act, the almighty Jack White. Though White's latest album, “Boarding House Reach” is a bit of a departure from the blues-based rock riffs that are synonymous with his style, his performance served as a musical journey through his whole career and his wide variety of different musical collaborations. Alternating classic White Stripes hits like “Hotel Yorba” “Hello Operator” and “Slowly Turning into You” with some Raconteurs and Dead Weather songs, as well as classic solo songs like “Blunderbuss”, the incendiary performance was just what the doctor ordered for serious fans of all things Jack White. To close the show, he wailed out the classic White Stripes song, “Seven Nation Army”, leaving a sea of exhausted fans all cheering and chanting along.

Sunday was a much different day than the previous two days of the festival, and not just because the temperature dropped 35 degrees overnight, and it was raining for the majority of the day. Along with continued comedy acts, podcasts and another film rooted set by Natalie Portman in the arena, the main stages featured more groove and hip hop artists than the previous days, featuring hot acts like Fleet Foxes, the Decemberists and Khalid on the outdoor stages. It also featured Beastie Boys' Mike D's return to the stage, listing his performance as a DJ set. Though it was technically a DJ set, featuring legendary KRS 1 on the turntables, most of the songs were Beastie Boys classics, including “Brass Monkey”, “Intergalactic” and “Sabatoge” with Mike D rapping just his part of each song over the top. Though it was a treat to see one of my all-time favorite artists back on stage doing his thing, the absence of the other missing B Boys was overwhelming in this format, which left me feeling more sad than psyched at the end of the set.

After Mike D's performance, Eminem closed out the festival with an explosive set that was the hands-down highlight of the day, if not the highlight of the whole festival. Though the real Slim Shady has not graced the stage in Boston for 14 years, he came back swinging with a flawless flow that is as tight as any other rapper on the scene today. I was blown away by his vocal skills on the mic and the power of his performance, as were many other people in my area of the crowd who were pretty much voicing the same opinion. Performing hits from all areas of his career including “My Name Is”, “The Way I Am”, “Stan”. “The Real Slim Shady”, “Without Me” and closing the show out with “Lose Yourself”, Eminem proved that more than twenty years after he released his first album, he remains one of the most dominant hip-hop artists on the scene.

Eminem. Photo by Jeremy Deputat

As this festival continues to mature and grow in its 9th year on the circuit, it is proving to be one of the best in the area, due to weekends like this. The eclectic lineup had a little something for everybody on each day, and the overall vibe of the crowd remained relaxed and fun-filled throughout the weekend, which seemingly went off without incident. Though it was my first year at this festival, the dates and location for next year's fest have already been announced and you can bet that I will be returning back to Harvard to see what this fabulous festival has in store for 2019.

Text by Scott Perham

The Killers. Photo by Rob Loud