Five Things You Missed at Boston Calling V

By: - Wednesday, May 27, 2015 - 2:26pm

The lineup for the fifth edition of the Boston Calling Music Festival read like a menu for the chain restaurant you go to when someone wants ribs, someone wants fajitas, and someone wants chicken fingers because she’s 14: There’s a little something for everyone. People like to hate on those restaurants, but hey, everyone went home happy, right?

The May edition of the biannual festival lit up City Hall Plaza with performances spanning alternative rock, hip hop, acoustic folk, indie pop, and ‘70s soul — and that was just Beck’s Friday night set. The rest of the 23 acts over three days also brought a little something for everyone, whether you were staking out front-row spots for artists who had their biggest hits before you were born or telling everyone about catching the Pixies at T.T.’s in ‘89.

There’s also the possibly that everything sounds good when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and you’re drinking a cold beer with good friends. If you were enjoying the weekend weather somewhere else, here’s what you missed as Boston Calling turned five.

1. Beck will make you respect his artistry.

The Grammy winner for Album of the Year played only “Blue Moon” from last year’s somber Morning Phase, instead leaning heavily on “fun Beck” numbers from Odelay and Guero. A guest sitar player intro’d “Loser,” the nonsense-rap breakout hit from 1993 and, yup, that means it’s old enough to graduate college. “Girl” might be the best summer jam ever that’s probably about murdering somebody, and the shimmery pop trio of “Think I’m in Love,” “Soldier Jane” and “Gamma Ray” reminded us that Beck didn’t completely disappear for the past ten years.

But it was the encore that elevated this performance beyond recent perfectly satisfying Friday headliners like Jack Johnson and The National. Extended takes on “Debra” and “Where It’s At” showcased an ace backing band and referenced the Rolling Stones, Van Halen, the Doobie Brothers, Devo, and the Beatles, if you count Beck belting out a deranged and unprompted “Let me take you down / ‘cause we’re going to…” Somewhere around his funky-preacher or alt-comedy-act iterations, it became clear that Beck is just a pure entertainer: He might make a sad record every ten years or so, but he’s still having a good time.

Sharon Van Etten opened Friday night with a set of low-key pop that played well to the windswept early arrivals on the plaza. The first of three Australian acts on the bill for the weekend, the only thing missing from Tame Impala’s psychedelic set was the equally trippy light show projected on City Hall after nightfall.

2. Yes, Tove Lo flashed us. No, we’re not special.

Hey, at least if there was going to be some on-stage nudity over the weekend it was Tove Lo and not Tenacious D. The Swedish pop star behind “Habits (Stay High)” and “Talking Body” took off her… sunglasses, so she could see the Saturday afternoon crowd better (“Lot of hot bodies out there…”) and a couple songs later, she showed us her… support for the #FreeTheNipple movement.

(Spring break, wooooo!!!)

A photo posted by Scotty Schenck (@scottyschenckphoto) on

Tove Lo

But this wasn’t just a special treat for the Boston Calling crowd’s hot bodies and “really cool” sunglasses (oh, these old things? I got these for signing up for Uber a while back.) Nah, this is kind of a Tove Lo calling card, most recently at Alabama’s Hangout Festival.

Getting back to the music, though, because that’s what we were there for, not to see boobs. Tove Lo was just one of a handful of young pop stars to hit the stage over the weekend. Denmark’s M∅ inserted a special character into Saturday’s festivities with her brand of aerobic Spice Girls cover that, yup, we did the math and the original came out before anyone in the first ten rows was alive. Marina and the Diamonds, Halsey, and Lucius also fell somewhere on the electro/indie pop spectrum that all kind of blended together after a while, for me at least. One band that didn’t?


3. St. Vincent is Melisandre from Game of Thrones with a guitar.

The stage name for former Polyphonic Spree member Annie Clark, St. Vincent wields her Telecaster like the Red Woman wields king’s blood. Guitar work that stakes out new ground somewhere between the blues-based jamming of My Morning Jacket and the one-handed anti-solo from the Pixies’ Joey Santiago took the Berklee dropout’s takes on “Digital Witness” and “Bring Me Your Loves” to another level. Sometimes what you’d expect to be a synth line came out of her guitar, and other times something came out of her guitar that didn’t resemble any instrument from this Earth.

St. Vincent is the guitar hero Boston Calling deserves.

4. Run the Jewels may have given Pats fans their 2015 anthem

Playing an early Saturday afternoon slot that seemed out of whack with their rising status, the high-energy rap duo came out to “We are the Champions” and shouted out Tom Brady. Probably just a cheap ploy from El-P (a self-proclaimed “New Yorkian”) and Killer Mike (Atlanta), but it got the crowd going to kick off a relentless set that proved Killer Mike can play in pain — slinging rhymes with an arm in a sling — and peaked with “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck).”

Later, the chorus of “Lie, Cheat, Steal” outlined what El-P called the group’s five tenets of the American way: “Lie, cheat, steal, kill, win, WIN / Everybody’s doin’ it.” Patriots fans exchanged knowing glances; we might as well embrace our villain status at this point (and point out that everyone else is cheating, too). Killer Mike ended the set by humbly thanking the audience and giving credit to the other performers… just kidding, he yelled “Best rap group in the motherfucking world,” and dropped the mic.


5. The transformative power of rock and roll music? Still a thing.

Kentucky’s My Morning Jacket are no strangers to the festival stage, and if their majestic headlining set Saturday night had to be cut short well before the four-hour mark they’ve hit at Bonnaroo, it wasn’t lacking for anything: Atmospheric folk, reggae, and straight-ahead American rock music. And a lot of bands shouted out Boston over the weekend, but we were partial to frontman Jim James calling it “old Boston town.”

At first it was unclear if anyone told Jack Black that Tenacious D is supposed to be a joke band, and not a real touring act like My Morning Jacket. Dude was really working up a sweat up there. But after two wardrobe changes and dozens of picks theatrically thrown into the crowd, it was obvious that Black’s commitment to the joke is the joke. And besides, no one wants to hear a comedy band that can’t play their instruments.

Paying proper tribute to the band who would follow them to close out the festival Sunday night, Black noted that without the Pixies there might not be a Nirvana, and there might not be a Radiohead.

“Would there be a Krill?” partner Kyle Gass wondered about the local band that opened Saturday.

I don’t know if I’m supposed to say “Pixies” or “the Pixies” but either way they still rock. You can cram a lot of tunes into a 90-minute set list when most of them come in under three minutes, so Black Francis and company treated the hometown crowd to a set featuring singalongs on hits like “Where is My Mind” and “Here Comes Your Man” plus plenty of deep cuts for the die-hards.

The performance united new and old fans alike, such as when a group of tank-topped dude-bros elbowed their way closer to the stage past a grey-haired older fan. “You’re too young to know who the Pixies are!” he yelled, and they stopped. The bros stopped to huddle with him for a minute, then turned back to push towards the stage — with the older guy right behind them. Say what you will about millennials, they make for solid lead blockers.

The Pixies’ loud-quiet-loud dynamics notably influenced everything from Nirvana to EDM, and summed up the variety you were likely to find at Boston Calling: Sometimes you want to rock, sometimes you want to rest for a minute. Sometimes you want to push closer and closer to the front of the stage and go crazy for Run the Jewels, and sometimes you need to take a little break and go sit down somewhere in the shade and drink a beer.

Sometimes you were the slow version of “Wave of Mutilation,” and sometimes you were the fast version of “Wave of Mutilation.”

In conclusion, Boston Calling is a land of contrasts.

A photo posted by Scotty Schenck (@scottyschenckphoto) on

The Pixies