Preview: Boston Calling Festival

by Ben Stas (English/Journalism), published May 22nd 2013

51bd3177This weekend, Boston officially becomes a city with its very own music festival. Boston Calling will descend on City Hall Plaza this Saturday and Sunday with two stages and 18 acts in total. Before you head downtown, check out the Tastemakers rundown of the lineup, complete with set times and recommendations.

Saturday offers by far the more sugary, pop-leaning lineup, contrasting with Sunday’s more rock-oriented fare. This is good news for festival-goers with a musical sweet tooth. Gates open at noon, and Boston natives Bad Rabbits will kick off the music with a Main Stage set at 1:30. Their unique brand of R&B-indebted indie pop should be a satisfying start to the day.saturday

Hyped New Yorkers Cults are a duo on record, but will likely bring a full live band to flesh out their catchy, reverb-y tunes for their Boston Calling appearance. They perform at 2:45 on the Main Stage. Matt & Kim, another NYC duo, will play on the same stage at 4:30. The couple’s drums and keyboards live setup is a fairly no-frills approach, but their unstoppable energy is hard to deny. They’ll offer that late-afternoon boost if you need it. If your tastes run more toward the laid-back and slightly psychedelic, Portland, Oregon’s Portugal. the Man are a safe bet. They’ll be at the City Hall Stage at 5:30.

Saturday’s main highlight is a 6:30 Main Stage set from indie rock mainstays The Shins. James Mercer and company are still touring in support of last year’s Port of Morrow, but bring with them a catalog of catchy, thoughtful and impeccably arranged songs that’s a decade-and-a-half deep. If there’s a perfect band to see outdoors on a Saturday evening in spring, it’s probably The Shins.

Fun., who you are undoubtedly familiar with via their omnipresent single “We Are Young,” will cap off day one. Depending on how you feel about that, you might see them on the Main Stage at 9.

Sunday’s festivities will begin with a trio of solid acts and some potentially unfortunate overlap. The weekend’s singular venture into post-rock comes courtesy of Massachusetts natives Caspian, who bring their heavy instrumental jams to the Main Stage at 1:30. Youth Lagoon’s gentle dream-pop will serenade the City Hall Stage just a half hour later, but it might be worth ducking out for. Mastermind Trevor Powers will be rolling out tracks from his dense, psychedelic new LP Wondrous Bughouse. Head straight back to the Main Stage afterward though, and catch a set from Dirty Projectors at 2:45 that will undoubtedly be a weekend highlight. The Brooklyn-based collective are an almost unbelievably talented live band, recreating their complex art-pop on stage with preternatural ease.

sundayTwo of indie rock’s stateliest acts will perform back-to-back later in the afternoon. Though The Walkmen once played occasionally aggressive post-punk styled rock, recent years have seen them adopt a warmer and more relaxed sound. Last year’s Heaven feels particularly suited to a warm afternoon, so they should be right at home on the Main Stage at 4:30. At 5:30 on the City Hall stage, violinist and whistler extraordinaire Andrew Bird will make his appearance. Bird’s songwriting fuses elements of folk, rock and baroque pop into a style that’s all his own, and his live performances employ impressive on-the-fly looping as well as a backing band. Always a must-see.

Sunday’s biggest band, and arguably the highlight of the weekend, is Brooklyn’s The National. Their excellent new record Trouble Will Find Me is out this week, and they’ll headline Boston Calling at the beginning of a world tour that will include some of their largest shows yet. It’s an exciting time for a band that deserves the recognition. The National have a mostly accurate reputation for downbeat gloom, but they are remarkably good at translating the frustration, disappointment and sadness of their songs into cathartic live performances. Watching Matt Berninger howl the chorus of “Mr. November,” often from the middle of a crowd after descending from the stage, is surely one of the great spectacles of modern rock. See it for yourself when the band hits the main stage at 9.

VIP tickets are still available. Go to the Boston Calling website to purchase.

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