Boston Calling Spring 2016 – Day One Recap

by David McDevitt (International Affairs/Economics), photos by Emily O’Brien (Interaction Design)

Tastemakers has made it to every Boston Calling since its inception, and it has been wonderful to see how the festival has grown into itself. From a cold and trying Saturday in 2013 to the fully formed festival-circuit mainstay that it has become. After this year Boston Calling will be officially saying goodbye to the place where it was born, moving out to Allston to be held at the Harvard Athletic Complex for its next run in 2017.

As if completing a cycle, Aaron Dessner (the festivals own curator), took the stage first with Irish folk singer Lisa Hannigan. Dessner had been the final act during the festival’s first run in front of Government Center, now bookending its run in front of the giant concrete monstrosity. With The National reaching nearly 15 years together when their last record, Trouble Will Find Me, was released, most of its key members have snuck off to find themselves in various projects in the past few years. Dessner found himself a new voice in Lisa Hannigan, and the two work phenomenally together. She began her career harmonizing with fellow Irish folk singer Damien Rice all the way back in 2003, and even though her and Rice no longer work together, Hannigan has surpassed her former self as composer, vocalist, and performer. With Dessner and Hannigan’s collaborative album set to drop in August of this year, there seemed to be no better time for the duo to introduce their sound to the world.

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“I just got done touring around the world, singing songs about death and loneliness. If you don’t mind, we’re going to have a little fun tonight.” For the second set, Sufjan Stevens took the stage with giant foil wings and an outfit you could imagine a child creating from a coloring book done with highlighter. Tonight, everything got the Adz treatment, and just as you would expect from anything inspired by Steven’s 2010 album, Age of Adz, it was a wonderful sensory overload. Most of the set was pulled from Adz, and the tracks that were not from the experimental record were introduced with a twist anyway. After touring an album of mostly acoustic tracks in mourning for Sufjan’s own mother, nobody on stage was in the mood to sulk. Whatever tracks from 2015’s standout Carrie and Lowell made it on stage were mixed up with dance rhythms, louder horns, and improvisational keyboard solos from Stevens himself. Did you ever think you would find yourself dancing to “Should Have Known Better”?

As the set continued, the sensory overload began to outdo itself. The outfit worn by Sufjan and his singers grew like a wild multi-colored tree. What began as a fluorescent tribal design paired with an out of place fluorescent baseball cap grew into layers of foil and new sets of wings. The last two tracks of Age of Adz are a 30-minute monstrosity that carried the set to new heights. “I Want To Be Well” broke into its own swamp of distortion and screeching horns, combined with chaotic percussion that added little in the way of rhythmic clarity. After carrying out the breakdown of “I Want To Be Well” to the audience’s delight, Sufjan walked off stage and returned on top of a ladder dressed in foil, wearing a large foil disk on his back, with a massive headpiece and a disco ball strapped to his chest. he then broke into the entirety of “Impossible Soul”, with each portion of the 25 minute track stretched to the limit. Eventually the foil gown was shed in favor of multicolored balloons and streamers. When “Impossible Soul” finally came to a close, only a moment was left to breathe before the band closed with a magnificent performance of the classic “Chicago”, a gateway drug for so many Sufjan Stevens fans.  Not a drop of energy was put to waste on that stage tonight by Stevens and his band.

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Sia’s closing set was a complete juxtaposition to Sufjan’s. If Sufjan represented chaos and eclecticism, Sia embodied coordination and performance. There was no illusion of her identity onstage. She began the set in the middle of the stage, her black and white wig covering her eyes with a giant bow sitting on top of her head. With the introduction of the first belting words of “Alive”, her renaissance-like gown burst open to reveal dancers in colorless leotards, with a dancer holding the attention of the entire audience. To look at Sia during her set would be to miss something extremely important, as the only part of Sia that was present in her performance was her voice. After the first song, stage hands helped her down from the podium and onto a new perch in the corner. The imagery of each film created to accompany her songs was reenacted with excellent synchronization on stage by a series of stand-ins for the many celebrities that have found themselves in positions to be a part of Sia’s work. There was not even the hint of an illusion of a band playing with her. It was never her aim to make this performance of her music to be something truly authentic, as a folk singer would recreate their work in real time on stage. Instead, she aimed for her performance to be spectacular, with perfect execution throughout every song and every moment of her set. Sia showed herself as the anti-pop star. Tonight was not about her personality, as the only words she spoke directly to the crowd were the “Thank you” after her last song. Tonight was about the image she has worked so hard to bring to the center of the pop atmosphere, revolutionizing the way that an artist can bring herself to the next level by means of the stage. With the end of “Chandelier,” an outstanding day one of Boston Calling came to a close.

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