Boston Calling Spring 2016 – Day Three Recap
by David McDevitt (International Affairs/Economics), published June 4th 2016
photos by Emily O’Brien (Interaction Design)
Michael Christmas’ stage presence is a little bit silly: at 22 years old, he’s ragging about his birthday, talking about his hero Wiz Khalifa coming to Boston five years ago, and delivering tracks like “Bubblin’” and “Michael Cera” while laughing in between. Praise to Christmas for not letting the opening set on the final day phase him – he tried to get the crowd fired up by offering some merch to “the most turnt person in the crowd.” Good times to kick off the final day.
Meanwhile, festival goers camped the stage for French electropop outfit Christine and the Queens, filling the plaza back to the sound tents only two acts into the afternoon. Frontwoman Héloïse Letissier seemed to channel Michael Jackson as a troop of dancers, all clad in white t-shirts and suit pants, orbited and matched her steps. She also flaunted her European side, adding her own French verses to Kanye West’s “Heartless.” And with liberating aggression, the Queens brought the phrase, “It’s time to bring your diva out” back to its original meaning: goddess.
Tastemakers Presents alumni Unknown Mortal Orchestra began their set with sound problems – namely, a microphone that didn’t sound quite right without lead singer Ruban Nielson’s mouth around the entire thing. To fill the gaps, we got an extra helping of drum solos and guitar breaks from Nielson. Multi-Love standouts “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” and the album’s title track were met with excitement from the crowd, and “First World Problem” made its stage debut as Nielson put down his guitar and perched himself on a stack of amplifiers.
Every beat by Vince Staples feels ominous in nature – the Southern California rapper built his debut album Summertime ‘06 around the sound of gunshots, white-noise tension, and horror film piano riffs. But Vince’s set was carried as much by his uncanny persona as by the atmosphere of his music. On Sunday afternoon, he followed the words “fuck the police” with an apology, remarking on the differences in social climate for different parts of the country. During the set, Vince shouted, “Y’all should go to college. I dropped out in the 10th grade to be a rapper and a criminal, and it worked out for me. Seriously though, the odds are not great, and Harvard’s right there.” Staples’ ad-libbed life advice kept the set alive between verses.
Juxtaposed against up-and-coming rappers and indie rock bands, the curators rounded out the afternoon with an unlikely blues and soul star. Charles Bradley, who found his start as a James Brown impersonator, has climbed his way to slots at South by Southwest among others on the festival circuit to deliver a set of jazz and soul music to the festival. With the soul of a young man and a delivery reminiscent of a bygone era, the belting Bradley and his airtight band brought a new level of musicianship and soul to the festival. The set was not without its oddities, though, as Bradley’s repertoire included a roots-infused cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes.”
“I met my ex-wife in this city,” lead singer Brian Sella shouted from the stage. Sella comes across as a broken man, singing about troubled love, homeless friends, and other bits of human tragedy. Just as the front row of fans cried when the Vaccines came on stage yesterday, the Front Bottoms were able to yank some tears from a faithful nucleus of bearded white guys. They were intense and open about their lives, showing something utterly beyond comfort in a completely positive manner. Sing about your troubles, sing about the hits you have taken, because at the end of the day you made it through. For the Front Bottoms, that counts more than anything.
You cannot write a mean song about Elle King, because she will throw a far meaner one right back at you. She brought a mix of nostalgic country-rock attitudes to the stage, identifying as a chain smoking and hard drinking woman and sipping a cup of whiskey throughout the set. Unlike most children with celebrity parents, she has done an excellent job building a career beyond the reputation of her father Rob Schneider. Her band directed the set to recall the foundations of rock and roll, channeling the twangy guitar of blues musicians from days past. She covered “Oh Darling” by the Beatles and included a bop version of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” that was recently sampled on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. Instead of reimagining the song in a modern context, King stayed true to its origins, swaying to the the classic reggae guitar rhythm with the rest of the crowd.
The Electric Lady herself brought Boston Calling forward a few centuries into the future. In the church of Janelle Monáe, all are equal and all are welcome. She preached the idea of freedom from fear with her music, with a supporting cast dressed entirely in white alongside her. Monáe fostered a world where Prince has not left us yet, and when forced to face the reality she simply brought back his spirit with a cover of “Let’s Go Crazy” by the late great man himself. This was her mentor and collaborator, and she made it very clear that she would not be here on stage without empowering musicians like him. She sang about feminism, freedom, being comfortable in your own skin, all with an unbeatably energetic performance. She was physically carried on and off the stage, indicating that she could easily sing for the crowd until long after sunset.
At some point, HAIM evolved into a full blown stadium act. They are undoubtedly likable as a trio, and silly in a way that you can be with some of your closest friends. Growing up in Los Angeles, Danielle, Este, and Alana Haim were the cool kids in high school. They’ve managed to carry that mentality across the country as they tour. With one album under their belt and rumours of a second starting to surface, every HAIM song was met with the attention of a lead single. “My Song 5” was beefed up with an intense amount of drums and crowd participation. HAIM aimed to make everybody in the crowd feel included in the process, as if you were at a party in their basement celebrating their first EP drop. With that sentiment, HAIM performed without anything to prove, and the crowd had every bit as much fun as the band did on stage. The set closed out with extended versions of “The Wire” and “Falling” before the crowd shifted over to the JetBlue stage one more time.
In the same manner as Odesza the night before, the final set of Boston Calling’s 2016 run was ready to end with a celebration. Disclosure’s style of dance electronica was much more minimalist than Odesza’s however. Theirs was dominated by 2-step driven beats and pindrop melodies combined with more bass than could even be processed by the audience. “F for You” started the set as brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence worked behind a host of drum racks and keyboards. Inflatables bounced on top of the crowd while the cardboard cutout of Sam Adams from the beer garden somehow made its way to the front rails. Sophomore album Caracal held a majority of the set time, while the recordings of guest vocalists faded in and out over arpeggiators and drum machines all night. They weren’t above the classic “false ending before the encore” gag, but made up for their folly with guest vocalist Brendan Reilly, who was featured on the Caracal bonus track, “Moving Mountains.” He sang over the slow jam track before walking off to make room for one last song from the twins, the international chart-topping “Latch.”