Boston Calling Spring 2016 – Day Two Recap

by David McDevitt (International Affairs/Economics), published May 29th 2016

photos by Emily O’Brien (Interaction Design)

Despite the fact that they are originally from New York, Palehound has been a Boston regular their entire career. Ellen Kempner, with her nerve driven low-fi style, first found success in the various small clubs and DIY venues in Allston and Cambridge. Filling the same role as Krill did last year, it has become a tradition to ring in the first afternoon with a hometown favorite. She thanked Boston for being the scene where she found her voice, and proceeded with the sounds of a basement house show that is becoming one of the defining characteristics of this city’s independent scene.

Lizzo walked on stage with a job to do. Before the day was done, five other acts would be performing on the stage she was on. Since she was only the second of today’s nine acts, her mission was to not only break in the stage, but to get the crowd amped and energized. Her body and racial positivity did just that, getting the crowd dancing hours ahead of dance headliners Robyn and Odesza. In the words of Lizzo herself, “You never let that body image shit keep you from dancing.”

Throughout their career, avant-garde jam band Battles have never shot for accessibility. On the contrary, they have consistently tried to test their audience’s patience, blurring the lines between what is music and what is simply pure noise. For the first half of their set, the not one of the musicians on stage said a word, electing to string moments of their songs together into one long unending piece, with improvisational breaks and chaotic solos filling the gaps  until it seemed as if the entire audience needed a chance to breathe for a second. Ian William’s first words came 20 minutes into their set, proving that Battles were in fact human and simply not advanced robots riffing on stage. The band launched into a string of their hits, which included “Atlas” and “The Yabba”, to close out their set.

The Vaccines

The Vaccines are essentially the spiritual successors to the early 2000s British indie rock wave, and have somehow translated their set from the small bar venues of London to BBC Radio 1 and then the rest of the indie rock world. People camped the stage from the moment Lizzo’s set ended to get up close and personal with the Vaccines. If you were to looking at the row of fans up against the fence, you would see crying fans as if you were about to see a boy band take the stage. Young and his band did not rely on nostalgia or their image to carry their set. If they were to mimic early 2000s London that carried themselves overseas with another episode of British rock invasions, they would have fallen flat. After watching the band put out two more albums after their breakout with 2011’s What Did You Expect From The Vaccines, one can tell that the artistic evolution of their songs going from studio to stage was not the plan for the night. Instead, we got a classic rock style performance, focused more on getting the crowd energized and on their feet to basic guitar riffs. Ultimately, a set by The Vaccines is a healthy combination of youthful energy and catchy hooks for a crowd that wanted just that.

Borns

Interscope Record’s latest breakout artist Børns brought falsetto-powered electro pop to the stage. Børns’ debut album has received considerable international pop radio airplay, and has earned him the chance early on to sell himself as a mainstay to Boston Calling. Before closing the set with “Electric Love,” Børns took the time to play some covers for the crowd. It was a mature acknowledgement that not every song on his debut album would hold the crowd’s attention, a weakness that all new acts suffer from for a short period of time. Børns played a cover of Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies)” followed by a rendition of Heroes by the late David Bowie.

Courtney Barnett

With the sun relentlessly beating down on City Hall Plaza during Børns’ set, festival goers needed a bit of relief. That came from the extensive late night talk show tour that has thrown Barnett beyond her home as an Australian radio exclusive to a seat in front of the indie spotlight. Her carefree attitude and sound, equal parts apathetic and brutally honest were exactly what the crowd needed after following the energy of Børns. To say that she started soft and slow would be wrong, but she did give everybody a chance to warm up. “Avant Gardner” was the first song in her set and everything built up from there. “Small Poppies” and “Illusions” were paired with each other just as they are in her 2015 standout Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit, and afterwards she was finally able to bring up the crowd a bit when everybody had cooled off. Courtney was unapologetic about her raw stage presence. She is the only artist at this festival who would expect you to think of ramen noodles with a song titled “Three Packs a Day.” She won’t explain to you why she performs the way she does, but given time to properly present her music she’ll blow you away.

City and Colour

The evolution of Dallas Green as a musician has been outstanding one. Formerly the lead singer of Alexisonfire, Green set off on his own with what started as his solo project, City and Colour, as the emo-punk phase off the mid-2000s was finally losing steam. Nearly a decade later, and he is up on stage with a full band, evolving into a folk and blues inspired rock set in front of a crowd flowing past the sound tents for the first time during today’s festival set. Playing mostly from their latest record, City and Colour closed with a tribute to terminally ill Tragically Hip Frontman Gordon Downie, a former collaborator and fellow Canadian.

Miike Snow

Miike Snow has surpassed most of their peers from 2008 when they broke out. Empire of the Sun has been silent since 2012, Two Door Cinema Club took a brief hiatus before dropping hints at a 2016 return earlier this year, and the popularity of MGMT peaked with their debut Oracular Spectacular before deciding that everything they had done up to that point was a joke. From the indie pop breakout era of the late 2000s, Passion Pit, Vampire Weekend, and surprisingly enough, Miike Snow, are some of the few capable of holding a large set slot at a festival. The trio built their entire stage around a large homemade hexagonal synthesizer conglomeration from when their name was first being established. The Swedish electronic trio has been building off of the momentum their debut by consistently putting out radio earworms every few years since 2008. They do not seem to be losing steam, as their latest hit “Genghis Khan” was met with a chorus sung louder by the crowd than Miike Snow themselves. Each subsequent single was met with a bouncier dance breaks and a crowd that could not help but join in the chorus. Miike Snow geared up the audience to do the one thing that would tie together the final three sets. They got everybody up and ready to dance.

Odesza

Did we know that tonight was going to be a party? Odesza brought a full scale Coachella mainstage EDM set to Boston Calling. Their brand of refined, cool and danceable EDM is the perfect fit for what the festival needed. With a full accompanying visual set projected on the massive screen behind them, not much needed to be done by CatacombKid and BeachesBeaches for the audience to have a good time. By the start of their set, City Plaza had hit its capacity and everybody was gearing up for the last two acts of the night, both of which were dance sets. The sea of people bounced with flashing blue batons to Odesza’s beats and rallying calls for over an hour as the sun set behind the towers of downtown Boston. As with Sia, there was rarely a spotlight on Odesza, but most of the stage was dark excluding the movie screen backdrop. Your eyes during Odesza’s set were meant to be on you, who you were dancing with, how you were moving, and how the music flowing from the two bouncing silhouettes onstage felt.

Robyn

Before Robyn took the stage, one of the festival promoters came out on stage and introduced a special guest, #11, New England Patriots tight end Julian Edelman. Edelman shared only two words with the audience: Free Brady. He walked off immediately afterwards.

Having Robyn follow up Odesza was a bit of an odd mix. Odesza dance set was about instant gratification, while Robyn’s roots in the house music of the past few decades means that her set was about filling the room and playing with tension. She sang minimally, as was the style of house and R&B from the start of her career in the late 1990s. Nonetheless, her set was still something to behold. Robyn debuted a new set list that included 9 reimaginations of her work from the past 20 years, including remixes from Cassius and The Black Madonna.

Robyn is a talented stage presence who did not need to be supplemented by accompanying dancers throughout the entire night. Her alone with her band was all that was necessary to create the atmosphere for Saturday’s final set. Robyn worked her music in waves. There was rarely a pause between tracks for her to address the crowd. More often, there was a constant ebb and flow from beat to beat, fading into obscurity and then resurfacing to form the next song. To have this set at anytime besides after it was completely dark outside would have been misguided. Robyn soundtracked her environment, dark skies, city lights, and the flashing blue batons passed out throughout the day.

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