Schott’s leather jackets have for many years been a defining characteristic of the outsider. They’ve been going in and out of style ever since Brando wore one in the Wild Ones in 1953. Twenty years later and Johnny Ramone is sporting one on the cover of the Ramones first LP. He’d go on to sport the jacket in many photographs during his tenure with the Ramones. The punk movement moved more leather jackets in the 70s than Harley Davidson, because the kids needed a place to put their pins and spikes.
At Boston Calling’s last day of the September shows, there were a few kids walking around in their pristine new one star leather jackets, buttons all shiny and not a crease in the leather. They were shadows of cool, without putting the work in to make it cool. In high school, we called those kids poseurs. Actually, we called everybody poseurs. And somehow this be a metaphor for the whole day.
Entering the makeshift grounds that surround the beautiful Brutalist JFK Federal Building in Boston, you almost believe that the area was designed specifically to hold this festival. Whoever suggested three or four years ago that they should just throw up some stages across the street from Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall deserves an award.
This is my second year of attending Boston Calling, and I have to say that while I loved it last year, this year was much improved in terms of layout and amenities. All over the grounds are areas for the festival-goers to do stuff that is not face the stage, which for a concert that lasts around 10 hours is a good thing. They’ve expanded their food offerings (The Chicken and Rice Guys truck is the shit) and officially partnered with locals Sam Adams for their beer, which is overpriced, but what concert beer isn’t. My favorite additions were the tripled amount of port-a-potties and the free water fountain, thankfully located far away from said port-a-potties. The sponsors were never a nuisance, and for the strong-willed, you can grab whatever free shit they’re handing out and walk away.
The new stage locations, which premiered last May, are also a plus. Instead of being directly across from each other, they are now at a right angle to each other, meaning that if you’re at one stage, you’ll have a good view of the other stage without having to run back and forth. As many people have noted since its inception, the beauty of this small festival is that the music (which should be the main focus of any festival calling itself a music festival) never stops. As one band leaves the right stage, they are finishing up the left stage for the next band to play, and vice versa. It’s brilliant in a simple and obvious way that makes other festivals with overlapping set times and more than 5 stages seem like rip-offs. With Boston Calling, you’ll never miss a band.
Unless you want to. Because you can totally leave and come back. And you’re in Boston, so who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that?
This year’s three-day schedule was as enigmatic as the previous year’s festivals: you go from The National to Lorde to Nas headlining Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, respectively. The National’s co-horts Neutral Milk Hotel and Future Islands made the first day a nice balance of new and old, representing the last three decades of music in one night. Saturday’s festivities skewed on the younger side with Childish Gambino and Sky Ferreira, although bolstered by mainstays The Hold Steady.
And for most of Sunday that held through, too. Acts like White Denim and The War On Drugs were certainly indie rock bands of the moment. Lake Street Dive is to pop culture what the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies were many moons ago. Twenty One Pilots might have been the worst thing to play during the whole day (although I missed the first two bands), but they might also just be the worst. The 1975 weren’t my thing, but other people liked them and I could dig that. Most of the bands were, essentially, those kids walking around, wearing that heavy leather jacket on a cloudless sunny summer day. There was certainly nothing wrong with it, but it was lacking something…
Spoon, a band I love, was a disappointment, but perhaps it was due to the constrained set times, or they weren’t really feeling it that day. Either way, I was underwhelmed by their set list of songs that even hit upon a few unmistakable classics like “The Underdog.” The apathy that works so well on their records did not translate into the live set.
But then we get to the two closers of the festival. Nas X The Roots and The Replacements. These two acts with twenty plus years of experience apiece really sold the day. The Mats came out in a blazing fire of guitars and drums and screaming vocals, while Nas played Illmatic in full with the help of the aforementioned Roots. They are the leather jacket. They are the icons that will never not be cool, whether they’re in style or not.
There was a mutual understanding of this, as the Replacements were going over time and Nas agreed to give up some of his time so that the Mats could come out and play one more song. That song turned out to be “Alex Chilton.”
After reflecting on what I had seen, I realized that there is something mysterious about the two acts. Why them? Why do I get the feeling that I won’t be seeing The War on Drugs on a reunion tour in 30 years with a crowd of young and old alike? Or Twenty One Pilots performing their debut album in its entirety on the 20th anniversary of its release? It’s the same question when I wonder what Marlon Brando, Johnny Ramone, and a couple of kids saw in the same leather jacket, and what made the first two so fucking cool and the latter not so much.
There’s something in the music that needs more than words to describe, and perhaps is indescribable except in the performance of the music itself. In other words, magic happened that night. And I already can’t wait for them to release next years lineup.
Article by: Christopher Gilson