The day began without incident. There was the general anxiety of Memorial Day traffic clogging up 95 and the fear of forgetting something, but nothing too serious. It was a holiday weekend and I was going to Boston Calling.
It was beautiful outside as I drove my girlfriend, Naseema, and I to our half-work days before the official travel began. The man on the radio was all mumbles to my un-caffeinated ears. It seemed like he was plodding on forever about something I had no interest in. The morning talk show is a relic of a bygone era when people wanted, or needed to hear that shit. I don’t get out of bed until I’ve checked every app on my phone. I just wanted him to get on with it, so my ears perked up at “let’s get this day started with My Morning Jacket.” Lets get this day started indeed.
My brain was everywhere but work during my shift. All I could think about was the coming adventure. I was going over the packed items in my head, which to me sounded like a lame version of the Fear and Loathing catalogue: 2 shirts, 3 pairs of socks and underwear (an extra pair of each just in case), a sweater if it got chilly, my shampoo for thinning hair, Dr. Bronners, moisturizer with sunscreen (SPF 30, Broad Spectrum), Sunflower Seeds and leftover homemade mac and cheese among other innocuous items. HST would be so proud. The most dangerous thing I was bringing was my Yankees hat.
When finally my shift ended, I did the roadrunner, got the dog to my mother’s and gave the cat all the food. Went over the list one last time. Ran to UPS to pick up a package. Then after infuriating construction and a funeral with a Horse and Buggy—I shit you not—I scooped up Naseema and got on the road.
This was a journey I had taken many times before. In fact, I love Boston. For years I said I didn’t because I was a Yankees fan, like that meant something, but Boston Calling was a big part of the turnaround. I chose the no toll route for directions, either out of cheapness or foresight, but the traffic was almost non-existent. It took just under three hours of driving to get to our destination, an AirBnB in Somerville.
The room was nice. I had never done AirBnB before. I had let strangers sleep on my couch before, but the idea to monetize the transaction had never crossed my mind (Millenials have also found a way to monetize hitchhiking—Uber). It was a lot less awkward than I expected, and comfortable. So much so that we sat down for a bit before heading over to the T that would take us to the Government Center.
Walking to the train took us through an eclectic neighborhood. It was a mixed bag of Spanish eateries, Halal markets and hipster bistros. It was the longest part of the journey, 15 minutes time, then another 5 on the T, and it dropped us off across the street from the entrance we knew so well from Boston Callings past.
The sun was still fair and the wind calm as I searched for Bill Russell. In the directions for press and VIP entry, they told us to look for the Hall of Famer’s statue, but I wandered lonely as three-day VIP tickets had sold out, and I couldn’t get one for Naseema. I must have not been paying attention to other walkers when some charming teen muttered in so many words to his lady companion that I should watch where I was going. I was, I was just heading like an arrow towards Bill.
Sharon Van Etten was already playing by the time I got inside. That was my fault. I met Shayne, my photographer at the press tent so we could verify that I was who I said I was. We walked and talked to the echoes of her voice about what we expected for the next few days, who we were most excited to see (I think My Morning Jacket was the mutual number one), and what we planned on doing as far as reporting the festival. I also did a once over on this years food offerings because one must have priorities.
We finally moseyed on over to the merch tent where Naseema had agreed to meet up. Shayne ended with something along the lines of “I’ll do my thing and you do yours,” before heading to the pit for Tame Impala. All I knew was that I couldn’t wait to see his photos from the weekend.
Naseema and I positioned ourselves towards the back of the crowd for the night, not wanting to fight our way to the front. The band came on with the wind picking up, and it got stronger as the night went on, and I almost wished that we were amongst those in the front, merely for the warmth.
Tame Impala played what can only be described as cell phone commercial music. The kind of rock that Apple or Verizon or some other company would use to get you to think their product was cool. The bass drum was heavy, the snare was sharp, and the band orbiting around the beat in concentric circles as the lead singer sometimes sang and sometimes didn’t. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, as long as they could keep dancing and bopping to the music.
Not nearly my first rodeo, and having almost gone pro during college, I was surprised at the sheer amount of smoke emanating from the crowd during the set. That sweet intoxicating smell was blowing in the wind, and Boston Calling practically hot boxed the Government Center. Things were so unrestricted that one concertgoer dropped their one hitter and another grabbed it and displayed his spoils, and got a few hop-ons in the process. The question that lingered in the smoke was were these people toking for Tame Impala or were they getting ready for headliner, Beck?
The transition between the two was seamless. In the intermission between the two bands, people couldn’t stop talking about Tame Impala’s set and what songs they hoped Beck would play. The wind kept picking up until it was whipping through the crowd. It nearly took off my hat a half dozen times (does the wind know I was wearing a Yankees hat?), and the chill crept up my jacket as the crowd and I waited patiently for Mr. Hansen to take the stage.
A few minutes late arriving, once he got on, Beck was ever the crowd pleaser. He ran through a fair mix of b-sides and hits, making all the stops, including a few covers thrown in. From the crowd I heard both “I never thought he’d play this song,” to gasps of surprise when he brought out a sitar player to play his most popular song “Loser.”
He was much chattier than I expected. Perhaps I had read too much into his music, but then again, I had never been a reverent fan of his. I enjoyed his music, especially Guero and Morning Phase, but by the strength of his performance my casual fandom had turned into something more. A song like “Blue Moon” revealed it’s elegant arrangement in all its beautiful simplicity, while others evoked another time in his career; still others evoked other eras entirely. I exclaimed more than a few times to Naseema how completely impressed I was by his set and his band.
The whole thing was revelatory, and by the end it felt as if he controlled the wind as he played epically long renditions of “Debra” and “Where It’s At.” As he introduced the band in the latter song, they toured some covers—“Miss You,” “Whip It,” “Blue Monday,” “One Foot in the Grave,” “Running With the Devil,” and a hilarious rendition of Michael McDonald’s “Taking It to the Streets.” There was practically nothing I would have changed about any of it.
Naseema and I exited at the last trill of the drums and ran to the waiting T to get back to a bed we had never slept in before.
Article: Christopher Gilson
Photos: Shayne Hanley