Boston Calling took over the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston for a triumphant 2018 edition of the music festival. This was my first BC, and the first time I had gone up to that area since I lived there briefly before I moved to NYC some two decades ago. I will report that they do indeed pull out all the stops for this jubilee, with mass amounts of vendors, a carnival-type atmosphere with perks like a ferris wheel and lots of games, and a diverse lineup of artists guaranteed to keep all music lovers of every taste ecstatic and elated.
We made our way up to Bean Town early Friday morning and managed to make it to the grounds just in time to catch the first musical artist, the power pop quartet known as Charly Bliss, who just so happen to be a hometown Brooklyn-based band, who I have witnessed come up through the ranks and in just a few short years go from playing the smallest NYC venues to opening for alt rock legends like Deathcab For Cutie, Sleater-Kinney, Wolf Parade, and Veruca Salt, to name a few, as well as becoming a commanding headlining act on their own. They mix a certain kind of teen-inspired bubblegum pop with a touch of punk crunch and a dash of edgy subject matter to produce a wonderfully inspiring and uplifting rock that just about everyone could enjoy. Next, I caught another Brooklyn band I just recently started getting into by the name of Big Thief. To witness frontwoman Adrianne Lenker set her guitar ablaze with vitality and power is something truly primal and magical to behold. After that, I caught a genius madman on the loose by the name Perfume Genius. This Seattle-based artist has such a silky smooth touch to extreme stagecraft that I couldn’t help become transfixed by his talent, skill, and saucy hot attitude.
Next, I went indoors to the Harvard basketball arena for a little A/C and Harvard alum Natalie Portman introducing a surrealist film as part of a series dubbed “The Female Gaze,” with a live band playing its score. Then it was back to the blazing heat to hit up the set by the wacky Philly artist presently known as Sandy Alex G. He is a diverse artist that surprises you and every turn, starting with a low-fi folksy zeal, and eventual unraveling into the some very bizarre psych and even some electronic experiments, and he has a sound that lands somewhere in the middle of Elliott Smith, Mac DeMarco, and Pavement. Then I finally got to personally experience an artist I’ve loved for awhile now by the name of Maggie Rogers. Her presence is enchanting and intimate, as she conjures all sorts of compelling magical spells to weave a pop friendly classic folk sound that often reminds me a lot of classic Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith. As good as all of the artists were before, the Russian activist group known as Pussy Riot kind of put everything and everyone else in the fest in its trivial place. This is a group who came to the attention of the world after being thrown into jail for playing protest music critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and ended up drawing the eyes of the globe to his brutal hold over their country. It is hard to tell how Pussy Riot will sound at any given show or event, because it is not one single lineup, but instead a grand protest collective of artists. Thusly, this was not the dirty hardcore punk band many may have expected, but instead an electronic-heavy sound with a DJ and a single female singer, who, along with a trope of backing fist-waving singers, chanted anthems of corporate corruption and greed, the suppression of the human spirit through bigotry and prejudice, and the moral depravity in power around the world that has grown exponentially recently. The grand performance of thought-provoking text, kitschy and glitchy computer visuals and music really made you think. It also made you realize that festivals like this need much more political and social activism to bring perspective to their indulgent luxury and consumerism.
Then it came time for the big-name artists to take over the festival, as Portugal. The Man took the stage with an extremely funny intro by the cartoon great Beavis and Butthead. I’ve been a fan of this band for quite some time, but as of recently, they have hit a level of mega-success few bands could ever dream of. They are a supremely diverse band that swerves wildly from genres like funk to rock to pop. That diversity was laid bare for the whole crowd to hear and see through the unexpected assortment of covers of everything from Metallica and Pink Floyd, to Black Sabbath and The Beatles. After that, Natalie Portman came on stage to introduce a band from my original hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio called the The National. They have a mellowing charm that cloaks their post-punk power in a shroud of scenic and grand pictorial layers and go deeper and deeper the more you listen and singer Matt Berninger is a frontman that can shock you with his intense showmanship.
I caught a bit of both the other headliners of the night Paramore and The Killers from seated hilltop refuges while munching on a variety of tasty food. A special shout out to my favorite food vendors of the day include Deans Concessions for their killer all-American munchies and The Smoke Shop for their stunning mountain of smoked meat plate. It was an amazing and exhausting first day that made me ravenous for more.
Article: Dean Keim