Boston Calling: Day 1

Brandon Flowers of The Killers onstage at Boston Calling Music Festival. The Killers closed out day 1 of the three-day festival. Photo by Rob Loud / @robloud

By Daniel Dellechiaie
BU News Service

When I got in the festival, it was just as you expected: near empty. The first band I went to was This Is the Kit. While I am a huge fan of chillout acoustic music, This is the Kit was too chill. To start off a music festival, you need to get people moving and energized. The tiredness will come as the sun rays drain them of their energy.

The lead singer was truly grateful that we had showed up and spent the little time she was given to comfort us. Her banjo-playing impressed this northerner with every twang. Her voice was beautiful and when she accentuated the lyrics with a little brogue, it felt authentic.

And then there was us, the ordinary people on the outside who had to squint to see the band. The monitors helped a little, but if I wanted to stare at a monitor for a half-hour, I would have live-streamed the event.

After This Is the Kit, I ran to the Delta Blue Stage to see Citizen, a band that someone I ran into in line said they paid “full ticket price just to see.”

When I arrived at the stage, what had irked me about the Red Stage was gone. The VIP Area was off to the side. There was plenty of general admission room.

Though they had perhaps one of the longest soundchecks in recent memory, Citizen was worth waiting every moment. At first glance, every band member looks like that stoner on your block who is always shoving two slices of pizza in his mouth at the eatery on the corner. But this relaxed nature is just a physical mirage. Inside each one of them is a beast. The lead singer’s beast broke through with every growl of a chorus. “I SHOULD HAVE CRASHED THE CAR WHEN I WAS ALL ALONE” and “DO YOU SLEEP ANYMORE?” were two of my favorites. The lead guitarist was jamming away, delivering all emo guitar screeching that the audience craved. The drummer was kicking the crap out of his drums. I thought he was going to break them at one point. While their music and light show was basic, their sound and passion broke through the banality. They charmed me.

I walked out of the press tent and ran off to go see Noname’s set. Noname was someone I wanted to cover because there were very few non-rockers or folkies performing at Boston Calling (This is perhaps due to the diversity or lack thereof. Not including workers, I saw maybe eight people of color total).

Noname was a great rapper and her band and backup singer knew how to work with her. Unlike Citizen whose music sometime overpowered and drowned out the vocals, Noname’s band leveled with the vocals. They were on key and everyone was loving it.

Her set was humble. She didn’t need a large light show. She just showed us her talent for rhymes and her band’s talent for music. She even apologized to the audience! “I’m tryna be better,” she said.

While this is normally a rookie mistake (an audience never knows if you make a mistake, usually they think it’s part of the act), it reminded me that she was a human being and not someone who is a self-promoting robot. As someone next to me said, “She’s genuinely having fun.”

Pussy Riot was reading their manifesto to hype the audience up when I got there. I ran out into the crowd and was expecting above all some punk rock. Some rebellion. Something that wasn’t a folky protest sing-a-long. What I got was a disappointing DJ set. The Pussy Riot members (rioters?) either stood behind a DJ booth or sang a song “about morning exercise in prison.” On the monitor behind them, a reel of surrealist images was flashed with some text. I honestly lost interest, and interestingly enough, so did a lot of people around me.

As I was walking away disappointed, I heard a girl say, “It’s interesting to see white, Boston college students jamming to protest music.” It is interesting, isn’t it? Did we not get it, or was it just not good? I think the answer is that a message is sometimes only as good as its delivery and vice versa. If a song is basic (or even, *gasp* boring) then it being played at top volume isn’t going to make it better.

From the side path on the way to the Green stage, I heard something familiar.

“Hey — Teacher, leave those kids alone!”

Wait was that—
“All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.”

Pink Floyd played by … Portugal. The Man?

Yes! Yes, it was! And on the screen was all this trippy art full of 3D bodies moving and sketches swirling.

Portugal. The Man was lulling the crowd. Heads were going up and down. Those who couldn’t dance were moving against their will. And soon, the person next to them started moving. It was an epidemic.

The lead singer’s vocal range, which is quite high for a rock band, kept knocking us out song after song. The band never gave up, no matter how tired they looked.

And of course, there were a few laughs. On the screen at one point, the following sentences were typed in big letters: “We love playing [City Name]” and “Don’t worry we’re playing that song after this.” And they did. They played “Feel It Still” and everyone smiled. We had all heard the damn song thousands of times in commercials or because our girlfriends like to play it to destress. But we all danced like it was the first time we heard it.

The National were much like Portugal. The Man but much chiller. Their light show was less graphic design and more full-of-colored-smoke and tinted filters. At some points, the stage looked like a forest out of a fairy tale, full of creeping mist and darkness — full of nothingness and whatever your mind can think up.

The National were a perfect twilight band. Their chill tunes and mellow bass thumps welcomed the night. Their light show full of purples and dark blue looked beautiful against the black night sky.

I watched Portugal. The Man, The National and The Killers on the monitors. And what originally annoyed me — and what I almost wrote off as 21st century absurdity — was actually quite helpful. It’s hard to see most of the bands, and the monitors brought the show to people with obstructed views. You could see every smirk and every cringe. The monitors were another layer of art.

I ran into some older journalists from Connecticut whom I explained The Killers to. “They are a nostalgia band,” is what I said. I thought The Killers were washed-up losers who got the highest placing because they had a few hits back in the early 2000s and released an OK album in the last year. However, as is the case in most of this article, I was wrong.

As I walked out of the press tent, “Mr. Brightside” started playing and I started running with the crowd. I didn’t arrive at the field, I was herded to it. And in corresponding form, I allowed myself to be herded. I sang every damn word to “Human” and “Smile Like You Mean It” and when Brandon Flowers came out for the encore in a golden suit, I almost lost my mind. While “The Calling” from their new album isn’t my favorite Killers song of all time, Flowers prancing around like a Southern preacher drew me in. The Killers played for the fans. They didn’t feel the need to be “artists.” They knew when we needed an extended guitar solo and a tension building drum roll.

I started bouncing when they played a (masterful) cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” Brandon Flowers paid perfect homage to the late singer and didn’t insult him with any variations.

Their closer was “When You Were Young,” and that song is basically the watermark on most of my memories. Everyone sang along. Everyone knew the words.

As I walked out people were telling their favorite parts from the concert with smiles on their faces.

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