By D.A. Dellechiaie
BU News Service
The first act I went to walked onstage wearing a red bandana mask and an army uniform. Leikeli47 was strutting around the stage with a troupe of backup dancers (wearing black outfits and timberland boots). “I feel like I wanna be with y’all,” Leikeli said, as she scanned the crowd’s smiles. Leikeli47’s performance was a typical rap concert. The DJ played on stage. Leikeli spit some bars or sang, surprisingly well, when she wanted to. Everything was on her terms. Leikeli was going through some heartbreak and used it as an artistic springboard for a DJ playlist of throwbacks.
“Music. It helps you man,” she said.
After playing “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJs (a song that made me smile not because of its great vocals but because of all the white boys around me trying to do the running man but ended up looking like fools), Leikeli rapped about bubble gum, milk and individuality — three topics I never thought I would hear songs about. The raps were full of emotion but never became uncomfortable. While the backup dancers were not super interesting, the inclusion of Buffy Kahn, a voguer, made the set. His death drops made the crowd scream harder than any of the other songs.
The Oh Sees
The next group I went to see was The Oh Sees, a garage rock group. When I got there, the lead singer sounded a bit like Portugal. The Man. But as the set went on, vocals transformed from a high-speed Dead Kennedy frenetic yelp into what sounded like a pirate trying to sing Metallica. It was almost impossible to understand any of the lyrics, but they didn’t matter. The Oh Sees, much like Ty Segall, don’t rely too much on production quality but care about the basic principle of music: good music is noise that sounds good. Good sounding noise is immediately accessible. But of course they had to be weird. At some points (due to a synthesizer) the guitar playing sounded like children screaming — in the best possible way. Some of the later songs began with random sound effects that ranged from acid-electronic freak-outs to 8-bit beeping noises. This was the first set I saw that included large amounts of crowd surfing. However, the density of that crowd was that of Chex cereal. The crowd surfers got up there enough to smile, travel a bit — carried in the hands of their fellow concert goers — and then come crashing down to the ground only to be scooped up again.
After leaving the Oh Sees I realized I needed to relax a little. You know, chill out. I said something yesterday about the correct time for a chill-out group. The perfect time was, according to Daniel Caesar’s burden-relieving set, at 4:30 p.m. While it was a bit too loud (a recurring theme), Daniel’s voice sounded like someone was talking to you in the early morning after a night filled with too many failures. His take on R&B was not a contest with himself to see the highest note he could hit. Instead it was an answer to the question, “What can I do to make everyone’s day a little bit better?” He spoke-sang to us. Every word that left his lips sounded important. His band, unlike some later groups, tried their hardest to not drown him out.
I watched a man roll his ankle, almost fall flat on his face and then catch himself and transition into a guitar solo. This man, one half of Royal Blood, would go on to play another 15 minutes on an obviously hurt leg. “I think I need a tequila. I think my foot’s broken,” he said, but then went on to wow the audience. The drummer, who performed plenty of great solos, shook concert goers with each thump. Oh, did I mention that the guitarist was playing on a bass guitar? He may have swapped it out a few times too many — it caused some awkward pauses between songs. Royal Blood literally and figuratively woke people up.
Eh. Berklee dropout Annie St. Vincent gave me a headache much like my neighbors from Berklee. St. Vincent risked a lot by trying to be an artist instead of just a performer. She danced like a robot and played the guitar with power — when you can hear it. The bass thumping shook me and unsettled me. It actually shook me so much that my body started feeling weird. Unlike the other acts that got me to move, St. Vincent’s act almost forced me to walk away. It was an overwhelming show.
Her bandmates were wearing what looked like ski masks and Andy Warhol wigs. The one emotional interaction was when a band member (who, with his white ski mask, black wig and black Matrix coat, looked like Jack White) circled St. Vincent before simply putting a guitar on her. The screens played some videos featuring truly odd images, such as St. Vincent being punched in slow motion by a boxing glove that looked like it was decorated with wallpaper. If I was a fan of her music, I may have enjoyed St. Vincent’s show. But her show left me physically exhausted, and as if I took sleep aids to help me nap on plans, I stumbled around the next few acts. That’s what the staff try to tell you at music festivals: take a break! But I didn’t take one. I imagine the guy who passed out next to me during Jack White’s show didn’t either.
Tyler, the Creator
I couldn’t move during Tyler’s set. I was surrounded on all sides by screaming fans. One thing I did not enjoy as much as others did was Tyler’s focus on his latest album. While Tyler’s latest album was a hit for a lot of people and a truly authentic artistic experience, it basically sounded all the same, and seeing that live didn’t make it better. Yes, Tyler is one of the greatest performers I have ever seen, but what’s good about him are his explosions of emotion. These came out during his performances of “DEATHCAMP” and “IFHY.” He bent over and screamed into the microphone, but during the performance, he bumbled around a lot. During “Who dat boy” the bursts of noise didn’t hit. Tyler dyed his hair blonde. His head looked like it was full of sunflower patterns. Tyler, The anarchist was what I wanted, but what I got was Tyler, The artist. Perhaps Tyler has “grown up” a little and found a new way to share his emotions. It used to be expressed with psychotic and brave wordplay but now Tyler seems to have calmed down. The unsettling creepiness reminscent of “Twin Peaks” is still there in the lyrics but the R&B flattens out their edginess. If someone were to tell me two years ago that I was going to see people slow dancing to Tyler, The Creator, I would have stopped, got into a time machine, gone to the future and convinced Dan to go see Queens of the Stone Age.
You win, Mr. White. You win. I was skeptical at first. Everything I have ever read about Jack White has worried me. I was worried that he was going to be too strict and too “artsy” like the production of his albums. St. Vincent’s very artistic and surreal — but not very good — set seemed like an omen much like the storm clouds that hung over the stage. The clouds, however, blew over and became a blank, black canvas for White to impose his genius onto us. His music ranged from — well, it didn’t range so much as encompass every genre. There were some alternative licks delivered after a country twanging. Jack, being the artistic extrovert he is, went around during his set and started playing his band’s instruments. Jack stepped up to the piano and played like a virtuoso who had just been told he was a lightweight player. He slammed the keys. Jack didn’t take a break. When he walked back on for the encore, he looked like he was in the middle of writing a symphony in his head. I thought that The Killers’ closer of “When You Were Young” had defined the nostalgic apex of the festival, but I was wrong. “Seven Nation Army,” Jack’s closer, was what we all expected but never pushed for. And Jack played it like this: He wanted to impress us with a song that he knows is played too often, but deserves a live rendition.
And so that is how the second day of Boston Calling went. I am your exhausted reporter, signing off.