By D.A. Dellechiaie
BU News Service
It’s never a good sign when the skies over a music festival are the color and consistency of dirty cotton. It was cold even during the warmest part of the day, but that didn’t deter some brave souls from wearing crop tops.
There is a weird form of empathy that pervades shitty days at outdoor concerts. Those with ponchos stretch them into thin sheets to cover their neighbor. Some lend friends a few dollars to be able to afford a sweatshirt so they don’t have to leave halfway through the festival to go home.
Let’s be honest — if you know a thing or two about contemporary rap, then you know who Taylor’s older brother is. And if you knew this, you would reasonably assume that he would bring his brother out onstage with him. That’s probably why you went to his show. But if you’re rational and not interested in judging people by their relations, then you would put it together that Taylor Bennet was never going to bring out Chance the Rapper.
So now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about Taylor Bennett and his DJ, DJ Khalid. While DJs at concerts usually find some way of pissing me off, Bennett’s DJ was fantastic. He played — unlike most DJs — songs that catered to the full age spectrum. He started with “HUMBLE” and “God’s Plan” but pushed us back in time with, of all things, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Theme Song. The DJ’s friend bet $100 that the crowd would be unable to sing along, but damn it we knew every word.
Now, Taylor does sound like his brother but also sounds a lot like the mental asylum resident voice of Danny Seth. While Seth’s voice sometimes needs a straight jacket, Taylor’s rapping was cooled down by the mellow lo-fi beats.
“We gonna have fun tonight, the Boston way,” he said with a smile.
Taylor values every second, which is nice considering most artists will make the crowd wait until they “make enough noise” to be blessed with the first line of a chorus. I was shocked by the amount of genuinely smart lyrics he could fit in in three seconds.
Did I mention that he encouraged a mosh pit and actually got off stage, jumped on the barrier and sang his new song “Minimum Wage” to and with the people?
While he may have had only a small amount of material and repeated one or two songs, I expect great things from Taylor. And with that, and a weird flickering of a smile on my face, I walked next door to see Pond.
Right before Pond’s set was when the weather took its first dip. The artists had to try even harder to keep the people’s attentions.
Psychedelic rock is hard to do. Most neo-psychedelic groups often just repurpose sounds and chords from neglected Pink Floyd albums.
What made Pond great was that they were undeniably authentic and also completely bonkers.
Their lead singer has the androgynous look and sound of David Bowie but the moves of a “Thriller” music video zombie. Whether he looked like he was doing yoga or this weird balancing act that looked like a dog relieving himself, his vocals found their place with the mind-expanding music.
The graphics that played during Pond’s set drew you in. There was one that looked like an ever-changing dart board of corduroy rainbows that I got lost in.
Pond’s onstage chemistry between songs reminded me of the wittiness of The Beatles (their accents made have also triggered this connection).
“I’m going to tell my mom I’ve been to Harvard,” said the keyboardist.
“What did you study,” the bass player asked.
“I’ve, uh, curated frat parties. What is ‘frat’ by the way?”
These good vibes continued for the whole set. What I enjoyed most of all was that you could hear every instrument. You could hear the guitar being strummed, the drum being smacked, alongside some whizzing of the electronics.
And how can you be sad when pink strips of confetti and aquamarine bubbles are floating through the air during a killer rock band’s set?
“Shoutout to Delta for losing all our shit,” the lead singer said.
The first note I have in my notebook for Julien Baker is, “Reminded me of a rainy day.” I think that’s how I’m going to start my recap of her set because although her songs can be depressing, she is also undeniably talented.
She is introverted, but not in the sense of turning her back to the audience. She is introverted in that she was nervous about saying anything in between songs. But god damn it, could she sing. That’s how Julien communicates — through music. Especially slow, pensive acoustic music.
“I know myself better than anyone else,” she whispers to us before basically unhinging her jaw to let out a note that sounded like freedom from all those weights that others had tied to her.
She invited out a violinist halfway through the set. Although you could barely hear the violinist because the whole set was quiet, you knew she had started playing when Julien cracked a smile.
I never lost focus during Julien’s set. I didn’t even notice until the last note that the rain was pouring down on me. Something in those minimalistic chord progressions and airy vocals made me stay completely still.
As I walked away, I shivered.
There is something that everyone should remember about Khalid. He just turned 20. He was still 18 when his first album came out. What made his album great was that he was able to capture the emotionally odd and anxious feelings of being a high schooler.
While Khalid’s performance was good aurally, the dancing was very bad. Khalid had maybe three dance moves, all of which were variations of can-can kicks and the running man. His dancers were distracting at best.
People around me embrace their significant others. Khalid’s music injects emotion into you, and the emotion it injected into me was loneliness and a weird form of nostalgia. Khalid had to leave his hometown. So, when I saw the dark cityscapes constructed in glass and steel on the monitors, I got choked up. When he got on his knees and let out a “Yeaa-ah-ah” I could tell it was from that part of your heart that is a little hole that is only full when you return home.
At one-point Khalid sat on a stool and gave us some advice about staying positive, to paraphrase, “Fuck the haters.” But what he said during the speech pushes us into my final performance of Boston Calling 2018. Khalid said, “Is that politically correct?”
When Khalid said that, it was almost as if I could hear Eminem laughing.
I believe this is going to be hard to describe in words, but here I go: Eminem was the best performance at Boston Calling. Boom. I guess I have to explain why.
My initial worry about Eminem was the same one I had for Tyler, The Creator — that he was going to play his new music. “Revival” was an album I could barely stand because of how much of himself he lost in his revival. He sacrificed artistic creativity for messages.
Eminem started his show with an odd movie about him basically being King Kong. He played his greatest hits, but with a full band and DJ (The Alchemist, perhaps the best living DJ).
At one point the emcee, whose name I wish would have been told to the audience at some point, asked us if we had listened to the “Bad Meets Evil” record. Then he brought out Royce Da 5”9’. At that point, I think a fire raged through my body and I lost complete control. Their rendition of “Fast Lane” was phenomenal.
Eminem also brought out Skylar Grey to sing Beyoncé’s verses in “Walk on Water.” I still didn’t like that song, but I had completely forgotten about the last line, “Bitch, I wrote ‘Stan.’” And thus, a communal “Stan” singalong surrounded me. The rain falling on us fit perfectly with the emotional darkness.
But that emotional darkness didn’t stay for long. The emcee and Eminem’s onstage banter was quite bad, but excusable because we knew a great song was coming every time. Why didn’t Eminem care that his voice was getting hoarse? Because he’s a criminal.
At one point, he asked us if we thought he should date Nicki Minaj. Boston gave a resounding “yes.” What did not receive a resounding yes was “White America.” I think you can imagine why he didn’t get so many hands moving with that one.
“The Real Slim Shady,” “My Name Is,” “Without Me,” “Till I Collapse,” you name it, he did it better than you can imagine. While Eminem isn’t particularly emotional outside of his songs, he is someone who can change the tone of an evening in a second. When he took a breath, we held ours. When he walked off stage to get his jacket, we waited patiently.
For his first closing song, during which I may or may not have shed a tear, he chose “Not Afraid.” What that song reminds us of is that Eminem keeps rapping and touring for the fans. He was literally there for us, not for himself. I believe, as is elaborated on fictionally in “Stan,” that Eminem does truly care about people and isn’t the misanthrope people say he is.
Although I know Eminem didn’t know any of us, I could tell he cared. “Lose Yourself,” his encore song, is the best proof of this. That song is about sharing himself with us. He performed for us what we wanted to hear, and we remembered why we listen to Eminem in the first place: He is a rap god. I hope we don’t have to wait another 14 years to have Mr. Mathers return.