Boston Calling Music Festival – Boston City Hall, Boston, MA (Festival Review)

Crash Line Productions and Bowery Presents transformed Boston’s City Hall Plaza from a serious government complex, where officials, workers and tourists comingle, into a sprawling urban musical oasis this past Memorial Day weekend. The Boston Calling Festival’s third edition, and first of two City Hall Plaza occupations this year, attracted around 22,000 music fans each day for the three day event. Twenty-three musical acts, presented on two alternating stages, offered attendees a steady flow of music with no overlapping sets. In the evenings, a myriad of lighting effects pulsating from the City Hall mezzanines added to the surreal carnival atmosphere of the crowds, music, stage lighting, and surrounding skylines. Food and drink flowed with numerous eateries setting up shop and there was a strong Samuel Adams presence.

Cass McCombs kicked off the opening night triple header on Friday with a strong set of craftily constructed songs. Alex Ebert’s enigmatic persona Edward Sharpe dropped off the stage to dance with photographers during his set with roots rock/psychedelic band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The spring night had a damp chill, but the easy smile and warmly presented set of Jack Johnson, that featured a “Not Fade Away” Buddy Holly cover, in addition to his own tasty material, warmed the heart and souls of thousands.

cass 3 4 glide

The sun was out in full force when the festival resumed Saturday afternoon as hometown Boston band Magic Man took the stage with an energetic set with an already swelling crowd gathering in the Plaza. Two more high-energy performances by Maximo Park and Walk Off the Earth preceded an improvisational jam filled set by Warpaint. The Neighborhood and singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis drew huge responses from the crowd with excellent sets. A huge highlight of the afternoon was Frank Turner inviting an unsuspecting fan on stage to perform an impromptu harmonica solo during one of two solo acoustic songs in the middle of a jubilant set with his band The Sleeping Souls. Rain made an appearance along with The Decemberists, and as many scurried for cover, even more braved the cool precipitation that endured for their entire set.

The rain did subside before the Festival’s centerpiece band, Death Cab for Cutie, took the stage for perhaps the festival’s most anticipated performance. Mixing up Death Cab classics , “The New Year” and “Title and Registration” from 2003’s Transatlanticism  with gems “Soul Meets Body”, “Crooked Teeth”, and the uber-tender “I’ll Follow You Into the Dark” from  the album Plans with “I Will Possess Your Heart”, and “Long Division”, from the album Narrow Stairs, Death Cab for Cutie displayed why they are a premier rock band. A three-song encore culminated with the majestic “Marching Bands of Manhattan”.

The Neighbourhood

The Neighbourhood

Sunday brought even more sunshine and a lesser chance of rain, much to the delight of those who got a little soaked the night before. Sonic Bid winners The Box Tiger had the distinction of starting the final day of music. Local Massachusetts band Tigerman Woah!, resembling a washboard band from Tennessee brought an original take on bluegrass oriented rock.  The afternoon streamed flawlessly with one stage finishing and another beginning with more killer sets from The Districts, Kurt Vile and the Violators, and Phosphorescent. Crisp sounding twin sister duo Tegan and Sara spearheaded their backing band through a spirited set that began with “Back In Your Head” and included “Walking With a Ghost”, “Alligator”, and an explanation of why they feel a little strange playing while it is still daylight.

Energetic and enthusiastic Bastille bashed their way through a scorching set that included big hits “Bad Blood”, “Laura Palmer” and “Pompeii”. A bombastic performance by Brand New created an eruption from many music fans situated in front of The Red Stage and even prompted a small wave of crowd surfers toward the stage.

Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse

The big finale came from artistic indie favorites Modest Mouse and they brought the goods with horns and strings providing a symphonic rock experience. Isaac Brock’s signature vocals and the bands tight instrumentation cruised through a shimmering performance that began with the stirring “Dark Side of the Universe”. Highlights included “Dramamine” with a “Life Like Weeds” tease, “Trailer Trash” with a “Perpetual Motion Machine” tease and an epic three-song encore with “Cowboy Dan”, “Shit In Your Cut”, and “Devil In a Coffin”.

Most music fans who have been to all three Boston Calling Festivals agree that the event has gotten better each time .The fourth installment is looming in September with an equally strong and even more diverse line-up, and will most likely sell out even faster. Tickets are on sale now, so jump on this quickly.

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