Boston Calling 2018 Day 1: Paramore, Natalie Portman, Pussy Riot, Portugal. The Man, The Killers Show Harvard How It’s Done

Boston Calling is back for its 2018 incarnation and from what we saw on May 24th, the first day, everything is firing off on all cylinders. The move from City Hall Plaza to the Harvard Athletic Complex last year approximately tripled the size of the event, allowing much bigger names to make the bill, but a new location brought new logistical problems and so far, everything is running much smoother. Lines were shorter, food venders were more plentiful and diverse and the music itself sounded a lot better.

Natalie Portman was supposed to take part last year but her second pregnancy necessitated a rain check. The schedule just said “Natalie Portman & Friends” would be at the “Arena” (Harvard’s indoor hockey rink) and even folks working sound in the venue weren’t quiet sure what to expect. It turns out she’s hosting a series of performances the Academy Award-winning Harvard graduate has curated herself. On Friday afternoon she screened a beautifully restored silent film from the 1920’s and had the score performed live by a trio called ACME that had a droning, ambient sound that was similar to the Godspeed You! Black Emperor at their most mellow.

In addition to the indoor Arena, the festival showcases two primary performances spaces. The Delta Blue Stage has its own corner of the fairgrounds and featured an early performance by Pussy Riot. The punk rock outfit has long been the thorn in Putin’s paw and while their set was as political as you’d expect, this wasn’t the Pussy Riot that got arrested for performing at protests in Moscow. The set was essentially a hip-hop set, with anti-establishment raps featuring lyrics projected in a crawl a-la Star Wars on the screen on stage. Cool? Sure. What we expected? Not at all.

The other primary performance space can best be described as the biggest. Just like they did for years in City Hall Plaza, Boston Calling has two stages paired next to each other with one performance at a time, allowing the second stage to set up the next act, thus providing continuous music without any overlap or delay between bands. Portugal. The Man had the biggest crowd of the day and put on the best show of the day on the main stage, kicking things off with a cover of Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” that bled right into “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.” The Alaskan sextet had their audience in a frenzy when they closed their performance with their smash hit, “Feel It Still” that featured The Soul Rebels joining them to provide the anthem with a complete brass section. The Soul Rebels weren’t even on the bill but had played the night before in Harvard Square at a club called The Sinclair that’s hosting a bunch of the Boston Calling after parties.

The best set of the day came from Paramore, the Tennessee-bred pop trio fronted by the ever-electric Hayley Williams. Their live band clocks in at seven members and the addition of keyboards and percussionists really helped them recreate their studio material in the live setting. The set was heavy on new material from 2017’s After Laughter, featuring nine of the twelve tracks off the album, which made up the majority of their sixteen-song set. They opened with the first song on the album, “Hard times,” and ended the night with the next song on the album, “Rose-Colored Boy.” Although they’re generally categorized as being an Emo act or pop punk, the new material showcases incredibly catchy afrobeat rhythms that brought to mind Paul Simon’s Graceland and thanks to their deep bench and eye-catching front women, the set felt like a 21st century version of Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense.

The Killers were the official headliners of the first day, but Portugal. The Man played to a larger audience on that very stage, and the set The Killers put on was underwhelming, to put it nicely. They opened their set with “Mr. Brightside,” which is an iconic hit the majority of ticket holders could sing along to, but everything from the banter to the stage production felt cheesy and frontman Brandon Flowers comes across as a harder rocking Neil Diamond destined for the Casino circuit of their hometown, Las Vegas.

They paid tribute to Tom Petty with a cover of “American Girl” that was the highlight of their set and called it a night with “When You Were Young.” It’s been an awkward festival season with lineups far more homogenous than usual and for some reason, The Killers place atop the lineup is something a lot of events share this summer. Boston Calling has both Eminem and Jack White atop the bill alongside the Vegas act so you could argue The Killers serve up something for the younger audience, but are post-millennials really listening to the hits that topped the chart during the Invasion of Iraq?

The second day of Boston Calling is loaded up with elite talent like St. Vincent, Royal Blood, Queens of the Stone Age and Jack White so be sure to follow along on twitter for regular updates and check back tomorrow morning for a recap of the day’s events.

Photos by Marc Lacatell

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