written by Michael McCarthy
If this past weekend’s Boston Calling music festival is any indication, 2015 is going to be another beautiful, summer of love…
As with the Boston Calling festival I attended last September, the vibes this May were just as warm and fuzzy. I’ve never been so surrounded by shiny, happy people as I’ve been at Boston Calling. Everybody is there to have fun and listen to great music. You check your ego at the gate and go in with a smile. Just make sure you bring your appetite because there’s never a shortage of great food on hand. This past weekend was, in a word, yummy, and I’ve gained 8 pounds to prove it. (No kidding.) My favorites this time around were the vegetarian tacos from Chipolte — the delicious, unique ingredient being pickled onions – and the super yummy veggie burger from Tasty Burger, a Boston-based company that now has four locations in addition to a stand at Fenway Park and a food truck.
There were plenty of other food options as well, some of the vendors being Arancini Brothers’ Risotto Balls to Roxy’s Grilled Cheese to The Chicken & Rice Guys. Other vendors sold fried chicken, french fries, hot pretzels, homemade lemonade and just about anything else your taste buds could desire. There was even some of the best flatbread pizza I’ve ever had. And if you wanted beer, wine or hard cider, Sam Adams was on hand selling them all. Plus, there were also plenty of Polar Seltzers, Red Bulls and soda to quench your thirst if you weren’t in the mood for booze, or if you were simply too young for it.
Before I get into my reviews of each artist, all of which I caught this time, I feel like I should praise the real star of Boston Calling. And that’s the city of Boston itself, which is just one of the things that makes Boston Calling unique. While some festivals are out in the desert or spread out over five miles of vacant fields, Boston Calling takes place in the heart of Boston, literally just across the street from the famous Fanueil Hall, at City Hall Plaza, which is, simply put, a spacious area behind city hall. A space huge enough to accommodate Boston Calling and the 150,000+ people who were said to be there this weekend before it even got packed. But, of course, this huge space isn’t much to see in and of itself, but it’s surrounded by older buildings like the Sears Crescent and City Plaza with huge, modern skyscrapers behind them. So, you get that adrenaline rush you experience when you’re in a big city and feel like anything can happen – almost like being in Time’s Square – and that just makes the concert experience that much more enjoyable.
Another thing that makes Boston Calling so unique and enjoyable? They have just two stages, the red and the blue, and there are no over-lapping sets. So, you can see all of the artists without having to pick and choose between your favorites like most festivals make you do. And it’s a damn good thing because it would have killed me to have to choose between the artists playing this time around, which included some of my favorites like Marina and The Diamonds, St. Vincent, Tove Lo, Run The Jewels and MØ, all of which played on Saturday and were fantastic. But before we get to Saturday’s coverage, which I plan to run tomorrow, here are my reviews of Friday’s artists…
DAY ONE: FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2015
SHARON VAN ETTEN:
Sharon Van Etten was born in Clinton, New Jersey in 1981, but the insanely talented singer/songwriter now resides in Brooklyn, NY. She recently released an excellent EP called I Don’t Want To Let You Down, which follows four full-length studio albums and various collaborations with other artists, such as The National and The Antlers.
Sharon had the difficult job of opening the festival. The first act on the first night tends to have the smallest crowd and least responsive audience. Or so I’m told by people who get around to more festivals than I do. It makes sense though, especially with Boston Calling, which kicks off at 6 o’clock on Friday night when most festival-goers are probably driving home from work still. And those who do manage to get out of work and arrive early tend to be there mostly to see the headliner, which was the iconic Beck on Friday night. All that being said, Sharon had at least 25,000 people in the house already and everyone was listening attentively. In fact, she held them in the palm of her hand as she oozed cool, coming across like her generation’s version of Joan Jett. Granted, her songs tend to be more laid back and alternative, but live tracks like “Serpents” and “Taking Chances” seemed to have meatier hooks than they do on her albums, the choruses jumping out at you like striking snakes. Another highlight was the title track from the above-mentioned EP, “I Don’t Want To Let You Down.” And that was a mission accomplished because she sure as hell didn’t let anyone in Boston down. Except, maybe, the people who couldn’t make it on time to see her on Friday night.
Signed to Interscope, Tame Impala is the semi-psychedelic pop project of Kevin Parker. They hail from Perth, Australia and have been getting accolades ever since the 2010 release of their debut album, Innerspeaker. Their name references the impala, which is a medium-sized antelope. This is something I only recently became aware of, having always thought their name referenced the Chevrolet Impala automobile. Oops!
So far this year Tame Impala has released four singles, “Eventually,” “Disciples,” “‘Cause I’m A Man” and “Let It Happen.” They will be releasing their third album, Currents, on July 17th of this year and if the singles are any indication it’s going to be one wild, trippy ride, which is exactly what their set at Boston Calling was on Friday night. I’m talking about psychedelic to the max. Like, totally groovy, man. Seriously though, you had to wonder if someone put LSD in your drink at some point during their set between how far out there the music was and all those colorful, circular designs they had spinning around behind them on the stage. (The designs reminded me of that old drawing toy Spirograph, how it would have you draw all of these swirling circles that created these amazing, almost enchanting patterns.) All of the new singles were performed, and hypnotically at that, except for “’Cause I’m A Man.” For me, the highlight of their set came early when they opened the show with “Let It Happen,” forcing ourselves to surrender our minds to them, which, of course, we did. And they rewarded us greatly.
If you don’t know who Beck is, well, there’s no hope for you. Then again, Kanye West didn’t seem to know much about Beck when he basically said that he didn’t deserve the Album of the Year award at the Grammy’s, which he bloody well did deserve. After all, Beck is one of the most talented singer/songwriters of the last two generations; he’s been at it since the early ’90’s.
What I’ve always admired about Beck is how he’s constantly experimenting with his music. Some artists get lazy and basically keep re-writing the same album over and over again. Or they try too hard to write hits. Beck had a big one back in the day with “Loser” but he hasn’t spent the last 20 years trying to have another one. To be fair, I’m sure he’d be happy if he had another hit, but I think he prefers that people listen to his albums from front to back, as a complete body of work, rather than just cherry-picking certain radio-friendly songs. And that was the thing about Morning Phase, the album he won the Grammy for — there isn’t necessarily any song you can point to and say “that’s a hit,” as none of the songs function especially well taken individually. But when they’re listened to in the context of the complete album, they fit together like pieces of a puzzle, a cleverly laid out puzzle. And it’s a beatiful thing, to be sure. And that’s what Beck’s set at Boston Calling was like. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a very interesting night if he just played one album from front to back, so he had to choose songs from throughout his career. But he clearly took such care in coming up with his set list, choosing which songs to perform, figuring out what order to play them in, etc. Some artists just pick their hits and put the biggest ones at the end of the set list, usually as the encore, not really thinking so much about how one song will flow into another. But Beck arranged a perfect set list, which flowed perfectly as his performance progressed from one song to the next.
He opened his set with a rousing rendition of “Devil’s Haircut,” followed by the attack of the “Black Tambourine,” and one thing was entirely obvious: Beck live is much heavier than Beck on the albums. So much so that the album versions of his songs actually sound like acoustic versions compared to the massive live versions. I suppose that might’ve disappointed some of his die-hard fans who love how perfect every note on his albums tend to sound, but the crowd at Boston Calling was certainly loving it. During the next couple of songs – “The New Pollution” followed by “Qué Onda Guero” – it seemed like he and his band only grew heavier and heavier, and the audience cheered louder and louder. You would have sworn you were at a heavy metal show, no exaggeration.
If there were any people who were just there on Friday night because they’d bought a three day pass for the festival and wanted to get their money’s worth, I’m sure Beck converted them. Honestly, I’ve been a fan for roughly 20 years and have all of his albums and his hard rocking Boston Calling performance only made me love him even more, which I never would have thought possible. (I hope he recorded the show – and releases it – so the world can hear this side to him.) That said, I was also so happy I could have died when he slowed things down for a few minutes and played the mellow “Lost Cause” from the Sea Change album, which just so happens to be my favorite of his songs.
Another thing that you had to notice about Beck’s set is how much he loves other people’s music. About halfway through the show he did “I Think I’m In Love” with Donna Summer’s classic hit “I Feel Love.” And when he closed his set with “Where It’s At,” he stretched it out and went all over the place, playing parts of “Running With The Devil,” “Miss You,” “Blue Monday,” “Taking it to the Streets,” “Whip It,” and “One Foot In T.” That was one jumbo tribute! And it was amazing how he played the songs close enough to the original, so as not to offend the artists, yet made them his own enough to put a unique spin on them. But, of course, Beck is a guy who used to cover entire albums from front to back, so his admiration for the music of others should have come as no surprise.
It also has to be said that Beck moves around with vigor, working the stage in a way that you might not expect him to. I say this because I really had no idea that he possessed that kind of energy or charisma. I wasn’t hugely shocked, but I’m not one to spend hours watching live videos on Youtube, so it definitely surprised me somewhat. He might as well have been Prince, another artist whose known for making quirky pop songs but can shred like Hendrix when he wants to. Beck might not be considered a guitar god by most people, but I’m sure all those who caught his Boston Calling performance on Friday night now think of him as one.
Remember, the September 2015 line up has been released and you can find it here: http://www.loveispop.com/news/news-boston-calling-september-2015-line-up-announced/ Tickets are now on sale!