Dirty Bangs opened the festival on Sunday, but I missed them because the trains from Lowell to Boston only run every two hours on the weekend. (You’d think they would at least run as often as weekdays with people going into Boston for sporting events, concerts, and other leisure activities on the weekends, but, nope.) I asked around to see if anyone would comment on their performance, but nobody I talked to had caught them either and then Bully went on and captivated me so I stopped asking. I can tell you that they are a Boston band though, as was Saturday’s opening band Grey Season; the festival always has Boston bands open Saturday and Sunday, which I think is very cool of them. I should also note that Sunday was the most beautiful day of the festival, weather-wise, being nice and sunny and warm. Not that Friday and Saturday brought bad weather. The weather cooperated all weekend, actually. It’s just that Friday and Saturday night did get a bit colder than one would like, but, hey, it didn’t rain, so nobody was complaining! All in all, it was an awesome weekend in every way possible. Delicious food, easy going people, killer artists — what more could you want from a festival?
Bully are an alternative rock group who released their first full-length album, Feels Like, on Columbia this year. They were formed by Rosemount, Minnesota native Alicia Bognanno, who moved to Nashville and worked as an engineer at Battle Tapes Recording and The Stone Fox. Before starting her own band, she spent some time in the power pop band King Arthur. Her bandmates in Bully are guitarist Clayton Parker, bassist Reece Lazarus and drummer Stewart Copeland. Let me tell you, Alicia sings her heart out and pulls no punches. It was obvious that she was pouring her entire being into their Boston Calling Performance. Their sound reminded me of grunge and ’90’s alternative. They were like a perfect cross between Hole, Veruca Salt and Juliana Hatfield. Alicia could have been channeling Courtney Love during Bully’s set, she was so fierce and entirely cool.
Fidlar initially went by the name Fuck The Clock before changing it to FIDLAR — they stylize it in all caps — which they’ve stated is an acronym for two things: “Fuck it Dog, Life’s A Risk” and “Forget it Dad, Life’s All Right.” Their sound at Boston Calling struck me as being a mix of skate and garage punk. Then again, they did have songs with a slight pop influence, such as the catchy “West Coast,” which they recently performed on Jimmy Kimmel. There was an air of grunge about them, too. I have no doubt that they’re big Nirvana fans. Suffice to say they were the best band to play after Bully. After opening with a song about “getting really high,” lead guitarist/vocalist Elvis Kuehn introduced “Cheap Beer” by simply stating “This song’s about drinking beer,” which got a laugh out of the audience. Their turbo-charged, gritty set consisted primarily of songs from their self-titled album,, which they played most of.
Indie folk/lo-fi trio Daughter are from England. They consist of Elena Tonra on lead vocals, guitar and bass, Igor Haefeli on guitar and bass and Remi Aguilella on drums and percussion. So far, they’ve released four EPs and one album, 2013’s If You Leave. (Their songs have appeared in several television series and movies.) They started working on their new album last September and played a few of the new songs at Boston Calling, though the bulk of their set consisted of songs from If You Leave, many of which the audience knew the words to and were happy to sing along. To my ears, they sounded like a heavier – and somewhat more upbeat – version of Warpaint between Elena’s soft, calming vocals and their sonorous instruments. Although their new songs were more in the vein of the Dum Dum Girls or even The Raveonettes. At one point, Elena was suddenly hit with anxiety and seemed to be experiencing a panic attack. “I’m having a nervous breakdown,” she said. “But I’m glad you’re here.” Fortunately, it only took her a minute or so to soldier through it then they were onto the next song, “Smother,” which found her singing, “I sometimes wish I’d stayed inside my mother / Never to come out.” It’s a depressing sentiment but I wouldn’t say that Daughter’s music was depressing. I would say that it was heartfelt and brutally honest. Words that I would definitely use to describe the song that got the biggest rise out of the audience, “Youth.” “We are the reckless / We are the wild youth,” she sang enthusiastically, backed by the collective voice of the excited crowd.
Twin Shadow (real name: George Lewis Jr.) is based out of Brooklyn. This year he released his third album, Eclipse, but his tour to promote the album was cut short on April 17th when the tour bus that he, his band and crew were riding in was involved in a highway accident near Denver when the bus hit a tractor-trailer when the road was covered in fog (other vehicles were involved as well, though their passengers were uninjured). His drummer, Andy Bauer, and driver, John Crawford, were seriously injured. Meanwhile, Twin Shadow himself injured his hand and had to under go reconstructive hand surgery. Consequently, the tour was postponed. At the time, Shadow hoped to resume touring in August but he ultimately had to push it back to this month. But, hey, you never would have guessed that he’d ever had hand surgery from watching him play at Boston Calling. He was like a cross between Michael Jackson and Prince as he layed down his fancy fretwork and sang his more popular songs. And he was as cool as both of those guys, wearing just one glove, which matched the black and yellow outfit he was wearing, the shirt of which was mostly covered by his black leather jacket. Although he’s only released one album as a major label artist (the above-mentioned Eclipse), he previously released a substantial amount of music independently. The audience appeared quite pleased when he performed as many songs representing his past as the songs from the new record. They were especially thrilled to sing along to songs from his 2012 album, Confess, “Five Seconds” and “Run My Heart” in particular. There were also quite a few people in the crowd who sang along to every song he threw at them. Suffice to say, he proved to have one of the day’s most loyal fanbases.
Indie pop darlings MisterWives began when vocalist Mandy Lee was having a birthday party and wanted to sing with an ’80’s cover band. She wound up joining forces with musicians Etienne Bowler (percussion) and William Heir (bass) and they decided to start a band, which wound up being MisterWives. They quickly added guitarist Marc Campbell and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Blum. Eventually, they recruited saxophonist Mike Murphy, whose playing is a key element to their sound today. The band was signed after playing their first official show by Photo Finish Records. They soon released an EP called Reflections, which received very positive reviews — including one from myself — and built them a substantial fanbase. Their debut full-length album, Our Own House, was released on February 24th of this year and they’ve been making new fans ever since. And that’s something they’re clearly very excited about; Mandy worked the Boston Calling Jetblue stage like Steven Tyler at an Aerosmith concert, constantly running from one side to the other to make sure everyone in the audience had the same MisterWives experience. And her vivacity was quite contagious. Before unleashing the rebellious anthem that is “Hurricane,” she said, “This song is for anybody out here who doesn’t give a flying fuck what anybody in this life expects them to be.” She got the loudest cheer of the day so far in response to that, though she’d get an even louder one when they covered The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face,” which they’d totally flipped on its head, making it a MisterWives song with loud guitars, drums, horns, etc. Everyone sang – SCREAMED – along to that one. They even worked in a hefty portion of Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” before returning to “I Can’t Feel My Face” and concluding the song. The funny thing about them doing these covers is that they totally didn’t need to. The audience already consisted of thousands of MisterWives fans who were perfectly happy just singing along to their songs. But, by doing the covers, they made anyone who wasn’t already a fan take notice and listen attentively. Two other artists that followed on Sunday also used covers for their universal appeal (more on that below). That said, the final two original MisterWives songs had people singing along even louder than the covers. Those were the hit singles “Reflections” and “Our Own House.” From where I was, it looked like every single person at the festival was singing along to them. Fervently.
Nate Ruess is the frontman behind the pop band fun. Their sophomore album, Some Nights, released in 2012, gave birth to two global mega-hits, “We Are Young” and “Some Nights.” To say that these songs were infectious is an understatement. And if fun. would have released a follow up album already, it probably would have debuted in the top 10. But, instead, fun. went on hiatus, something that has actually proved to be a good thing, since Ruess went on to release this year’s fabulous pop opus Grand Romantic and his bandmate Jack Antonoff’s side-project Bleachers released last year’s Strange Desire, an album that expertly explored the darker side of pop (though he’s since released a brighter sounding version with females singing the songs). I’d never seen .fun or Nate live before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he and his six member band were quite amazing. First, though, a word about the stage, which had a large tapestry showing what could’ve been an old hotel in the south of France with yellow sunlight beaming down and lots of palm trees. The words GRAND ROMANTIC were typed in one of the yellow spaces, which made the whole thing take on the feel of an old postcard your grandparents might have sent your parents when they finally made it to France. Now, the music. Nate and company opened with “Great Big Storm,” one of the best tracks on the Grand Romantic album. “I can’t stand myself / But it’s high time that we gave it a try,” he sang as the song neared its end. “And I think I’m gonna finally give myself a new try” Next, he belted a .fun song, “Carry On,” which got the audience to loosen up and start singing a bit. Then he did something almost as unexpected as MisterWives doing “I Can’t Feel My Face”: he covered Prince. “Let’s Go Crazy,” in particular. When he first started it with its famous guitar intro I found myself thinking “this is gonna be bad.” It was nothing against Nate. I’ve just never liked a Prince cover before, but… By the time the song was over, he’d won me over. Not only was his enthusiasm for the material obvious, it actually sounded spectacular. And he had everyone singing along to the free-spirited chorus. Later, he did another cover, “Rocket Man” by Elton John. I wasn’t very surprised by this though. It’s one of those songs he was always meant to cover, as it just naturally suits his voice perfectly. But, of course, his own songs – and fun.’s songs – suit it even better. To that end, he did a triumphant rendition of his mighty pop anthem “Nothing Without Love.”
I think the high point of his set was when he sang the song he did with P!nk, “Just Give Me A Reason.” Obviously, the song is a duet with the two of them on her album, but Nate managed to sing it just fine on his own, which he did accompanied only by piano, and it was the most beautiful thing I heard all weekend.
Oh, and, yes, of course, Nate did “We Are Young” and “Some Nights” by fun. at the end of his set and the audience was singing those so loudly that their collective voice was competing with Nate’s!
Ben Howard is an English singer/songwriter of the award-winning variety; in 2013 he took home the Brits Awards for British Male Solo Artist and British Breakthrough Artist. (No small feat.) He started writing songs when he was only 11 years old, having been exposed to many of the great ’60’s and ’70’s singer/songwriters by his parents when he was growing up, such as Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell. After completing community college he pursued a journalism degree at University College Falmouth but left six months before completion to focus on being a singer and songwriter, at which point he decided that he wanted to explore the darker side of humanity in his pensive lyrics. He released his critically acclaimed sophomore album, I Forget Where We Were, last year. The largely acoustic record spotlights his tender vocals and simple but emotive guitar playing, both of which he brought to Boston Calling. I’ll admit that he wasn’t my cup of tea, but he’s very good at what he does; he makes music for the soul even though it’s not actually soul music. The problem I had is that it’s all so serious. Now, I don’t have an issue with musicians being serious, as I enjoy alt-J’s music even though they clearly take it very seriously and clearly don’t sit around trying to write fun songs. But Ben’s music is just so bloody serious that I felt like I was going to start pulling my hair out by the time he was done. To my ears, all of his songs sounded exactly the same. It’s like he was in pain and he wanted everyone to share his suffering. But, hey, people certainly seemed to enjoy his set, so it’s not like he needs me to praise him anyway.
Andrew Hozier-Byrne, more commonly known simply as Hozier, is an Irish singer/songwriter. His self-titled debut was released late last year and features the worldwide smash “Take Me To Church.” I assume that the breakout success of that song is why he was featured so high up on the Boston Calling bill; I was surprised that he had a higher billing than Nate Ruess, who’s pretty darn popular and responsible for some big hits. Then again, Hozier has been nominated for over a dozen awards and won the awards for Top Rock Artist and Top Rock Song (for “Take Me To Church”) at this year’s Billboard Music Awards. Anyway, I did not hold his billing against him. On the contrary, I found myself really getting absorbed in his set. With two female backing singers, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, he created a massive wall of sound that held everyone’s attention. Normally, I take a lot of notes, but when he was singing I was too engaged by his songs to do that. The artist he reminded me of most was Jack White (his solo material in particular.) After performing six of his original songs, including set opener “Like Real People Do,” “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene,” and “Someone New,” he decided to perform a cover. “Blackbird” by The Beatles, which he turned into a soulful rocker, replacing its gentle guitars with loud blasts of electric guitar, totally making it his own. At one point, he talked about when he was first starting out, saying “We played at Berkeley. Ever since, this place has had a warm, fuzzy place in my heart.” A few songs later, he surprised everyone when he covered Ariana Grande’s “Problem.” Not something you would expect from a folk rock guy, huh? But it was great! Like “Blackbird,” he changed the song just enough to make it his own without getting rid of its infectious hooks. Not surprisingly, he closed his set with his mega-hit, “Take Me To Church,” which had nearly everyone singing along.
Alabama Shakes have become quite popular during the past few years, their broad sound having a universal appeal. They’ve been dubbed everything from blues rock to soul to roots rock to southern rock. After seeing them at Boston Calling, I’d agree with these distinctions. I’d also add that there’s a trip-hop vibe to some of their work, at least when performed live. As they did “Don’t Wanna Fight,” they even sounded like a funk act. Whatever you want to call them, they were on fire Sunday night as they closed out Boston Calling. Lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard was a veritable force to be reckoned with. There’s a seemingly endless amount of power and control to her voice, which hit a great many high notes throughout the set. The band was mighty strong, too, guitarist Heath Fogg interplaying with Brittany’s guitar licks perfectly. Meanwhile, bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson were one hell of a rhythm section and keyboardist Ben Tanner added extra flair to their songs, making them shine. I’m not familiar with their whole catalog and couldn’t always understand the lyrics terribly well from where I was sitting, so I can’t say much about their set list other than that it was quite diverse. But I’m reasonably sure that they opened with “Future People” and closed with “Over My Head.” And they did 18 songs, including the encore, if I counted right. (I checked setlist.fm but they don’t have their setlist yet.) In any case, there was never a dull moment and I almost missed my train – the last of the night to my suburb – because I didn’t want to miss part of their set, that’s how wonderful they were.
Suffice to say, it was another truly awesome festival with a diverse line-up that had something for everyone. I can’t wait to see who they book for next May’s festival!
Go back to day two (Saturday)
Go back to day one (Friday)