Saturday brought beards, and Sunday brought Boston Strong tank tops. This past weekend’s Boston Calling music festival drew a diverse crowd to City Hall Plaza to see acts ranging in genre from folk to trap, continuing the success its earlier incarnation had in May. Setting aside less important things, like problem sets and readings, a friend and I hopped on the Red Line on Saturday and Sunday in order to spend several hours listening to what Boston Calling had to offer.
A major difference this time around was the organizers’ decision to group similar artists by day: Sunday’s lineup was largely synthy and danceable, while Saturday’s was more guitar-heavy and subdued. This was a fantastic choice. There’s something to be said for variety, but there’s a lot more to be said for not making people sit through music they don't like.
We arrived midway through the Airborne Toxic Event’s set, and fortunately, it was all uphill from there. The California quintet has produced very few songs worth performing—but even if its songwriting abilities improved, its sonically muddled and clichéd live show wouldn’t do those songs any favors.
Mercifully, it soon came time for Natasha Khan, a.k.a. Bat for Lashes, to take the stage on the opposite end of the plaza. Khan waltzed onstage in typically ornate garb—seeing her ankle-length, rainbow skirt firsthand was almost worth the price of admission—and put on what might have been the best show of the day, blending stunningly powerful vocals and palpitation-inducing drums into a fantastic performance. Highlights of the set were a relentless rendition of “What’s A Girl To Do” from 2007’s “Fur and Gold,” as well as the emotional piano ballad “Laura,” off this year’s “The Haunted Man.”
As Bat For Lashes’ set ended, we rushed over to join the quickly forming sea of flannel gathering in anticipation of Local Natives. Following a surprise introduction by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the Los Angeles quartet launched into a superb set. No one would ever call their studio recordings “ferocious,” but that’s exactly what their performance was on Saturday. Vocalist Kelcey Ayer provided extra rhythmic force by beating on a second set of drums throughout the set, which ranged from a gritty cover of the Talking Heads’ “Warning Sign” to the extended version of the band’s first single, “Sun Hands,” that closed the set.
We half-listened to the penultimate band of the night, New Jersey’s the Gaslight Anthem. By this point, most of the festival’s crowd wasn’t watching the Gaslight Anthem. Instead, they had migrated across the plaza in order to get as close to the stage as possible for Vampire Weekend, due to take the stage in an hour. Considering that the Gaslight Anthem’s generic brand of heartland punk sounds the same at 500 feet away as it does it 50, the fans had the right idea.
Ezra Koenig and crew were well worth the wait. Vampire Weekend’s set was a constant stream of highlights: Koenig’s fleeting but furious guitar solos during “Cousins,” the crowd frenetically belting out “Nobody knows what your future holds / And it’s bad enough just getting old” at the end of opener “Diane Young,” and the grooving, fragmented melodies of “Diplomat’s Son.” Vampire Weekend also catered to the local crowd with two Massachusetts-themed songs: the early B-side “Ladies of Cambridge” and their final song of the night, “Walcott.” I had wanted to hear “Walcott” performed live for a long time, and it exceeded every expectation: Rostam Batmanglij’s rapid-fire keyboard part slowly unfolded into a torrential climax that sent everyone in the audience home both thrilled and exhausted.