REVIEW: Boston Calling Music Festival (May ’14)

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By Dan Hogan. This spring’s Boston Calling Music Festival brought big change, and a subsequent weekend with many highlights and a few lowlights. 20,000 people packed into Boston City Hall Plaza for the three-day musical event to hear the 23 bands perform – with one huge difference from past years: the traditional Blue Stage and Red Stage were next to each other in the venue rather than on opposite sides. The ensuing chaos was minimal, with every band starting no later than five minutes after the previous band had finished, like a well-oiled musical machine.

The festival started out with a bang on Friday night. Californian singer-songwriter Cass McComb got the crowd warmed up and ready to go for the vivacious show that Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros put on,an interesting one to say the very least.. Lead vocalist Alex Ebert knows exactly how to get a crowd revved up and raring to go; it was clear the stage is his real “home”. During the show, he literally jumped into the crowd to sing along with the fans during the set, throwing caution and self-preservation to the wind. They paved the way for Jack Johnson, who transformed Boston’s City Hall Plaza into one giant psychedelic jam session with his 20,000 fans singing along to his catchy tunes. Some said the smooth indie musician’s  act was out of place at a concert full of loud, high energy rock bands, but I thought he fit right in with the vibe of the festival.

Saturday’s slate of performances kicked off with a local band from Newton, MA. I thought Magic Man was one of the most unexpectedly great performances from the weekend. They used their unique electronic sound and superb hooks to captivate the audience from the get-go. They even broke out into a few lines from Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” which Boston appreciated… a lot.

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Later on in the day it began to rain, and The Decemberists were the lone band who really had to put up with it. They used the setting to their advantage though and delivered an elegant set in the otherwise cold and gloomy New England rain. Essentially, the fans just danced in the pouring rain along with the band and enjoyed the music as if the sun was shining its brightest. Saturday night concluded with a full-blown rock show by Death Cab For Cutie, who put on a memorable concluding performance for the second day of music at the fest.

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The third and final day of performances in the heart of Boston was the most interesting one for me by far… A band by the name of Tigerman Whoa! took the stage early in the afternoon and delivered one of the most entertaining performances of the entire weekend. A mix of guys from Massachusetts’ North Shore and from Atlanta, GA, Tigerman Whoa! was the talk of Sunday’s show. Dressed in overalls and sporting beards that rival those of the iconic ZZ Top, Tigerman Whoa! electrified the crowd with more than just their fun band name, but also with their unique sound.

For me, my least favorite performances of the entire weekend came from Phosphorescent and Built to Spill. While I’m not saying that they were horrible, I found that each band brought the energy level down with their back-to-back sets, and the mood needed to be severely increased by the following performers.

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As it turned out, this was not a difficult goal to accomplish for the ensuing musical acts. Tegan and Sara brought their usual indie pop attitude and sass to their performance, giving the crowd a great show; only to be followed by the wonderment that is Bastille. The moment Bastille broke out into “Pompeii,” it was easy to tell that it was the moment most of the audience was looking forward to the most. Arguably one of the best rock songs of the year, the band saved their hit ballad for last. The crowd erupted into applause and City Hall Plaza became nothing but a dance party.

Whether you were in attendance at the shows or standing just outside the fence to listen in, it was a tremendous weekend to be in Boston. While the change in stage positioning did cause some overlap in sounds and confusion for the festival-goers, it did little to hinder the overall experience for music fans. September’s edition of Boston Calling looks to be just as great.

 

PHOTOS: Boston Calling Music Festival – Day 1 (May ’14)

PHOTOS: Boston Calling Music Festival – Day 2 (May ’14)

PHOTOS: Boston Calling Music Festival – Day 3 (May ’14)

BOSTON CALLING: Sept ’14

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