Over the previous yr, the dialog round main pop music festivals has began to vary. Established fests like Sasquatch and FYF referred to as it quits following dwindling ticket gross sales. Fyre Pageant was a short-lived image of superficial extravagance earlier than turning into an extravagant failure. Woodstock 50 virtually fell by because of shaky funding, solely to be rescued by an funding financial institution. Very rock ‘n’ roll.
However for festivalgoers looking for three days of peace, music, and model activations, Boston Calling nonetheless stands. Now in its third yr on the Harvard Athletic Advanced, it has settled into its new turf and sprawled to make extra comfy use of the grounds, however that extra established footing additionally exhibits that it’s reached a clumsy section. In its remaining years at Metropolis Corridor Plaza, its mixture of stacked lineups and a a lot smaller, could-not-be-more-Bostonian setting grounded it with a transparent identification. Since shifting to Harvard and increasing, it’s misplaced a few of that persona whereas making agency strikes to affix the ranks of main company festivals like Governor’s Ball and Firefly.
Friday made that clear. A gusty, overcast afternoon set the tone for a slower begin, however the just-OK climate wasn’t guilty. A just-OK lineup would possibly’ve been the difficulty. The pageant’s style variety has solely improved through the years, and Friday was no exception, however sadly the preliminary invoice’s largest standouts, Janelle Monáe and Black Star, each dropped off a month forward of the pageant. Now-classic pageant act CHVRCHES was introduced in to exchange Monáe, and some extra artists have been sprinkled throughout the poster as late additions — notably, a mysterious “particular visitor look” by viral country-trap star Lil Nas X — however on Friday afternoon, these additions didn’t appear to spice up the environment.
It wasn’t that the day lacked highlights altogether, however the crowds weren’t significantly energized, even because the afternoon went on. Tank and the Bangas shimmied by an animated early-evening set that fused hip-hop, funk, and spoken phrase, however needed to cajole the gang into dancing a number of instances earlier than the suggestion caught. On the identical time, Christine and the Queens took the stage throughout the sector to pair their polished pop (together with a quick cowl of David Bowie’s “Heroes”) with equally polished choreography, however forcing the day’s two standout units to compete didn’t work in anybody’s favor. In a while, even CHVRCHES’ strobed-out, hooky synthpop didn’t get the viewers shifting a lot past an appreciative head bob.
CHVRCHES performs on Friday evening at Boston Calling. (Hadley Inexperienced for WBUR)
It could not have helped that the evening was headlined by Twenty One Pilots, Ohio’s premier reggae-adjacent rap-rock duo. There’s comprehensible math behind why they may’ve been given the highest slot: They’ve radio hits; they’ve an enormous, younger fanbase; their midtempo, Macklemore-core sound is pleasant and now acquainted. However “acquainted” alone isn’t a robust indicator of a gripping headliner, and the gang gave the impression to be containing its pleasure. (The duo had additionally already performed TD Backyard final October on their present tour, which could’ve dulled the novelty.)
Pyrotechnics and pageantry, together with a quick bit that invited safety guards to take the stage, didn’t flip it round. Halfway into the set, vocalist Tyler Joseph remarked that the band “didn’t essentially deserve” to be headlining, which might’ve sounded humble, however given the gang’s lukewarm response to your complete day, the comment felt sadder than he would possibly’ve supposed. All opinion apart, Twenty One Pilots is a profitable band that appears to imply rather a lot to lots of people; these largely weren’t the individuals who turned out for the pageant on Friday. Such a mismatched headliner can’t assist however sign that possibly the pageant’s attendees aren’t who curators assume they’re.
Then again, Saturday’s lineup and general vibe confirmed what Boston Calling is able to. Standing out amongst festivals with a nationwide draw requires having some type of signature, like Bonnaroo’s in depth tenting setup or Pitchfork Pageant’s editorial perspective. Whereas it appears Boston Calling remains to be determining its personal identification, a tightly curated lineup throughout each tier helped set up it up to now and got here by to fire up pleasure once more on Saturday. It wasn’t simply that the day was stacked with large names; it’s that they have been significantly related ones. Boston’s personal Sidney Gish opened the day to a large crowd of followers who confirmed up early and sang alongside. Bed room-pop queen Clairo simply doubled dimension of mid-afternoon stage crowds from the day prior. Huge Purple Machine, the festival-perfect creation of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The Nationwide’s Aaron Dessner, made a uncommon look and helped separate Boston Calling from the more and more homogenous pageant circuit lately.
But it surely was Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals who lastly introduced out the complete power of a correct pageant. Some mixture of Paak’s multi-instrumental brilliance, high-energy strikes, and stageful of proficient bandmates put the efficiency excessive, although a setup that concerned lasers, flamethrowers and a hydraulic drum riser didn’t harm. At one level, the group put its personal spin on a number of bars of Ginuwine’s 1996 hit, “Pony,” cueing up an outsized response from the gang because it turned clear that Lil Nas X was about to look and ship his much-buzzed-about efficiency of “Outdated City Street.” The complete “particular efficiency” couldn’t have lasted far more than two minutes: Lil Nas X appeared full within the requisite cowboy hat and chaps and galloped across the stage as he carried out a simple (and presumably even abridged) model of his primary hit. A part of the joys got here from the truth that he’s a comparatively untested stay performer — getting well-known by Tik Tok and SoundCloud allows you to skip the formality of precise exhibits — however regardless of his vocals being barely muffled and off-kilter within the combine, he checked out house and was one of many weekend’s most well-received acts.
Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals carry out on Saturday evening at Boston Calling. (Hadley Inexperienced for WBUR)
Although the pageant puffed up his two-minute look to full gimmick potential and saved his efficiency time beneath wraps till simply earlier than Anderson .Paak’s set began, it supplied the spark and swagger that the weekend wanted. Lil Nas X doesn’t have a summer time filled with appearances scheduled but (although that’s prone to change), and Boston Calling was certainly one of his first main performances, which made it an enormous rating on the pageant’s half. From there on out, the lineup didn’t need to work as exhausting to get the gang going: even when a bit predictable, Odesza and Tame Impala are main pageant acts for a cause. It’s tough to take a position about how that power will carry over into Sunday, however with Travis Scott’s mercilessly maximalist rap and infamous stage manufacturing, it appears possible that the weekend will finish on a excessive observe.
Proper now, it’s simpler to border Boston Calling’s sprawling identification by what it isn’t than by what it’s. Ferris wheel apart, it’s not Coachella. Centering native music has by no means been the primary purpose both. However these are two extremes, and the house in between is huge. Hopefully the pageant can work out how one can carve out its personal lane quickly, however till then, it’s roughly going by pageant puberty. It’s attempting exhausting, and has all of the potential it must develop right into a standout on the nationwide scale, however proper now, it is simply shy of that time. Right here’s hoping the awkward section doesn’t final too lengthy.