Boston Calling provides plenty of memories

A review of the Boston Calling Music Festival at City Hall Plaza on May 25 & 26, 2013

, Staff Writer

The inaugural Boston Calling Music Festival took place over City Hall Plaza for Memorial Day weekend, and, in spite of less-than-ideal weather on Saturday, was by all accounts a rousing success. So much so that the festival has already announced the lineup for the next go-around, which takes place this September.

The weekend was filled with memorable moments, both musical and not. It can be difficult to parse out the very best of what took place over 18 hours of non-stop music, but we’re going to give it a shot, anyway. Here, then, in no particular order, are ten moments I’ll remember from the first Boston Calling Music Festival:

1. Lizzy Plapinger’s pants

MS MR hit the stage right as the majority of attendees started to stream in to City Hall Plaza. It was definitely a little tough to loosen up with the cold temperatures and rain streaming down on top of everyone. And then Lizzy and Max Hershenow hit the stage and gave perhaps the most pleasantly surprising performance of Saturday. Ms. Plapinger’s pants simply could not be missed, with their wild patterns and colors, and yet they still managed to complement her fire-red hair.

MS MR was quick to throw down, and what began as a small dance party near the front of the stage quickly made its way through the rest of the crowd. The centerpiece of the performance was the single “Fantasy,” as well as an impeccable and creative cover of LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean.”

2. Matt & Kim’s dance breaks

I hadn’t seen Matt & Kim perform live prior to Boston Calling, so I don’t know if they’re a staple of their shows, but damned if there wasn’t an incredibly infectious quality to the 20-second dance breaks that the duo busted out frequently during their set. Matt had a magic button on his keyboard that blasted some bass-heavy hip hop, which, in between songs, he would use to give the pair a chance to run out from behind their instruments, dance like crazy for a little bit, and then return to play the next song.

Matt & Kim provided the kind of high-energy music needed to keep people warm and moving around underneath Saturday’s dreary grey skies. They played as though it was a perfect day, jumping around with huge grins on their faces the whole time. Kim even went so far as to offer her sneakers to the one fan who got the most crazy during the set.

3. The Shins playing “Simple Song”

When The Shins hit the stage, the temperature was beginning to drop and the rain was falling liberally. It was a tough point during the day, and people began to seek solace at nearby bars and restaurants. Those who persevered and stuck around for the indie stalwarts were treated with a performance that could only come from a band that has been doing this for years. Though most of Saturday had been devoted to fast-paced, high-energy dance music, The Shins took a different approach, and soon City Hall Plaza had erupted into an enormous sing-along. “Simple Song,” unsurprisingly, was the highlight for a number of people. It came fairly early in the set and provided that warm, familiar sing-along that marks so many music festivals.

4. The crowd on Saturday

Listening to various conversations on Saturday, it seemed like most people were particularly excited about Sunday’s lineup. After all, it’s hard to compete with the likes of Dirty Projectors, Andrew Bird and, of course, The National. The weather was exceptionally nicer on Sunday, as well, with actual sunshine and more reasonable temperatures.

Having said that, the crowd on Saturday made the most of the hand it had been dealt, showing absolute gratitude to the bands playing for them. There were moments of weakness for all of us, sure, but the crappy weather only inspired people to party harder, and the performers definitely seemed happy to be a part of it. Plus, enduring the weather on Saturday made Sunday’s sunshine that much more pleasant to bask in.

5. Marina’s props

Saturday’s lineup was full of bands with awesome women, and Marina Diamandis was no exception. She strutted on stage exuding confidence, ready to kick the evening into high gear. Of course, she had plenty of help from the Diamonds, the excellent backing band, and while many were staking out their spots to see fun., Marina and the Diamonds regaled those who stuck around with a wildly entertaining set of music.

There were a lot of props to help keep Marina’s set interesting (as though she needed any help), including a goblet which seemed endlessly filled with fake diamonds that she tossed out into the crowd, and a giant teddy bear, which she did not toss into the crowd.

6. The giant vein on Hamilton Leithauser’s neck

There was definitely a palpable energy on Sunday that came with the sun’s arrival and warmer temperatures, and The Walkmen provided one of the standout performances of the day. The fast tempos and punk-y quality of their music was perfect for the middle of the day, and people were soon bopping up and down to the music.

Mr. Leithauser put on a clinic in singing high notes, nailing his vocals for the entire set, the result of which is that the audience was treated to close-ups of a large vein on the side of his neck made gigantic by the big screens. In general, Sunday’s lineup was somewhat more laid-back, or at least not as overtly dance-y, but The Walkmen showed up to give speedsters a little something to move their feet to before settling down (just a little bit) for the rest of the day.

7. The local bands

It would have been a travesty if Boston bands were not properly represented at the inaugural Boston Calling festival, and while most of the bands did not hail from our fair city, organizers were kind enough to give two thoroughly local groups – Bad Rabbits, from Boston, and Caspian, from Beverly – the first slot on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Both bands played a great set and expressed genuine gratitude at being able to be a part of the first Boston Calling. With Passion Pit headlining September’s festival, perhaps we’ll see more local fare make its way to the next iteration.

8. Of Monsters and Men’s accents

Hailing from Iceland, Of Monsters and Men were one of a few international acts that made their way to Boston Calling. They were also perhaps the largest ensemble at the festival, and made great use of the excellent sound system with an incredibly rich and full performance. Naturally, “Little Talks” went over incredibly well, but the entire set was a powerhouse performance.

Of particular note was Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir on the trumpet, which was frequently highlighted throughout the set. She took plenty of solos and saw a lot of camera time. It was nice to hear a new color on the sound pallet after almost two days of pretty much exclusive electronic instrumentation.

9. The headliners

Headlining a festival like Boston Calling has got to be nerve inducing. You have to follow all of these exceptional acts and put on a show that keeps the tired crowd up on its feet and ready to go. As it turns out, fun. and The National were absolutely up to the task. Fun. in particular did a great job: with treats like a rousing cover of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and an impeccable vocal performance  by Nate Reuss, they proved that they were much more than a band with only two noteworthy songs. To be able to keep a crowd excited at the end of a cold, rainy day in 40-degree weather is no small task, and fun. definitely managed to live up to its name. The National

10. The venue

I know it’s cheesy, but spending the weekend in the middle of City Hall Plaza, listening to dozens of bands while surrounded on every side by massive buildings was absolutely a delight. There may not have been any grass to sit on, but the steps of the plaza helped ensure everyone had a nice view, and any number of bars and restaurants were minutes away (might I recommend the baked potato soup at the 21st Amendment).

A city so filled with young folks and a bustling music scene definitely deserves to have a festival to call its own. Boston Calling was a great start to what already is beginning to feel like a mainstay in our city’s cultural landscape.

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