If you remember our giddy reviews of May’s Boston Calling festival, then you can understand why we were so ready for City Hall Plaza this past weekend. The vibe was notably different than a few months ago, with two starkly contrasting lineups for the two days (followed by some pretty interesting crowds to accompany them). Whereas last time brought the electro-pop and dark indie moods that this writer is a bit of a sucker for (what can I say? I love a 30-something New Yorker in a suit), September’s fest dealt out folk and preppy indie-pop on day one, followed by electronic dance and hip-hop/R&B flavor on day two. We’re not complaining.

Day One

Viva Viva won a contest by Sonicbids to kick off the festival, and they didn’t disappoint. The Dig has been fans of theirs for a long time now, but we hadn’t seen them around enough until recently. They dropped their EP, Dead in Yr Tracks, on August 13th, and playing the first set at Boston Calling was a helluva follow-up.

I was also really excited that You Won’t played the first day. Their 2012 release, Skeptic Goodbyeportrays their brand of sweetly goofy folk perfectly. And they’re hometown heroes, as far as I’m concerned. “We’re local. We’re from here,” said frontman Josh Arnoudse to the Boston Calling crowd.

“I would tell you we’re from Lexington but then everyone would hate us.”

They closed their set out by shouting out to Lucius, the Brooklyn-based group that would follow their set over on the Red Stage, and mentioning how attractive their band-members are. And fair enough! But Lucius is also one of the hardest working bands of the last year, and their Motown-meets-folk self-titled EP, though brief, was so magnetic and hypnotizing that they quickly became The Next Buzz Band.

Obviously that’s more of a curse than a blessing for any new band, but their set on Saturday showcased some sharper-edged tracks off their forthcoming Wildewoman (out October 15th on Mom + Pop) and I think we have every reason to expect this band to be around for awhile. They also shouted out You Won’t, and sweet indie romance filled City Hall Plaza.


They closed their set out with “Turn It Around,” which is everybody’s favorite song off the EP. Okkervil River played next on the Blue Stage, and kicked off their set with “It Was My Season,” off their recent The Silver Gymnasium


Frontman Will Sheff amazes me every time I see him live. On their records, his voice is so vulnerable and packed with feeling that it would be understandable if he couldn’t duplicate its emotional resonance live, but somehow he always does. It’s part of what makes Okkervil River fans as die-hard as they are. “We’d like to extend an invitation for the young and old out there today,” said Sheff, “to stay young.” The band then launched into the Talking Heads-esque “Stay Young,” also off Gymnasium. 

Next up was Deer Tick on the Red Stage. Let me preface this part by saying that Deer Tick is one of my all-time favorite bands of all-time. Their album War Elephant was a little bit of a life-changer, and I’ve seen them play probably a dozen times (and I plan on doubling that in the future). Their shows are often riotous, their energy is contagious, and sometimes you can’t help but feel bad for any band that has to follow-up one of their sets because when they’re on they are REALLY FUCKING ON.

I feel I need to explain that because I was pissed about Deer Tick’s Boston Calling set.

And I’m never pissed at John McCauley et al.! They got onstage and McCauley explained that they’d be playing the entirety of their forthcoming release, Negativity (out September 24th on Partisan), “and you [the crowd] get no say in this.”

First of all? Not cool. As much of a bummer as it is to admit, the crowd doesn’t want to hear all of the new stuff. They want a set peppered with the tracks they know and love with a taste of what to look forward to. And no, closing with a really solid rendition of “Ashamed” was not sufficient. This isn’t a critique on the new album’s quality, either. Their fans haven’t even heard the new record yet, and this was not Newport Folk: this was a crowd of many youngsters who may not have heard Deer Tick before, and this would have been a great opportunity to show them what a folk-rock band can really do in a live setting, the way they have countless times in the past. Deer Tick should have won over some new fans on Saturday, but I’d be surprised if they did. I was really, really disappointed.

Sorry. Now back to your regularly scheduled coverage.

Airborne Toxic Event was next, and it was pretty clear from the crowd that a large contingency had come out specifically for their set. They were instrumentally super-tight, and their energy was so exciting that they became our photographer’s favorite set of the day to photograph (although he may have just been in love with their insanely talented violinist, Anna Bulbrook.)

Plus, they covered “I Fought The Law” and did a really good job! You go, ATE.

Bat for Lashes (nee Natasha Khan) followed them over on at the Red Stage, and made a point of announcing that she would be playing things from all three records, including her recent The Haunted Man. She wore this metallic red jacket with a matching multi-colored skirt, and bounced around onstage so much that it was hard not to be impressed when she sang with the crystal clarity of a million angels. She was a bit more gothic than anything else on the lineup for Saturday, but her enthusiasm stood up against the best of them.


For Local Natives, our very own Mayor Menino came out and introduced the band (a fact that they would later bring up several times and, it seemed, never really get over).


We love Menino and were sad he didn’t play a rockin’ guitar solo during “Breakers” … but you can’t have everything.

New Jersey’s own The Gaslight Anthem played the last Red Stage set of the day, and had a nice mosh pit going. The sun was down at this point, and the energy was definitely building during their set.

Around 9 p.m. headliners Vampire Weekend took the stage. Singer Ezra Koenig jumped immediately into “Diane Young” off May’s excellent Modern Vampires of the City. Then they played “White Sky” off of Contra, followed by “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” off of their debut self-titled,

and they kept that discography-jumping going throughout their set, to the delight of me and probably others but I was too busy dancing to notice.

Koenig mentioned that Boston was one of the five major Vampire Weekend cities, and he made sure to play “Ladies of Cambridge,” to show the love. He name-dropped Cambridge, Brookline, Jamaica Plain, and venues like the MFA and the Middle East, although just playing all the Massachusetts-themed songs in the VW oeuvre would have been enough to convince us (there are a lot of them).

For the encore, they played “Hannah Hunt,” which is my personal favorite track off their latest, followed by “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” and closed out the night with the biggest Cape Cop name-dropping song ever written, “Walcott.” Everyone agreed that, yes, Hyannisport is kind of a ghetto.


Cady is the A+E Editor. You can send her an email at any time, as she gets separation anxiety when away from her phone longer than 30 seconds.