By the time the third day of Boston Calling rolls around, most of the audience is tired, albeit content, from the past two days of music. This year’s May edition was no different. After the casually cool acts on Friday and Saturday’s female-forward musicians, Sunday took its time with a folk-oriented lineup that broke into rock in its final moments. Come the end, Boston Calling remembered its roots. Under sunny skies for the warmest day we’ve seen in weeks, that hometown pride began shining through, from the bands to the songs to the fans.
Things started off a little shaky. The only rapper of the day, iLoveMakonnen, is a #trending musician whose biggest hits–“Swerve” and “Tuesday” (yes, it’s that “Club goin’ up on a Tuesday” song.)–are unofficial soundtracks for Vines and other trap music spurts. Los Angeles suits his lax vibe well, but during midday crowds looking for more than a good voice, most were left wanting more. He casually walked from one end of the stage to the other, never once having the gusto or charm of most hip-hop artists.
Let the music go south, though, and things begin to look up. The Lone Bellow may be from Brooklyn, but the alt-country act have harmonies straight out of Mississippi. Their newest album, Then Came the Morning, was produced by Aaron Dessner of The National — which, given his hand in picking the festival’s lineup each year, makes sense they were billed. When followed by ex-Drive-By Truckers singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, the dust started to settle. With a backing band of fellow Alabama natives, he gave bros in Hartford Whalers caps and girls in straw hats something to sing about, wheeling through songs with the ease of decades’ practice.
Then came the reminder of our roots. Due to an injury, Chet Faker had to back out two days before his set, but the bad news was a blessing in disguise. Indie pop five-piece Lucius stepped in to save that day and, in the process, gave us a bit of that Boston Strong pride. The Berklee grads uprooted to Brooklyn when they kicked into high gear, but their return to the stage clearly felt like snuggling back up on your favorite couch at home. Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig have evened out their harmonies even moreso since they last played the festival. So when they brought out a cake to celebrate Laessig’s birthday, it turned into a full-thrown celebration, candles and all.
Come the evening’s final acts, the lazy haze broke thanks to serious, unrelenting rock from TV On The Radio and goofy, comedic talent from Tenacious D. The prior burst through their set with impressive speed, eventually turning things up so loud that everyone found themselves dancing along, even if they weren’t familiar with their music. “DLZ” and “Staring at the Sun” continued to expand, reaching the farthest corners of the festival. It’s fitting for Tenacious D to follow them up, a band so tightly woven with comedy that the massive crowd that gathered couldn’t have been disappointed if they tried. While opening with their most famous song, “Tribute”, was a ballsy move, the duo made it work, Kyle Gass strumming with even humor and Jack Black prancing the stage with wiggling legs and wide-eyed faces, slowly working their way through songs from every album. Before they ended with “Fuck Her Gently”, the two gave a shoutout to the Pixies’ massive influence from Nirvana to Radiohead all the way to Krill — a shocking, albeit wonderful dream come true.
Then, at last, came the Pixies themselves. Opening up with “Bone Machine”, the four trucked around the stage, their presence made all the more epic by the giant sheets of metal squares behind them. It’s a bit strange to see a band with such an odd sound–Black Francis’ indolent vocals flop around in a playful voice usually used to entertain a child when exhausted–headlining a festival, but with a legacy like theirs, it makes complete sense. The Boston rock band formed almost 30 years ago. Live, their age couldn’t prove more unimportant. Even without Kim Deal rocking through “Monkey Gone to Heaven” or “Broken Face” with them, they held their own, stuffing noise into hard rock and surf-styled basslines. No Joseph Gordon-Levitt came onstage to lipsync “Here Comes Your Man” and Bassnectar didn’t do a live remix of “Where Is My Mind?”, but this crowd wasn’t a field of teenagers who know of the Pixies through moern depitions of the band. Nearly everyone had seen them decades ago, and as their return to their hometown, it felt like the unofficial homecoming of a band who surpirsingly reclaimed their sound with thorough delivery.
Despite the handful of talent Boston Calling’s roster offers, it continues to deliver a low-key weekend. We’ll have to wait until next time to see how it carries itself, through. Usually the fall edition boasts a weird lineup that nabs more electronic, rap, and indie rock, but as they revealed the whole list last night, Alabama Shakes, Alt-J, The Avett Brothers, and more will keep things tame. On paper it’s somewhat disappointing, but we will have to wait to see how it plays out in real time to know for sure.