If Boston Calling‘s Friday lineup was focused, then Saturday’s bill was beyond scattered. The sixth edition of our local festival filled Government Center and the open air of City Hall with indie rock, synthpop, rap, and more in an effort to keep things fresh throughout the day. That variation did, in fact, provide a nice change-up, especially given sets don’t overlap, offering everyone the chance to diversify their tastes — even if they chat throughout most of it.
The crowds swelled larger than the prior evening, a surprise given it technically didn’t sell out. Though maybe it wasn’t such a surprise given the evening’s headlining acts, Alt-J and Chvrches, boast sizeable fanbases. Alt-J slipped through most of their songs, hitting up cuts from This Is All Yours and 2012’s An Awesome Wave, with their recognizable variant of EDM-meets-rock levity. Chvrches played before them, but they owned the stage with a natural presence that didn’t rely on lightshow antics as much as Alt-J’s did. Frontwoman Lauren Mayberry refused to let up. She owned the stage, darting across while using the microphone cord like a stream of ink, twirling it in the air to etch split-second words in the air. Where they truly shined was Mayberry’s vocal bursts. There weren’t many opportunities for solos, but where flair could be added, she punched it in, turning album cuts into edgy live renditions via enunciation. Yeah, their sophomore LP may lack edge, but Chvrches put enough energy into their live show to compensate for dull writing.
That’s what really saved the Saturday scene at large: solos. Mayberry didn’t have enough time to truly emphasize that, but the day’s earlier acts, many of whom could have rocked a later slot, didn’t waste time proving what they had to offer.
Back when he was starting out, Skylar Spence (who then went by Saint Pepsi) frequently got Great Scott’s crowd dancing, molding pop hooks into electronic glitter without ever getting cheap. On a massive festival stage, Spence turned his nu-disco all the way up, breaking away from his instruments to interact with the crowd, edging them to join him in a sing-a-long. With a couple vocal standstills that had Spence in the spotlight, he brought sunlight to even the moodiest dude’s day. Hip-hop collective DOOMTREE took turns showing what they had to offer, too. The seven-piece group left nothing uncovered, from slick, though modest, dance moves to quick-witted words, they each had a moment in the spotlight to emphasize their character, shedding light on rap that otherwise gets shafted. Even Sturgill Simpson took a moment to flaunt his country vocals between big band flashes. Clearly Boston Calling’s artists were ready to prove they were chosen for a reason.
No one showed off their solo side better than Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. The ex-Pavement icon wielded his guitar with true slacker fashion, somehow delivering epic after epic guitar solo without any sign of effort. Whether it be “Asking Price” or “Jenny and the Ess-Dog”, Malkmus and the rest of his crew showed off their skill without really exerting themselves. Bassist Joanna Bolme’s scream on the latter felt like a last minute “Why not?” instead of a shadowed member gearing up to go gung-ho. Malkmus shrugged after each riff in “Shibboleth” or flipped a dramatic look at his watch when their drummer did a fill. Even his 20-second Black Sabbath jam blended into the mix with exciting but understated joy. Then came “Church on White”, one of his softest solo songs that comes to life when a melodic solo begins to prance around at the end.
Solos were the gem of Saturday’s sets, and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks no doubt did it best. When you’ve got something to show the world, you use all your energy to deliver it. Then again, Malkmus didn’t appear to be stretching himself thin. Maybe it’s the veterans who know best, after all — just as long as they don’t get preach-y about it.
Read our recap of Boston Calling Day 1 here.