And, that’s another Memorial Day weekend of music in the books. And for once the weather decided to cooperate over the entire long weekend as well; yesterday was a bit warm but I would take direct sunlight and 80s temperatures over cool drizzle any day of the week. Sunday wasn’t as crowded as Saturday, which made navigation a bit easier but there were still a lot of people (unofficially, I heard Saturday’s crowd was 90,000 – damn!). The highlight for me was Genesis Owusu. With just three dancers/singers and backing tracks, he captivated the Blue Stage sonically, visually and emotionally. I am definitely going to catch his show later this year at The Sinclair, and I suggest you buy tickets while you can because this show will certainly sell out.
Paramore closed out the event with an energetic set, including a bit that was hard to peg as serendipity or planned in advance. Leader Hayley Williams has a habit of pulling a random fan from the audience to sing along for a song, and tonight Sammy Jo blazed through “Misery Business” like it was her go-to karaoke song. That she is a mega-fan who moved to Nashville to be closer to (or stalk) the band was also quite the coincidence and she even mentioned that she had her hair colored at Williams’ salon recently, but fair play to her, and as she left the stage the band broke into a bit of Foo Fighter’s “My Hero,” with Williams singing “There goes my hero/Sammy Jo’s her name.” Nicely played, Hayley.
Over on the Orange Stage, Sorry Mom got the punk rock vibes going with a decidedly female bent, while Ali McGuirk and her band kicked out some sturdy blues and soul without somehow melting in the blazing afternoon sun. Kicking off the Green Stage, UK indie rockers Wunderhorse played a far stronger set than I recall them doing when opening for Fontaines DC last year, the last song suggesting they were in a deep Adrian Borland listening phase. After 070 Shake ran through some auto-tuned mumble pop, country star and noted clapback tweeter Maren Morris belted out some sunny country-styled songs.
The Blue Stage was the clear winner of the day, even though Queens of the Stone Age put on a very strong set to close out the Red Stage, and it was hard to believe that it was just their second post-pandemic performance. Leader Josh Homme was looking sharp with his Shakespearean goatee-mustache combo and the band’s muscular songs cut straight through the warm air as if carried on desert(rock) winds. Back to the dominance of the Blue Stage though… it was at the far end of the grounds so it was definitely less work than swapping between the Green and Red stages who were next to each, but people were certainly rewarded on Sunday if they wanted to camp out on that end all day. I missed Mint Green due to a photo shoot with Genesis Owusu so I have nothing to add there, but the next four bands were pure fire and joy. Brutus hails from Belgium and were the heaviest band all weekend (possibly Actor|Observer might lodge a formal complaint), bringing down torrents of sonic sheen and power, fueled by the impassioned vocals and hard-hitting drumming of Stefanie Mannaerts.
How do you follow up the power of a trio with a wall of amps? If you ask Genesis Owusu, he’d say just go it alone. That’s not entirely true because he had a trio of dancers who also sang, but he did the heavy lifting against a backdrop of pre-recorded tracks. Taking the stage like he was rising up over an eight foot black cloud, he gradually lowered to the stage until breaking the fabric free to release the men who were lifting him up, darting to and fro like Spidermen dodging invisible rays. Part hip-hop, part soul, part aggro-dance music, Owusu brought an intensity to his performance that never flagged. Even after winning over the crowd on stage, late in the set he would hop down and wade into the crowd, convincing everyone to sit quietly until he brought the levels back into the red and the party raged on again. Impressive performance.
The Walkmen are currently embarking on their successful reunion tour, and a little birdie told that if you missed this one you will get another chance later this year at Roadrunner. Hamilton Leithauser and company were clearly having a great time after applying jumper cables to get their band up and running again, and while their brand of guitar-fueled rock may seem out of touch with the current music landscape that dominates Tik Tok, there will always be hordes of fans ready for expertly crafted guitar rock.
And then the Aussies arrived. The awkwardly-named King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard came to play (and if you think their band name is unwieldly, just ask your local record store if their latest record PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation is in stock. It’s fairly improbable that a band that has three guitarists and plays a mixed stew of psych, jam, metal and whatever else they try their hand at has succeeded so greatly, but this fecund sextet has somehow done that. An unstoppable force that fuses the direct electric shock of O Sees to the outward leanings of Phish, they had an ardent crowd surging with every song. It’s been a quite a journey since I first saw them as the third of a five band bill at Great Scott nearly 10 years ago, that’s for sure.
Before ending this write up heads towards an endless sea of pixels, I must congratulate Boston Calling on putting together a festival that has a little bit of something for everyone and is by far the biggest festival the city has ever seen. This isn’t a tightly curated event like Levitation or Maryland Deathfest or even Bonnaroo but the organizers have shown some strong programming skills to have big names that move tickets paired with up and comers; indeed, they may have caught the crest of the wave of bands like Noah Kahan and Mt. Joy who really brought a ton of people on site Saturday (maybe even a little too many, as moving from Red and Green stages was a claustrophobic’s nightmare to be trapped among the throngs of people). And big kudos for dedicating a stage for twelve local acts, that’s something they didn’t need to do but made the festival a bit more special in the process. The merchandise situation needs some fixing; I talked to a woman who waited two hours on Saturday before getting a chance to actually buy something, and mobility around the site is hampered a bit by the inevitable VIP areas that bring in even more revenue. That said, the track record is solid and I’m looking forward to the tweaks that can make the event even better.
Photos of the bands below (if you’re wondering where the Paramore photos are, the band made the decision to restrict photography to only the house team covering the event):
King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard (and if you’re wondering why there are so many photos, they were the anti-Paramore and let us shoot the entire set):
Queens of the Stone Age:
The Linda Lindas (with Mayor Wu on introductions):
Random shots from Day 3: