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Festival Review: Boston Calling

Over the weekend from the 5th to the 7th of September, Boston’s City Hall Plaza played host to the fourth edition of Boston Calling. The bi-annual festival again played host to a strong lineup of indie bands that appeal to (almost exclusively) boring white people.

Since the festival did not feature a Tilt campaign, the chance to dress in fluro, or the takeover of a Boston mega-club, this was not necessarily a HBS scene. But a few brave souls from school did make it along at various times, and wanted to let you know what you missed out on. (It is of course typical of the commitment of HBS students that I don’t think any single student attended all of the festival).


Featured: The National

Reviewer: Steve Hind

About three songs into the National’s Friday night headline set, a man standing about ten feet from me stepped backward in a self-conscious, half-hearted dance move onto the hand of a small child that was crawling on the ground behind him. As the little girl started screaming and the man recoiled in horror, lead singer Matt Berninger threw his baritone at the second verse of Afraid of Everyone: “I defend my family / with my orange umbrella / I’m afraid of everyone”.

These few seconds captured the set. This was the kind of set that you might bring your toddler to, if you’re also the kind of parent who kind of wants to defend their family, but is inclined to let said toddler crawl around an area where people are (kind of) dancing. It was the kind of set that would attract a man who, if he were to accidentally stand on a crawling child’s hand, would be a sensitive enough soul to be absolutely horrified, even though he clearly wasn’t to know he might stand on a child while dancing, and not just a crushed beer can.

During the set, Berninger name checked his close friend Dr Atul Gawande, the healthy policy thinker and nationally-famous writer for The New Yorker. Dr Gawande is frequently name checked-by President Obama. At least Obama also name checks Jay Z.

I’ve seen the National a half dozen or so times. This was not their best work. The band members have aged seven years since they released their breakthrough record Boxer. But it seems that their audience has aged seventeen, at least in Boston. There was little energy in the crowd and that was met by a lack of energy from the band. Slower rock acts can produce a totally different live sound when they’re in a room that gives them energy. It’s debatable whether the National were ever meant to headline festivals, but it’s clear that they’re not good enough to carry off a great set in front of a weak audience.

I saw The National play the steps of the Sydney Opera house in March. Matt Berninger crowd surfed while he belted out the chorus to his first big hit, Mr November. Here, he tried to jump onto the crowd, but they kind of just parted to let him walk through. To my right, a (different) small child had fallen asleep.


Featured: The Hold Steady, A terrifying lightning storm, Lorde, Childish Gambino

Reviewers: Steve Hind & Jeff Zeller

Scheduling a music festival in Boston’s fickle weather climate can be tricky.  You would assume that in early September there wouldn’t be storms serious enough to put the festival in jeopardy, but that’s exactly what happened.

Early bird attendees were able to catch acts like Sky Ferreira, Bleachers and the Hold Steady. The Hold Steady are a band whose entire oeuvre consists of songs about townies, college bros and their consumption of prodigious amounts of drugs of varying legality. Unsurprisingly, their passionate set was played to a small but dedicated crowd of townies and college bros, a fair proportion of whom were flagrantly consuming drugs of dubious legality.

At the close of their set, the sky was starting to rival the JFK federal building as the ugliest thing above eye level, and an approaching thunderstorm warning forced event organizers to evacuate all ticket holders.

Those patient enough to wait out the rain (and the cancellation of marquee acts Volcano Choir and Girl Talk) were rewarded with a strong close to the night, kicked off with the biggest teenage music sensation since that kid from Canada.

New Zealand star Lorde reinvigorated the crowd with stellar live performances of hits “Royals” and “Team.”  True to form, Lorde spent a good deal of her time interacting with the crowd, thanking them for the support and generally seeming wise beyond her years.  Her live performance seemed very authentic, which as RCs have just learned, is just about the biggest buzzword compliment you can pay a person.

When the set came to a close, fans had all of 30 seconds to turn to the side stage to catch the final act of the night, Childish Gambino.  The performance very closely mimicked what he’s been performing on his solo Deep Web tour, featuring songs entirely from his most recent album, because the internet.  Despite a handful of friends on stage sitting on couches, it was mostly a Donald Glover show, as the actor/comedian/musician showed off his stage presence, hyping the crowd with tracks like “Crawl” and “Sweatpants.”

Featured: The War on Drugs, Spoon

The final day of the festival saw blue skies and less oppressive humidity, as well as the best performances of the festival. The strong finish came off the back of two veteran bands, Spoon and the War on Drugs, who are enjoying the biggest moments off the back of huge releases this year.

TWOD played really early in the afternoon, a timeslot awarded based on and befitting their status before the release of their new record Lost in the Dream.  Among the lengthening shadows they turned in a brilliant performance. It was capped by their current single, Red Eyes, which gave them national prominence when they absolutely slayed it on Letterman in July.

Spoon played into the sunset and showed the benefit of their years of festival gigs like these. They’ve also released a smash record this year, They Want My Soul. While the set drew heavily from their new material, they also had the crowd doing the indie equivalent of dancing enthusiastically to classics like I Turn My Camera On and The Way We Get By. Spoon were like this whole festival at its best: tight, friendly, emotional but energetic, and not really cool in any conventional sense of the word.

ART: Jeff Zeller

Caption: The main stage at Boston Calling, flanked by some of the world’s ugliest buildings

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