When most people think of a modern day music festival, music isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind. Despite their otherworldly lineups, the Coachellas, Lollapaloozas, and Bonnaroos of the world are often socially plagued as a place for rich kids to take ostentatious Instagram photos. The soul purpose of the festival stops being about entertainment and starts being about building digital clout. Boston Calling stands out as an unsung hero in this ever-growing festival market, not as another breeding ground for digital narcissism, but an event that puts music first. It’s a place that adults can feel like kids while basking in extremely exclusive live content they would struggle to find anywhere else. From the the tasteful variety of lineup options, to the near-flawless event management orchestration, to the quality of both the headliners and the undercard, the collective experience sold at Boston Calling is precious treasure for seasoned concert-goers. To sum up those respectively irreplaceable moments, below are a few allegorical awards for this year’s Boston Calling.
Best Overall Performance: Christine and the Queens
Christine and the Queens live show might as well have been a Broadway performance. Picture this: as band members manned their respective positions, 6 figures appeared from stage right. The casually dressed men and women walked back-to-back towards the center of the stage like stiff, emotionless zombies in a tight circle. The band’s opening track “Comme si” began, and the mysterious figures sprung away to reveal Héloïse Adelaide Letissier (aka Chris) had been shrouded beneath the cover of her dancers the entire time.
The French pop singer was absolutely electric from the second she revealed herself. She transcended language, bellowing out lyrics in both French and English as she and her dancers conducted frankly strange routines. The choreography seldom matched the verses Chris was singing, but their synchronized movements were so random that the group could have passed as hypnotists. No only that, but the midday set had uncharacteristically excessive pyrotechnics. Overhead fixtures tilted down at peculiar angles and shot a startling amount of sparks and fireworks that occasionally left Christine and the Queens invisible behind clouds of residual smoke.
Most importantly, Chris was endearingly comfortable with how strange she was. She let everyone know of her Bostonian history as if she was reading a prideful passage from her diary, telling everyone “This is my second time here. Last time there were tall buildings. But this time, things are different. I have two albums now! And I’m out. Out of control. Out of time. And being out feels so good!” She spoke in extremes, asking the crowd things like “let’s be naked for a second” and later telling them “I hope we can build a small utopia together.” Oddly enough, that’s exactly what they did. On a cool Friday afternoon in late May, Christine and the Queens transformed Boston Calling’s green stage into a creative paradise free of judgement, negativity, or discontent.
Although a video can’t do the live experience justice, check out Christine and the Queens’ rendition of “Girlfriend” performed earlier this year at Coachella for a glimpse into their mesmerizing stage presence.
Best Individual Song: Elephant by Tame Impala
Tame Impala single-handedly brought psychedelic rock back into mainstream relevance over the past decade. Their atmospheric instrumentals and Kevin Parker’s high, echoing voice combine for a downright ethereal experience. But even some of Tame Impala’s most devoted fans might classify their 2012 track “Elephant” as a little off-center. The song drifts into more of an acid rock aesthetic utilizing abnormal time signatures and very talkative, low-spirited lyricism. “Elephant” is very different than any other Tame Impala song, and Boston Calling’s live stage was the perfect place to highlight that uniqueness.
On the crisp, comfortable 65° night, Kevin Parker’s hair was floating in the wind as if a stagehand were pointing a fan’s light breeze perfectly at his face. There was no foreshadowing banter letting the audience know that “Elephant” was coming, nor was there any constructive build-up to warn anyone of their oncoming awe. Kevin Parker’s heavy guitar rift introduced the discernible track with a loud roar from the crowd. The crowds roar was soon replaced with astonishment as a very low, flat ceiling of criss-crossing red light beams eliminated any view of the sky or even the top half of the stage. These lights were entrancing, forcing the audience to be laser-focused on every little detail of Tame Impala’s movements. Unlike their other spacey songs, “Elephant” was clinical and forthright. It didn’t mask itself as anything other than cold-blooded rock ‘n’ roll, and with the canopy of lights flashing overhead, there was no way to avoid getting sucked into the song’s vortex. When Kevin Parker whispered “Here it comes” and guitarist Dominic Simper’s stellar solo began, it was as if the crowd had died and been transported to rock heaven. No one was making a sound or even moving their body during the solo. The crowd could do nothing but watch in disbelief as Tame Impala flaunted a breathtaking display of pure, comprehensive talent.
Although there are no lights to cloak the crowd, the below live video of “Elephant” at the 2016 Melt Festival gives good insight into Tame Impala’s live splendor.
Most Unique Performance: “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X
Any honest Boston Calling attendee would tell you that Lil Nas X didn’t do that much during his predictably brief performance in the middle of Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals’ Saturday afternoon set. At the very least, Lil Nas X looked the part. He was decked out from head to toe in a black cowboy suit stitched with white flames that ran up the torso and down the side of his pants. He held his belt buckle as he pranced around in his showy boots and matching cowboy hat. He was a picture-perfect rendition of the country-rap imagery that he’s used to infatuate the American public for the past 8+ weeks. But no matter how loudly Lil Nas X sang his one and only song “Old Town Road”, there was virtually no way anyone was going to hear him clearly. Literally every single one of the thousands of Boston Calling attendees were practically screaming the words to something that many people might not amount to anything more than a fad. It was a live phenomenon that lasted no more than three minutes, allowing the audience to channel all of their energy into this unparalleled moment in time.
Could thousands of people singing a trendy song really drown out a festival singer? Check out this video of Lil Nas X performing “Old Town Road” for a couple hundred kids at an elementary school and see for yourself.
Best Cover Song: “Bulls On Parade” by Denzel Curry
This past February, Denzel Curry graced the world with an amazing cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Bulls On Parade”. The cover song was produced as a project within Australian media station Triple J’s Like A Version segment. This vastly entertaining segment sets up reputable acts to perform popular cover songs typically created by artists from a completely different musical sphere. Curry’s “Bulls on Parade” was a perfect example of that, taking a gritty Floridian rapper and granting him the rights and support play one of rock’s most reputable anti-establishment ballads of all time.
By the time Denzel Curry took the stage at Boston Calling however, the recent singles prefacing his upcoming album ZUU drowned out the memories of his Triple J set. He still managed to bring the crowd to a light frenzy through his heavy, in-your-face hip hop style, but when the distinctively ferocious intro from “Bulls On Parade” blasted through the speakers, the sea of hip hop fans lost their minds. A mosh pit the size of a small parking lot emerged in front of Curry only to converge in a violent and cathartic crash of humans unsure of how to control themselves. No one saw the onslaught of excitement coming, and no one knew how to handle it when it arrived. All in all, Curry made a fantastic discovery when he covered “Bulls On Parade”. He identified an anti-establishment niche where the hip hop and rock/metal community met like a small, unnoticed sliver in the middle of an authority-hating Venn diagram.
Revisit Denzel Curry’s rowdy Triple J performance of “Bulls On Parade” in the link below.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend the festival but still want to discover new music from the artists that performed, fire up the Spotify playlist below to listen to 150 of the best songs Boston Calling aritists had to offer.