Boston Calling: The Good, the Bad, and the Unexpected


The lack of quality music festivals in the Northeastern corner of the U.S.A. is simply criminal- in the same (general) region where Woodstock took place nearly 50 years ago, it’s hard to find a great weekend of music that won’t run you hundreds of dollars for plane tickets. This year’s lineup for May’s edition of Boston Calling, one of the largest music festivals in New England and most definitely the premier festival in Massachusetts, shows that promoters are raising the stakes when it comes to the festival biz and are out to place the biannual Boston bash on or above the level of other prominent jubilees to the south in Brooklyn, Bridgeport, Newport, and a tiny island at the mouth of the Hudson. Let’s take a look at what this spring has in store.


Good:


Janelle Monáe
In the City of Boston, October 16th has been named Janelle Monáe Day, so it’s fitting that Monáe will make her first festival homecoming in nearly three years right here in the Bay State. Known for her classy aesthetics, frenetic performances, and her well-spoken air, her set cannot be missed - especially since it could be a first possible glimpse at some new material.


Courtney Barnett
Hot off the heels of releasing, what was for many, the best record of 2015, queer Aussie garage-rocker Courtney Barnett is hitting the US festival circuit this spring and summer. Courtney’s collection of quaint songs, full of witty lyricisms, grindingly graceful guitars, and sunny melodies are a cause-célèbre for critics and the general public alike. Watching Courtney single-left-handedly save indie rock at City Hall Plaza will be a sight to see.


Sufjan Stevens
Perhaps the most beloved altfolkrockpopexperimental singer-songwriter that the 2000’s threw at us, Sufjan Stevens got back to his roots on last year’s emotional Carrie & Lowell. Although everything that could be possibly written about that album was spewed out by the 37 billion year end lists it found itself nearly topping, it will be interesting to see how the stark acoustic brilliance of Carrie & Lowell translates onto a festival stage. And if it doesn’t go well, it at least will be worth it to singshout along to “Chicago at the end of the set.


Vince Staples
What Courtney Barnett did to alternative rock last year, Vince Staples did for alternative hip hop t with his widely acclaimed trip back to Summertime ‘06, his gritty, urgent rap Rosetta Stone, helmed by No I.D. and released alongside a series of powerful videos, including “Señorita”’s painting of the hellish social extirpation of a ghetto, watched from beyond the confines of a television screen by a privileged white family - which is sometimes what living in New England (a land of heroin, wealth, white flight, and dark history) can feel like. Expect Staples to bring hard realities and boiling hot bars to Boston Calling audiences.


Bad:


Miike Snow
Are they releasing a new album or something? Does it have songs like “Animal” on it? Much like their fellow Scandinavian siblings Peter, Björn, and John or American cousins Grizzly Bear, this group seems stuck in a black hole sucking everything they do back to the feet of their late 2000s indie-pop car-commercial hit.


Elle King
This writer predicts that there will be a lot of suburban tweens standing around stiffly at this set, eyes glued to Snapchat before they fire up their Stories to send no less than 7 videos of them and their obnoxious friends (who, of course, came because that guy from My Chemical Romance brought his shtick to Boston Calling last year so it has to be a great #scene) screeching along to “Ex’s & Oh’s”. Booqmarq us.


City & Colour
Isn’t this the skim milk white boy who had his, like, bearded face painted upside down on his cover or something? That you always skip on Pandora? Or is that someone else???


The Front Bottoms
I don’t know a lot about the Front Bottoms, but any band that Wikipedia labels as making “folk punk” music can’t have sonically positive intentions. And not in a punk way.


Unexpected:


Sia
No matter what you think of her habit to constantly hide her face with garish wigs and bows during every single public appearance, the Aussie pop sensation will be sure to have you moving and Björk/Mariah-ing along to her sky-shattering vocals and dance anthems, as she brings her new album (This Is Acting, touted as being a collection of tracks she wrote for the likes of Rihanna and Shakira, but were turned down) to her only festival stage slated (as of now) in 2016.


Haim
It’s been about 3 years since Southern California’s first-sisters-in-pop-rock released their stellar debut record, Days Are Gone. Since then they’ve gone dark, and it was a pleasant surprise to see them back in the game, as their Boston Calling booking seemed to suggest. The Haim sisters recently went on Beats 1 to confirm to Zane Lowe that they're "getting stuff done … [and] It’s sounding really cool. Essentially the oven has been pre-heated and the oven door is open. More 350 [degrees] if I’m being honest. Fish fingers in the tray.” Get ready to see Haim light up the wire at City Hall!


Charles Bradley
Charles Bradley is an underdog on the Boston Calling lineup. Signed to the excellent Daptone Records, a label famed for whipping up late-career renaissances for funk and jazz artists, Charles Bradley had an almost movie-like childhood and rugged life up to being discovered by Daptone scouts, soon after becoming one of the greatest unsung sensations of old school R&B today. With a new album coming out, take some time to dig into this true soul man’s discography and get ready to rip it up at Boston Calling with him.


Robyn
Robyn is the cool auntie we all have or wish we had - pixie cut, a disposition to Bohemia, and a unflappable youthfulness. Although her new project with the La Bagatelle Magique recently suffered a setback with the tragic passing of member Christian Falk, Robyn has trumped on to set up a slew of solo festival dates across America this year. Get ready to ring with some good old Swedish synthpop, and find some friends to go “dancing on your own”.

text: dominic lombardi
visual: penny mack
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