A bout of seriously inclement weather — it felt more like late autumn than Memorial Day weekend in the rain-drenched wind tunnel that was City Hall Plaza yesterday — didn't seem to have dampened the crowd's enthusiasm any. Dressed in raincoats, parkas, and the clear plastic ponchos staffers were passing out at the gate (though they ran out around 4-ish - a lot of wet fans in attendance) the audience was resilient, pressing together toward the two stages set up on opposite ends of the plaza, probably as much for warmth as to get a good view.
When I finally rolled up around 4:30 — having been camped out at the bar at the Beantown Pub for most of the morning, putting back beers in preparation for the long, cold evening ahead (along with a ton of other Boston Calling-goers who had the same idea)— Matt & Kim were just taking the stage. I fought the urge to retreat to one of the two beer "tents" (pro tip: the one farther from the entrance, near the tree-line, is cooler and affords fine views of the Main Stage) and fought my way through the wall of wet poncho-ed fans for a good view. I was glad I did.
Matt & Kim always put on a hell of a show, their ofttimes borderline manic enthusiasm knowing no bounds. Dropping hip-hop and club samples in between songs, with the push of a button ("I can't help myself," Matt told the audience, hitting it mid-song) the duo easily charmed a crowd already prepped to be impressed. It was pretty clear we'd all decided that we weren't going to let a little freezing rain ruin the first big outdoor festival we've had to call our own here in Boston.
Kim manhandled her drums (this chick has got guns) like a pepped up human tornado while Matt wooed the crowd though the mic, a huge grin spread across his face throughout the entire set. Their energy and enthusiasm was contagious and, by the time Kim threw out handfuls of balloons printed with the Matt and Kim's faces (a schtick of theirs that never fails to score with the audience) and asked people to blow them up, they had the crowd eating out of the palms of their hands. Watching the colorful balloons rise up into the air, with a roar of crowd approval, I could almost convince myself I was standing in a muddy field somewhere — Glastonbury, maybe — instead of a concrete compound in Government Center. This fest is legit!
As the nine hour-long fest wore on it only got colder and wetter but after awhile, as we all got drunker and the music got better, it didn't seem to matter. During Marina and the Diamonds' set, I joined a crowd of cheerful folks in ponchos huddled atop a subway grate in the beer garden near the Main Stage, having all discovered that the dirty air billowing up from the T rails below provided an oasis of warmth akin to the heat lamps that we all wished had been set up around the Plaza. It was gross, but it was warm and — listening to Marina ignite a dance party down below, while warming our frozen appendages with the sooty air swirling up around us as the Green Line sped by beneath our feet — it was also sort of awesome. This is Boston.
All of the bands put on great sets, though some were chattier than others. The Shins ran through a string of their hits — to the crowd's evident approval — like an assembly line. Albeit a well-run assembly line. Unlike the irrepressibly chatty Matt & Kim, James Mercer didn't have much to say to the amped up crowd, letting the music do the talking. At one point, drummer Joe Plummer stopped to ask the crowd something I couldn't quite make out about Boston and sports (I've seen more than one touring artist in Boston try to pander to the audience in that way, a ploy I find rather cheap, and a little insulting — yeah, we get it, people here in Bahhhston like sports) but the crowd played along, cheering right back at him.
The beer vendors stopped selling beer at 9 pm, just before headliners Fun. took the stage, so I doubled up and pushed my way toward the stage with a beer in each hand. Desperate, cold times and all that. I must admit here that I was prepared not to be that impressed by Fun. — I like them, but liked Nate Ruess' former band the Format more — and am pleased to report that they proved me all kinds of wrong. Fun. were fantastic, Ruess' soaring, theatrical vocals made for live performance. This guy doesn't get compared to Freddie Mercury for no good reason. Fun. could teach some more experienced bands a thing or two about showmanship, they've got it in spades. They, too, ran through all the hits, interspersed with quirky picks, like a Paul Simon cover that had the crowd enthralled. Their set was the perfect close to what was was a successful first day for Boston Calling. "We Are Young," indeed, and we are Boston.