Boston Calling review: Passion Pit, Airborne Toxic Event, Vampire Weekend, Major Lazer give Boston their all

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If, after Boston Calling’s triumphant inaugural weekend in May, there was any residual doubt that Boston could pull off a legitimate, big-name music festival in its cement heart — it has now been erased.

Because this weekend’s two-day reprisal was an indisputable success. You wouldn’t know that this is a festival still mostly in its infancy, the thing runs like a well-oiled machine, with no overlapping sets and the bands taking the stage within seconds of the previous act’s final note. This meant a lot of rushing to post up for your favorite bands — but no waiting around anxiously, which is a tradeoff I can make do with.

Saturday got off to a slow start — the energy early on was curiously low despite sunny skies (a merciful foil to the torrential rain that pounded concert-goers the first time around) and pumped up sets from local openers Viva Viva and You Won’t — but momentum built swiftly as the afternoon progressed.

Saturday’s line-up was rock and folk heavy, bolstered by the slick rock of the Airborne Toxic Event, the gritty blues of the Gaslight Anthem, the pretty folk of Local Natives, and the peppy, twinkling indie pop of headliners Vampire Weekend.

The Airborne Toxic Event’s midday set was a high point — frontman Mikel Jollett’s energy was infectious as he wooed the crowd with a selection of their hits from this year’s “Such Hot Blood” to crowd favorite “Sometime Around Midnight,” that bleeding heart of a breakup jam that never fails to make this writer feel a little weepy — in the best way possible. As those first unmistakable violin strains rang through City Hall Plaza, a girl turned to her friend and yelled “this song always makes me cry.” Confirmed.

ATE are able showman, engaging the crowd with banter and winking antics. At one point Jollett climbed halfway up the stage’s rigging, waving goofily to the crowd, who cheered their approval. At another, violinist Anna Bulbrook climbed aboard bassist Noah Harmon’s shoulders throwing her arms to the sky. They threw in a cover of “I Fought the Law” (“I didn’t know they sang this,” a dude hollered to his friend in what I sincerely hope was jest), encouraging the audience to yell along on the chorus. When a band is so clearly enjoying themselves, the crowd can’t help but mirror their enthusiasm.

UK singer/multi-instrumentalist Bat For Lashes brought the pretty — her breathy, haunting vocals weaving a considerable spell over the crowd pressing up to the stage. Similarly, Local Natives — a band I’d yet to see live and whose ability to perform on such a large scale I questioned — stepped up to the job. It turns out their brand of emotive folk is indeed suited for a live show, their pretty as hell single “Airplanes” — a sweetly wistful ode to loss — soared and had the crowd rapt and crooning along.

Gaslight Anthem
Gaslight Anthem

The sun set on The Gaslight Anthem’s set, as the Jersey heroes did what they do best — conjure blue collar nostalgia through frontman Brian Fallon’s tireless devotion to the girls who loved and left him, his rusty voice conjuring emotion as unadorned as the dirt beneath a working man’s fingernails. This is an old school rock band, some might say a one-note rock band, but it’s a note they hit hard and well — they deal in bittersweet nostalgia and, Saturday night, the crowd was primed to feel it in spades.

By the time headliners Vampire Weekend took the stage, there was a chill in the air. Nothing the sunny jams of the collegiate indie kids-cum-unlikely rock stars couldn’t fix. A significant change in tempo from Gaslight’s bluesy melancholia, Vampire Weekend ended day one on a high note, running through crowd-approved hits like “Diane Young.”

Sunday’s line-up was stacked with EDM and hip-hop acts —  and the stark difference in the line-up from Saturday’s guitar-heavy billing was evident in the crowd attendance. Sunday, clearly, was for the kiddies — swarms of hyped up, pretty young things in neon club gear (half of them probably on that hip new drug molly you’ve been hearing so much about) swarmed the Plaza. The median age of the audience must have dropped by at least ten years overnight. (I can’t help but imagine they billed all the EDM acts for Sunday in a futile attempt to keep the kids from partying too hard.)

The energy, likewise, was at a ten from note one. Both the artists and the audience came to get down, and get down they did — hard. (It should be noted that I stood next to a girl in a foam shark for most of Flosstradamus’ high-energy set. Everyone should see a shark twerk to “Piss Test” at least once in their lives.)

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Kids go wild for Diplo

EDM god Diplo strutted around the stage shirtless for half of Major Lazer’s late afternoon set, calling out all those who “came to twerk” (that would be approximately everyone) and encouraging everyone to take off an article of clothing. I got hit in the face by more than one helicopter-ing t-shirt, but when the beats are coming at you that heavy, it’s hard to mind. Major Lazer are expert party-starters, shooting confetti into the churning crowd while relentless club jams like “Bubble Butt” waged an aural assault that had the kids in throes of ecstasy. (Or maybe that was the Ecstasy.) By the time Diplo climbed into his giant hamster ball and rolled into the audience I’d given in and was ready to take off my own shirt. I resisted.

On the hip-hop tip, Kendrick Lamar played a slightly abbreviated but solid set, plying a crowd that showed no signs of flagging energy by nightfall with all his big hits, including “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Truly, I don’t think there was much that could have killed the vibe at Boston Calling at this point.

Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar

Kids who love Major Lazer do not, apparently, also love Passion Pit. There was a small exodus during the local darlings’ headlining set, sweaty tykes with fading glow sticks heading out early in search of, I guess, more massive beats. Their loss. Passion Pit closed the second reincarnation triumphantly, calling out the now-defunct Boston Phoenix and WFNX in memoriam, and proving what we all suspected all along. There ain’t no place like home, and home is Boston. Respect.


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