Being the first band of the day to perform at a festival doesn’t always go well. Festival-goers have yet to arrive, for the most part, and those who are there tend to be disinterested.
Not for Gentlemen Hall. They set the bar high early, engaging the small crowd with an upbeat attitude, killer vocals (almost à la Nathan Willet of Cold War Kids) and a unique sound. Get this: They have a flutist. How cool is that?
And, with a ridiculously fun cover of Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” it became clear that these dudes just love to have a good time making music and have an appreciation for it at a deep level. The genre doesn’t matter. — Kirkpatrick
On the surface, San Fermin is mellow and even arguably innocent. But at a deeper level, San Fermin is complex, rich and luxurious. The eight-piece band doesn’t allow any of its members to be excluded or less important: From the delicious harmonies from lead vocalists Allen Tate and Charlene Kaye, to the violin-playing from Rebekah Durham and trumpet-playing from John Brandon, everyone has a role. And it all balances together perfectly and equally.
They combine about five genres into one, blending folk, pop, rock, country and classical instrumentals and vocals to create an original and dynamic sound. They don’t need anything flashy, they don’t need any crazy stage antics to cover up any insecurities. They are pure, they are refreshing and they stick to the fundamentals of music. — Kirkpatrick
White Denim may have suffered, in part, from following two such standout performances. The band’s set made it seem as if they were perhaps afraid to defy from the original recordings — they’d clearly rehearsed, but didn’t seem comfortable doing anything too out of the box. They make beautiful canvases of songs that leave plenty of space for creativity, and the audience was left yearning for more. It’s difficult to pinpoint any exceptional flaws, but it was ultimately a forgettable show. — Kirkpatrick
The War on Drugs
It’s difficult to encapsulate a show brimming with imperfect perfection in just a few words. You could feel the raw emotion in lead singer Adam Granduciel’s yearning, off-tune-yet-somehow-pure voice; you could feel the drums pound through your body. Jon Natchez’s saxophone-playing doesn’t feel gimmicky, it fits in perfectly. And you totally wish you could play the harmonica like Granduciel, or the guitar solo in “Red Eyes.” It’s honest, clean, soul-clenching rock music that exudes sheer bliss. — Kirkpatrick
Twenty-One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn play to their strengths. Amp-y fingerless-glove “punk” pop had its moment, as we all know (don’t pretend you don’t), but it’s surprising to hear a relatively dated sound interspersed with the light-mayonnaise electropop beat we hear every three weeks on Top-40 radio.
Perhaps I’m too hard on Twenty-One Pilots. Somewhat amorphous in genre, the two let some folky inspiration fly from time to time, drop a verse here and there. In essence, both Ohio natives seem unsure of their own sound, which could be spun two ways – they’re versatile, or they’re sophomoric. — Jackson-Glidden
A rough start for The 1975 – Lead singer Matt Healy broke into sound completely off-tune. I suppose for the winners of NME’s Worst Band award, I shouldn’t be surprised. The loud, ecstatic crowd didn’t seem to mind, but that high-fructose corn syrup sentimentality can do it for them. I’ve never been particularly wowed by The 1975, but their sound is at least consistent, poppy and quickly lost in the multitudes of identical bands materializing faster than mediocre college radio can “discover” them. But my true issue with The 1975 is how Healy underperforms for his ego. Swigging wine and pontificating between songs, Healy’s pretentious demeanor that comes across in every appearance he makes emerged; it was clear Boston Calling would be no exception. —Jackson-Glidden
Half the members of Spoon emerged wearing all black, the other half, all white. In a way, these outfits very much describe Spoon’s music: Simple, fundamental, essential to any wardrobe (or iTunes library). But their outfits also resembled the quality of their performance: Basic and clean, but also refusal to do anything too interesting. There were no shades of gray, nothing mysterious. A live environment added essentially nothing to what is one of the better albums of the year. — Kirkpatrick
I’m pretty prejudiced against rockabilly on the whole, but somehow a group of pseudo-geriatric punk rockers have shown me the light. The Replacements have been raising hell for years, and saying “they’ve still got it” is the ultimate understatement. When a punk show sounds polished, the knee-jerk response is usually “oh, they’ve sold out.” Nonetheless, The Replacements delivered a completely tight set that still sounded dirty — even with a Jackson Five cover. —Jackson-Glidden
Nas and The Roots
Following two days of star-studded lineups, Boston Calling saved the best for last by bookending the festival’s finale with both Nas and The Roots. The Queensbridge rapper was met with thunderous applause that echoed through City Hall Plaza. Under a full moon, Nas vowed to channel the Boston State of Mind: “I was the one who said hip-hop was dead a few years ago, but tonight, it’s alive in Boston.” Of course, hip-hop was more than alive in festival-goers who unanimously damned sleep as the “cousin of death.” Moving through the catalogue of his legendary hits, Nas reaffirmed that all he needed was “one mic, one beat, one stage” – and maybe “a little help from The Roots.” The band stole the show with their rendition of “Jungle Boogie” and Questlove stole even more hearts on the drums. Guitarist “Captain” Kirk Douglas shined especially brightly by engulfing the crowd in a wave of electric orchestration. When the last echo of the last note faded from the plaza, the crowd stood stunned. The silence was appropriately broken by cheers of approval when Nas and The Roots hinted at a reprise in the following year’s lineup. — Bhaswati Chattopadhyay