As ever, controversy swirled around the release of Boston Calling’s 2019 lineup, questioning the local bonafides of the festival and prompting the launch of Boston Answering. Friday’s lineup, while devoid of local acts, was still rewarding, even while it remained breezy and overcast.

Most Like The 1975, But Goth: Pale Waves
(Red Stage, 3:50 PM)

Pale Waves are one lead singer and makeup tutorial away from being The 1975 (with whom they had recently toured). Seriously, I’m not sure what’s in the water in Manchester, UK, but apparently every band there still thinks it’s the 80s—which is really great news for everyone except those awaiting the second wave of Britpop. Pale Waves takes the best parts of the 1975—shimmery synths, bright guitar riffs, and endless hooks—and pairs them with goth aesthetics; the result is both pleasant and humorous. The poppy nature of the 1975’s music compliments the band’s generally energetic onstage personas. However, Goth 101 states that being energetic is lame. Therefore, Pale Waves’ band members—especially drummer Ciara Doran—were lacking in expressiveness; their reticence created an interesting cognitive dissonance. There was just something funny about the concertgoers dancing to upbeat pop music while Doran looked like someone had killed her cat. Luckily, lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie had recently attended the “Matty Healy School of Rubbing Your Scalp as You Sing,” and provided enough emotion on the Taking Back Sunday-style chorus of “One More Time” and the band’s biggest hit, “Television Romance.” Doran—who provided stirring hi-hat rhythms on “One More Time”—and the rest of the bandmates played well, but it was Baron-Gracie who offset her bandmates’ melancholia and ultimately won the crowd over.

-DP (David Paradela)

Least Boring DJ Set: Mura Masa
(Green Stage, 4:40 PM)

With a shy wave of his hand, clad in a baggy t-shirt and baseball cap, Alex Crossmann (aka Mura Masa) ambled onto the cavernous Green Stage to a scattered response. He formally introduced himself via the tender falsetto of “Messy Love”, kicking off an hourlong, highly danceable set of left-of-center electronic that warmed the early crowd against the overcast, breezy day. Given that producers behind a laptop do not always make for an engaging set, Crossman showcased his fluency in multiple instruments, sometimes thwacking drum pads, coaxing out ambient atmospheres with guitar pedals, or gliding through melodic hooks on a rack of keyboards. The complex setup proved to be a challenge, as the set was apparently plagued with technical difficulties – “You know, they say the show must go on,” he quipped, “but, like, nothing is working up here.” Despite this, the set seemed to go off without a hitch as he nimbly switched between instruments.

Given that his album is chock-full of high-profile guest spots (including Christine and the Queens, also on Saturday’s bill), live vocals or guest appearances for every song seemed out of the question. That is, until Fliss took the stage, taking Mura’s set from good to great, belting Charli XCX’s hooks, rapping Desiigner and A$AP Rocky’s verses, all while dancing and bantering with the crowd. Supported by this Swiss-Army knife of a live vocalist, Mura’s multi-instrumental skills and sounds ensured that the sun couldn’t stay behind the clouds for long. As the lawn in front of Fliss and Crossman filled up, the clouds parted slightly and summer arrived, a warm glow washing over a sea of waving hands.

-ME (Michael Enwright)

Most Likely to Steal Your Girl and Yet You’d Be Cool With It: Gang of Youths
(Delta Blue Stage, 5:10 PM)

Gang of Youths’ set did not seem promising ten minutes before they took the stage. At that point, the Delta Blue Stage crowd could probably fit inside a venue the size of Inman Square’s The Lilypad—which can hold about 40 people. Also, it was cloudy and getting chilly. But the early attendees had the highest of hopes. A man in a Kyle Lowry jersey had come all the way from Toronto by himself and bought tickets from a scalper the day of the show just to see this band. He proclaimed that they would be “the best damn band you’ll see all day, bro!” And damn it, they were.

Gang of Youths seemed like any traditional rock band—they mostly wore black, had an electric guitar, drums, keys, bass, and not much else. But what set them apart was an extraordinary lead singer. David Le’aupepe looked like Khal Drogo, made Haka expressions as if he was playing for the All Blacks, and beat his chest more times than an angry gorilla. He also emulated Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring’s sexy dance moves, gave speeches about “the heart” that could have made grown men cry, and jumped into the crowd where he proceeded to seemingly touch every part of the field, give high-fives, and take selfies—all mid-song. He was enough reason to bypass Fred Armisen, Mura Masa, and Lord Huron and believe you made the right decision.

Gang of Youths’ musical style matched Le’aupepe’s soul-bearing performance. The band parallelled tourmates Mumford and Sons’ earnest lyrical approach, with more rock than folk influence (as exemplified by “The Heart Is a Muscle”). They fit the mold of arena wail and sing-along bands like Coldplay or U2 with a more classic rock and roll approach than The Edge’s echoey guitar effects and Coldplay’s emphasis on memorable piano riffs. It also helped that they could appeal to the crowd’s pathos. Le’aupepe somehow knew about Brookline and Quincy, the fact that Joe Thornton played for the Bruins, and expressed his love for Big Papi and Larry Bird. Festivals often feel so big and overwhelming, but Le’aupepe made not only the festival, but the world, feel smaller—and maybe even more peaceful—for one hour.

-DP

The Band At A Vampire Bar In The Desert: Lord Huron
(Red Stage, 5:35 PM)

As the darkening sky cast a cloak over Boston, the enigmatic Los Angeles-based indie folk band Lord Huron stormed the stage with a hypnotic, raw energy that brought a soulful and dangerous atmosphere to their set. Packed with bluesy Elvis Presley references in their tonewith lead vocalist Ben Schneider even murmuring with a smirk, “Thank you, thank you very much,” into his mic—and sly, gritty guitar hooks, Lord Huron’s mesmerizing set engaged the large, eager crowd. Appropriately, Schneider broke into “The World Ender” as night fell upon the festival, crooning lustfully out to the crowd: “You’ll hear me howl by the light of the moon / That’s how you’ll know that I’m coming for you / Gonna find you alone in the dark of night.” The hypnotic, pulp fiction-themed track was one of the many highlights of the band’s impressive set, along with tracks like the waltz-infused “Wait by the River” and the wistful “The Night We Met.”

The wildly popular “Ends of Earth,” which was jokingly introduced by Schneider as “a Kenny Chesney song”—referencing the time Chesney covered the track—was the most magical moment of the set. Accentuated with beautifully eerie high howls and smooth harmonization, the track was the biggest hit with the audience. As the wind picked up and Schneider shouted out into the night, posing the question, “What good is livin’ a life you’ve been given / If all you do is stand in one place?” there were a few audience members in tears.

-ADB (Alexis den Boggende)


Most Likely To Be Strutting Down The Met Gala Red Carpet: Tank and The Bangas
(Delta Blue Stage, 6:30 PM)

Tank and The Bangas spare nothing when they put on a show. Comically tip-toeing from backstage in tune with lively saxophonist Albert Allenback (who, with his ability to work the crowd as a backing instrumentalist while wearing a green, banana-patterned suit jacket and shorts, was a highlight of the set on his own), lead vocalist Tarriona “Tank” Ball and her backup singers sashayed to their mics, much to the amusement of the growing and curious crowd. The New Orleans-based band was decked out in a vibrant array of bright blues and emerald greens, with Tank adorning her shoulders with a massive green fur coat and matching glasses. Before she began singing, one could tell she was going to work the crowd like a pro; her sheer confidence and excitement is infectious. Everything she did—whether it was peeling off her fur coat, twerking, or pressing her hand to her ear and gesturing for the crowd to get louder—was met with uproarious approval.

The band played tracks like “Ants,” “Dope Girl Magic” and “Smoke.Netflix.Chill.” Their sounda fusion of spoken word, funk, a hint of gospel, and hip-hop—was refreshing. Their unique style, both physically and aesthetically, brought something new and explosive to the festival. While the group may have not been known to many at the beginning of their set, they had certainly won them over by the end of it. As their set came to a close, Tank beckoned the crowd to “live it up, live it up, live it up!” during the fast-paced Quick.” She was nearly drowned out by the audience’s chants back at her.

-ADB

Most Likely to Beat You in a Dance Off Then Invite You for a Drink: Christine and The Queens
(Red Stage, 6:40 PM)

The Green Stage was packed with teenage Twenty One Pilots stans fifteen minutes before Heloise Letissier and her dancers—collectively known as Christine and the Queens—danced their way onto it. It was initially disappointing to think that Letissier’s masterful dance choreography and showmanship would be wasted on kids who had no intention of seeing her had she not played the Green Stage, but Letissier was so commanding and hopeful in both performance and message that none of it mattered. In fact, it’s hard to think about another performer at the festival who made any person—let alone teenagers—feel more comfortable in their own bodies.

Letissier—who refers to her onstage persona as Chris—told the audience, “There is one rule in our performance. Yes, ours; because this is a communal thing. Be yourself!” She practiced what she prescribed through her eccentric yet graceful dancing, her non-binary style and haircut (she wore a red dress shirt tied overlaying a black tank top and rocked a boyishly short cut), and her ability to laugh at her corny jokes. However, where Letissier most clearly expressed herself was an intense dedication to her craft and the detail that added flourishes to an already impressive show. Letissier was surrounded by six different backup dancers and expressed a clear relationship with each of them throughout every song—and she communicated these relationships almost entirely through movement. She sprinkled imaginary fairy dust on some of the dancers, danced rather sensually with some of them, and stared some of them down with antagonism throughout her routine. Moreover, her set also boasted an impressive shower of fireworks that accented the intensity of her interactions with the audience, the other dancers, and her own body. Throughout it all, Letissier kept a playfulness that allowed audiences to contemplate her art while allowing themselves to have fun at the same time.

-DP

Most Likely to Be a Good Late-Night Talk Show Host: CHVRCHES
(Delta Blue Stage, 8:20 PM)

Chvrches replaced festival drop-out Janelle Monáe this year, prompting Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry to lament that they “were not nearly half as cool” as the talented and often eccentric R&B singer. The set’s best moments were when Mayberry made self-deprecating comments, considering the fact that Chvrches have grown to become one of the more recognizable indie electronic pop bands of the decade.

Mayberry, flanked by fellow members Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, flaunted a pink ballerina-style see-through dress over a black tank top. The dress’s feathery nature complemented the numerous twirls Mayberry performed as the band played both classics such as “Mother We Share” and “Recover” and newer cuts from their latest album, Love Is Dead. Along with the original trio, the band also included a drummer—in addition to their usual live setup. The decision to include live drums accented the newer songs’ emphasis on rock instrumentation such as the soaring Imagine Dragons-style chorus on “Miracle” and the churning power chords on “Forever.” The highlight of the night, as expected, was the drop on “Clearest Blue”, the band’s most cathartic moment from all their songs and an inevitable way to make people go nuts. Mayberry was flat at times, and aside from her twirling or encouraging the audience to clap along at times, lacked stage presence during her performance. But she still endeared herself to the audience and expressed confidence by laughing at how she had eaten a strand of her own hair, being mesmerized by the beginning of Twenty One Pilots’ set, and sharing a Scottish brand of humor that would make Craig Ferguson proud. 

-DP

Most Likely To Hurtle You Back Into The Golden Age of Rock: Greta Van Fleet
(Red Stage, 7:50 PM)

The air, cool and thick with the summery scent of cigars and freshly-cut grass, was tense as teenssporting black Greta Van Fleet concert tour teesanxiously waited at the Red Stage. Not one to make a dull entrance, lead singer Josh Kiszka stormed in with his hands up to welcome the roars of the crowd. Clad in tight black leather pants that Jim Morrison would envy, a sheer black kimono accentuated with stars and moons, and his curly, feather-adorned hair falling into a disarray in the wind, Kiszka channeled a Woodstock performer who had stumbled into a time warp. The brothers—his twin Jake, the guitarist, and younger brother Sam, the bassist and keyboardist—were dressed in black military marching band jackets, à la “Welcome To The Black Parade.” Josh lifted his tambourine, as if a sacred object, and shook it in time.

The leading Kiszka let out the war cry that began their beloved “Highway Tune,” sending the adoring crowd into a frenzy. Grinning, the young singer began the sensual track with raw power in his vocals:  “We’re stopping at the green light girl / Because I want to get your signal / No going at the green light girl / Because I want to be with you now.” The song merged into “Safari Song” and “Black Smoke Rising,” both off of the band’s 2019 Grammy Award-winning EP, From The Fires. Known for their vintage style and lustful lyricism with a vocal tone recalling the early days of Robert Plant, the Michigan-based band proved that rock n’roll isn’t dead. With an impressive setlist concocted from hard rock and blues, Greta Van Fleet gave a performance that you would expect from a headlining band.

-ADB

Most Dedicated Fanbase: Twenty One Pilots
(Green Stage, 9:10 PM)

How do you explain Twenty One Pilots to a non-believer? Luckily, you usually don’t have to – with hundreds of millions of streams on multiple songs and a handful of radio hits, the Columbus-based duo were an easy choice to headline Friday night at the main green stage. A swell of crowd noise, originating near the front left of the stage, spread through the crowd as frontman Tyler Joseph strode onto a darkened stage, a ski mask pulled over his face and flaming torch in his hand. As he led singalongs to hits like “Stressed Out” and “Chlorine”, their set came more fully into focus – a burnt out car frame on stage left by an upright piano, a bank of glittering stage lights behind drummer Josh Dun on stage left. The duo is used to playing arenas, and their stage presence was comfortable and highly athletic- Dun backflipping off a piano, Joseph leaping off the car roof before charging into the crowd and for a slow-burning rendition of “Holding Onto You”.

While the show was replete with costume changes and narrative video clips to keep the audience entertained (at one point, Josh wins a drum-off with an onscreen version of himself), the core of their set was gratitude for their fanbase – “this is a conversation,” Joseph explained to the audience early on in the set. “Now, turn to your left, find a partner, and talk it out.” Tyler and Josh make it a point to be inclusive, constantly coming out into the crowd, encouraging the audience to get to know each other better, even introducing a somewhat prolonged security guard dance-off routine (“thank you guys for keeping us safe!”, shouted Tyler over Josh). Musically, the two are genre-agnostic, mixing elements of dub, emo, rap-rock, and synthpop, sometimes in the same song. This admixture of styles, especially on their new album, runs the risk of turning into a bland stew, but really the songs are just a part of the band’s good-natured, positive brand of punk messaging that’s more therapeutic than political. “We’re just having fun up here,” Tyler, said, smiling as he surveyed the crowd through white-times sunglasses, “thanks for coming out! We’d love to be back.” A young girl next to me, accompanied by her parents, took out her phone to go live on Instagram to share “Trees”, the last song of the night. Tears were in her eyes, and she sang every word.

-ME

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