Saturday brought warmer weather and sets from the indie veterans of Big Red Machine, burgeoning local act Clairo, and Dr. Dre protege, Anderson .Paak. Tame Impala and Hozier concluded the festival’s second day which included many surprises—such as an appearance from Lil Nas X, a dramatic performance by Mitski, and an earth-shaking cover of “Bulls on Parade” by Denzel Curry.

Best Appearance by Local Butterfly: Sidney Gish

Red Stage (12:45 PM-1:15 PM)

Every year, Boston Calling’s lineup release sparks a debate over just how “Boston” the festival is, spurring on a flurry of surrounding press coverage, and this year, a musical rebuttal in the form of “Boston Answering.” Boston Calling front-loaded Saturday’s early bill with local acts, first of whom was Sidney Gish, a Northeastern student and burgeoning DIY star. A few students near me spoke about their connection to Sidney: “I took a class with her actually,” one bucket-hatted young man said in disbelief. “I can’t believe she’s playing here!” While some early arrivals talked through her set, a coterie of devoted fans up front kept the set from falling into background noise.

Her solo set, first performed in Allston basements and honed on small stages, translated well on the Red Stage, where she filled out the space with funk-inspired riffs and campy drum machine loops. Many her songs are catchy and sunny, but flashes of ferocity came through her set, particularly in the distorted howl of her guitar on “Mouth Log” and the punchy chorus of “Sin Triangle.” Cerebral, witty lyrics are one of her specialties, as on “Presumably Dead Arm” (“I’ll be 30 and happy / Likely married to personified business casual khakis”) and the lovely “Persephone,” where she pondered the correct pronunciation of words like “protestant” while delivering double entendres and punchlines with a dry deadpan. Save for a word of thanks between songs and a quiet, but well-received, “Boston music rules,” while tuning for “Not But For You Bunny,” she mostly let the music do the talking. “What a lovely day / What a lovely feeling,”,  Sidney sang, and—as if on cue—a lone monarch butterfly began to flit through the crowd, zigging and zagging just overhead.

-ME (Michael Enwright)

Loudest Fuzz Tone: Pile

(Green Stage, 1:15 PM-2 PM)

Local rock veterans Pile followed Sidney Gish over on the Green Stage, drawing a relatively small, but devoted following. While brash vocals and heavy distortion feature prominently in the band’s live act, frontman Rick Maguire’s face remained relatively blank while delivering hard-hitting choruses like “Your Performance”. While they tore through their set, not stopping to speak, they delivered song after song of loose, furious distortion unmoored from traditional time signatures and sound structures. Especially in a live setting, the songs run the risk of dissolving into soundscapes, but anchored by Kris Kuss’ skillful drumming, songs like the devastating “On A Bigger Screen” retained forward motion and urgency. A security guard stationed at stage left provided a moment of levity during their heavy set, trying forcefully to whack a beach ball back into the crowd, only to be defeated several times by the strong breeze. Overall, Pile’s cathartic, bone-rattling set deserved a bigger crowd, but the fans that were there seemed pleased, giving the quartet a long round of cheers after their 45 minutes was up.

-ME

Most Likely to Stick It to the Man: White Reaper

Delta Blue Stage (2 PM-2:45 PM)

Louisville-based White Reaper showed up to Boston Calling with a prepossessing attitude and some serious backbone. With the straps of his white Gibson Flying V hanging low while cranking out raw, vicious riffs that made the air feel electric, lead vocalist Tony Esposito opened the band’s 45-minute set on the Blue Stage with “Judy French.” White Reaper—with scowls on their faces like a 90s punk band—powerfully charged through every song like it was their last. They collected a small crowd, but with their dedication and uniquely enticing neo-punk sound, they were deserving of a larger one. Heads bobbing to the rhythm, the audience watched as White Reaper showcased their work. With clever hooks in songs like “Make Me Wanna Die” and “Daisies,” the band captured the crowd’s attention for the short time they were given, and held it. Punk bands have a partiality for sounding similar, but the strong lyrical narratives and infectious chord progressions performed by White Reaper during their set broke that trend.

-ADB (Alexis den Boggende)

Chillest Popstar: Clairo

(Green Stage, 2:55 PM-3:40 PM)

“Hey, I’m Claire. I’ve been coming to Boston Calling ever since it started.” Carlisle native Claire Cottrill’s introduction to her late afternoon set was met with enthusiasm by a sizable crowd of mostly teenagers. Clairo came out in a denim jacket and jeans, accompanied by a live backing band of bass, drums, and guitar/synth pads that added complementary depth to her airy, impressionistic vocals. While her music is synonymous with the (somewhat contentious) label/genre of bedroom pop, Clairo easily filled the stage with a nonchalant, hazy energy. On the Soccer Mommy-reminiscent “Bubblegum,” she stood close to the mic, plaintively strumming an electric guitar, before removing it to stroll the length of the stage, occasionally tossing her hair and smiling at the crowd as the drums kicked back in for the chorus.

Her music chops have caught up with her virality, and her relatively-high profile set time revealed a new dimension to her sound and hinted at a bright future. During “Bags”, the Rostam-produced first single off Immunity, her just-announced debut album, she stood with eyes closed, close to the mic, hands over her chest. The level of concentration made sense in a second, after the final chord died away.“That was my first time playing this song,” she explained to a delighted crowd. “Not bad, right?”

-ME

Most Like The Flaming Lips, but Millennials: Superorganism

(Red Stage, 3:45 PM-4:35 PM)

Teenagers abounded at Boston Calling, but none of them captured the awkwardness of adolescence more than Superorganism lead singer Orono Noguchi, also known as “OJ.” Most bands get the crowd pumped by screaming, “Put your hands up!” OJ on the other hand, in a deadpan tone she used to address the crowd through the entire set, dreadfully implored the crowd to put their hands up even though it was “cheesy.” It felt like watching a fourteen-year-old reluctantly play a song for their cousins and grandparents at Thanksgiving dinner.

Regardless, Superorganism know how to craft some catchy hooks. The chorus on “Something for Your M.I.N.D” is impossible to get rid of once it drills itself into the listener’s sub-conscience. The band’s lackadaisical tone gives an effortlessness to the impressively written songs; they make pop music sound like something you can make with some friends on a lazy Sunday morning instead of in a professional studio. Live, however, the lack of effort feels trite. OJ shrouded herself in a green cape and wore glitter on her face. The rest of the band also wore funky outfits; background singers B, Ruby, and Soul were dressed in shimmery multi-sequined cloaks to begin the set. They also provided coordinated dances and enthusiasm to counter OJ’s stiffness. Yet, even circuses are impressive to watch for a few minutes—until their interesting appeal eventually wanes, and the tricks become stale. Superorganism’s creativity and talent inspire the rare potential to become a unique but accessible band like The Flaming Lips; but, unlike their predecessors, they don’t appear comfortable in their oddness. Scrap the ironic tone, the self-doubt, and OJ’s lack of energy—and they could be special.

-DP (David Paradela)

Best Rage Against the Machine Cover: Denzel Curry

(Delta Blue Stage, 4:40 PM-5:30 PM)

You might know Denzel Curry from the memes. The twenty-four year old Miami rapper and his DJ, Poshtronaut, got the hits out of the way early. They were not even one song through the set before Curry ripped off his hoodie and tore into “Ultimate,” whipping the crowd into a moshing, thrashing frenzy. Without much effort, Curry gained control of the packed stage, commanding the crowd as a single unit. As a rapper, he is technically gifted, but doesn’t need to spit at warp speeds to win over fans. The crowd reaction to “RICKY” proves that he has an undeniable hit on his hands, as tossed water battles sprayed over at least 3 crowd-surfers by the end of the track. For a second, the Blue Stage at Boston Calling seemed like a much larger rap festival, like Rolling Loud, for example (even if Denzel himself wasn’t a fan).

While he relied mostly on beats and great hooks, Curry kicked up his bar-delivery considerably with the impressive “Super Saiyan,, flexing every muscle in his body and letting out a primal Saiyan scream before diving into the rapid torrent of the verse. Critics have compared Denzel to a rock star, and his screaming, headbanging cover of “Bulls on Parade” proved as much, along with his partially acapella rendition of “Aloha,” his collaboration with Charlie Heat. He reminded the crowd that he’ll be back shortly to open for Billie Eilish on June 14, and bid us goodbye by telling everyone to “go to the movies and watch John Wick 3.” He exited stage left with the words, “I’m out this motherfucker.”

-ME

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Mitski

(Green Stage, 4:40 PM-5:35 PM)

There were some golden lines from Mitski’s set: “I’m Mitski. I don’t know you, but I love you. I had to break the fourth wall to introduce myself.” “I’m sorry you’re so far away. This whole format… I don’t know about it. Being so far away…standing all day.” She also bluntly stated, “Alright, I did the hit. If you need to see another set, feel free to shuffle off.” The lines were few and far between, but they packed a hell of a comedic punch. Such was her commitment to the robotic heroine she played at the Green Stage, that for Mitski to break character almost seemed like an indignance.

She solemnly walked onto the stage and proceeded to stare with deep profundity at the crowd, hair blowing in the wind, until it seemed that every voice had been reduced to silence. Then, her band ripped into the haunting “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart” that revealed the fullness of her cyborg persona. She moved mechanically through the first few songs, as if programmed by a mad scientist, and continued to do so as she sat in a white chair and table where a microphone had been conveniently placed. Eventually, her character appeared to reach some sort of existential awakening, causing her to develop a limberness and chaotic relationship with the propped chair and tables—which she proceeded to flip, lie, and stand on. The entire routine was impressive due to her commanding and stable voice and the short, but implosive rock songs she had carefully crafted. The distortion on “Your Best American Girl” shook with a fury that invoked Uma Thurman’s The Bride character in Kill Bill. Even though it was “the hit,” “Nobody” still managed to shock with its key changes and the robot’s stoic disposition as the crowd sang along. By the time she wailed, “Fuck you and your money!” on “Drunk Walk Home,” it seemed that the cyborg had completely shaken off the chains of her maker. Shortly thereafter, Mitski left the stage with nothing more than a brief “Bye.”

-DP

Best, Uh, Multitaskers: Big Red Machine

(Red Stage, 5:30 PM-6:40 PM)

Towards the end of their set, Big Red Machine passed around a joint during “OMDB” without pausing. Everyone on stage took a drag, except guitarist Aaron Dessner, who was busy with a guitar solo. Aside from this obvious highlight, Big Red Machine (the collaboration project between The Nationals’ Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon) treated a mid-sized Red Stage crowd to a set that started out thorny and experimental. The band began with the impressionistic, misty soundscapes of “Gratitude” before coming into a bucolic, country-tinged focus with ”Hymnostic”. The rough start could be chalked up to the sheer amount of musical and visual information coming from the stage—a piano, a small synthesizer, bass drums, two guitars, and two Berklee students moonlighting as a brass section. While the disparate parts initially felt disjointed on set-opener “Deep Green,” the songs gradually came into focus, as well as the chemistry between Vernon’s resonant voice and Dessner’s fevered guitar playing and lopsided drum loops. Clad in a white shirt sporting a slightly altered Jenny Holzer quote, (“Abuse of Flower Comes As No Surprise”) Vernon’s demeanor was vaguely evangelical, occasionally turning towards the crowd and waving an index finger as if to underscore a particularly point in his sermon. While much of his vocal melodies stayed in his high angelic range, more rhythmic moments on songs like “Lyla” saw him lock into a flow that felt closer to a Drake hook than anything from 22, A Million (his most recent release), and break into a guttural yell on the breathtaking “Melt,” the show’s anthemic finale. While their polyrhythmic and multi-layered songs were less accessible than others on Saturday’s billing, the audience that stuck with them was richly rewarded.

-ME

Most Baller, Most Anarchist: King Princess

(Delta Blue Stage, 6:10 PM-7 PM)

One of the best sing-along moments of Boston Calling was the crowd screaming, “But four drinks I’m wasted!” It was true, and it was an incredible hook from 20-year-old King Princess. She showcased her effective songwriting through such moments, and just as impressive was her command of the stage. She sauntered around in a white tank-top, ski pants, Jordans, and a cap she presumably took from the PAX promotions tent. She also had what a concertgoer referred to as, “amazing abs.” Her style was, as Timothée Chalamet’s character in Lady Bird says, “Very baller. Very anarchist.”

Fashion aside, Mikaela Straus—who took King Princess as her stage name—displayed two important characteristics: talent and awareness of her audience. The former was most prominent as she let out her impressive voice on “Ohio,” a track that begins with an acoustic guitar before morphing into a grungy climax. The latter was displayed by nonchalant comments such as “there’s a lot of gay youth here!” Straus knew who her admirers were, and she never let them down.

-DP

Most Stunning Aesthetics: Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals (with Special Guest Lil Nas X)

(Green Stage, 6:45 PM-7:55 PM)

With excitement humming in the air and bubbles drifting through the heat, people packed tightly together, creating an overflowing crowd as they tried to catch a glimpse of Anderson .Paak. Clad in an explosively vibrant half yellow, half green suit, bucket hat, round Mad Max goggles and a set punctuated with trippy visuals fusing Egyptian symbolism and reggae culture, Anderson .Paak was inarguably a highlight of Saturday’s lineup. The Californian rapper and songwriter opened his set on the Green Stage with “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance,” accented with smooth, live drumming, funk-influenced instrumentation and smooth harmonization by his backup vocalists, both adorned in electric blue jumpsuits. One of Anderson .Paak’s most admirable traits is his ability to connect with his audience with ease. With a psychedelic backdrop of John Lennon’s glasses behind him and pyrotechnics going off around him, Anderson .Paak welcomed the audience, shouting to the masses of concert-goers before him: “Boston, do you believe? Can I party with you? Will you dance with me?” His setlist was packed with groove, soul and funk influences, including “King James,” “Bubblin’,” and “Lite Weight.” Suddenly, .Paak erupted into “Old Town Road,” and welcomed Lil Nas X onto the stage, which was met with an uproarious approval from the crowd. Lil Nas X, who had been slated as a special guest (with no other indication as to when he was going to appear), was a welcome surprise.

Closing out his set, a nostalgic and emotional Anderson .Paak paid homage to Mac Miller with “Dang!” The visuals melted away into a massive candid photograph of .Paak and Miller in which both are smiling in happier times. The two had collaborated on the track back in 2016, on Miller’s The Divine Feminine. It was a bittersweet ending to an electric, impressively creative set.

-ADB

King of the Underworld: Hozier

(Delta Blue Stage, 8:15 PM-9 PM)

As the burning light of the golden hour rippled across the horizon and slowly disappeared into the dark blue hues of dusk, Andrew Hozier-Byrne—known as Hozier—eliminated the distance between himself and the sea of fans who faithfully stood before him at the Blue Stage. With a promising setlist brimming with moody, dark tracks infused with blues and soul, he didn’t disappoint. “Boston, don’t be afraid to let us hear you,” Hozier challenged the audience with a smile. This was Hozier’s second Boston Calling—he had previously performed at the festival in 2015. The beloved poetic and notoriously soft-spoken Irishman proved, yet again, that his talent—lyrically, instrumentally and vocally—is unparalleled. He played tracks from both his freshman and sophomore LPs, 2014’s Hozier and 2019’s Wasteland, Baby! When he approached the mic and began “Would That I” to kickstart his set, the Blue Stage erupted into applause.

Hozier’s raw, ethereal vocals and enigmatic, woodsy aesthetic are eerily prepossessing—recalling the myth of Hades, as many fans have noted—and have an undeniable ability to mesmerize a crowd. For bluesy rock tracks like “Work Song,” “Nina Cried Power,” and “To Be Alone,” Hozier called on the audience to harmonize with him. One of the highlights of the night was when Hozier channeled a softer tone and transitioned into a slow, acoustic version of the surreal, dreamy track “From Eden.” During the catchy, hook-infused “Dinner & Diatribes,” stunning visuals of a roaring fire and alternating black and orange stage lights sprang up behind him, further accentuating the dark sensuality of Hozier’s recent hit. A sea of hands went up and clapped in time as he sang with a formidable power in his vocals: “Now that the evening is slowing / Now that the end’s in sight / Honey, it’s easier knowing / What you’d do to me tonight.” As the night turned black, Hozier erupted into “Take Me To Church” to close out his otherworldly set.  The romantically-charged soul track, packed with religious terminology, transformed the Blue Stage into a place of worship. The audience didn’t miss a beat nor a lyric, chanting with their hands up, “Amen.” Despite having a brilliant sixteen-track setlist, it was clear from chattering among fans before and after the show—one concert-goer muttering to his friend, “I don’t get why he’s not the headliner”—that the young Irishman would have been better suited as a leading act rather than as a supporting one.

-ADB

The Set Most Likely to Cause Flashbacks to the Tunnel Scene from Willy Wonka: Tame Impala

(Green Stage, 9:20 PM-10:50 PM)

Australian multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker—also known as the touring rock band Tame Impala—closed Saturday night. The set was an explosion of brilliant psychedelic colors, lights, and lasers, which attracted a massive crowd. Opening with the acclaimed “Let It Happen,” Tame Impala’s set began strong with raw energy and powerful instrumentation, but due to lack of making a connection with the audience, it became mundane and underwhelming. The bluesy rock riffs and guitar solos of popular track “Elephant” got the crowd moving, beers in hands, while laughing and dancing with reckless abandon as the ferris wheel and lasers lit up the dark. While the set was entertaining and there were certainly some great moments (its highlight certainly being “Elephant”), its charisma and originality did not live up to what was expected of a headlining act. While Tame Impala played a strong set, they offered little else to get the crowd involved with their performance. A good portion of audience members talked amongst themselves in circles, sitting on the ground, not paying much attention to the show, despite its flashy nature and the throbbing beats that powerfully echoed across the fields.

-ADB

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