The remnants of Friday’s rain showers left concertgoers still sinking in mud on Saturday, but at least the sun came out for some true festival weather. The grounds were just as packed and the food lines just as long as the day before—although the festival organizers were magically able to mitigate Friday’s issues with entrance lines.
The schedule on Saturday had you hopping from the Green Stage to the Blue Stage and back again, with acts including Cousin Stizz, the xx, the 1975, and Mumford and Sons. Here’s what we thought.
Most Underrated Opener: Tkay Maidza
This Zimbabwean-Australian rapper started off Saturday as nature attempted—a bright burst of sunshine peeking out from behind the clouds of yesterday. Her hype man rallied the crowd—surprisingly sizable, considering that Tkay was one of the first sets of the day—and got them chanting her name, pronounced like the letters T and K, as she danced onto the stage. Her songs are threaded with synth pop and punctuated by her snappy, quick fire rapping. She twisted and jumped all over the stage, dancing with her entire body. Her set was short but packed full of energy.
The Artist Who Brought Newport Folk Festival to Boston: Kevin Morby
Fans of singer-songwriter Kevin Morby came out early on Saturday to catch his afternoon set. But even if you didn’t know of Morby beforehand, his Americana folk-rock was instantly accessible, even familiar, as he sang on stage wearing shades that were nearly obfuscated by his long wavy hair.
Ruminating on love, rivers, mountains, and city life, Morby and his band were at their best when they shifted from a stroll to a run, from unhurried riffs to searing, soulful rock. Guitarist Megan Duffy’s supporting vocals on “Destroyer” were an angelic complement to Morby’s sometimes monotonous tone.
A Tale of Two Extremes: Moses Sumney
Sporting a baggy, all-black outfit—including a cape that could have been torn from the curtains in the backdrop—Moses Sumney pounded and brushed his palm against the mic, clapped, and snapped in succession to create a landscape of sounds that piled on top of each other. His falsetto, piercing but fluid, echoed as if in a long hallway. During “Worth It,” he swayed with his arms spread out as his voice fluttered from the vocoder.
But soon after, in a sudden diminuendo, Sumney played a few songs that could have lulled you to sleep—maybe better fit for a night time slot (people started to tune out and chat with one another). His voice was barely audible as he whispered the lyric, “My wings are made of plastic.”
The crowd came back around for last song “Lonely World,” which, at its highest point, was a cathartic mix of Sumney’s looping vocals and crashing noises. Of course, the song ended on a whimper, just Sumney softly repeating the word “lonely.”
Best Representation of Boston: Cousin Stizz
Saturday’s lineup was jam-packed with great hip-hop: Tkay, Russ, Majid Jordan, and Danny Brown all interspersed throughout the day. But none owned the stage quite like Boston-native—and “your favorite cousin”—Cousin Stizz. After getting his set pushed back due to Russ’s late entrance, Cousin Stizz didn’t skip a beat: he launched into some crowd favorites, like “Fresh Prince,” and paused in between songs to praise the crowd and how much he loved being able to perform for them in his home city. The pride was clear as he rapped with confidence, the audience chanting along, even those who didn’t quite know the words. The crowd soaked it in, waving their hands and begging him for more.
Slotted directly ahead of Danny Brown, it was refreshing to see such a large and enthusiastic crowd for a lower-billed act who so proudly represented the festival’s host city. Particularly when looking to Boston’s music scene, there are several identifiable acts in the scope of rock but not too many hip-hop artists who have fared well enough to precede the likes of Danny Brown and even Run The Jewels’ Sunday set. His hooks are catchy, though, and it’s easy enough to pick up on some of the words: “Who you know from out here?” he sings on “No Bells.” The answer, unanimously, is Cousin Stizz.
Most in Command of the Crowd: Danny Brown
As fans camped out at the Blue Stage—tucked away in the back of the grounds, seemingly worlds apart from the main areas of the festival — they stood in great anticipation of the act to come. Inspiring bouts of frenetic quasi-moshing and a sea of bobbing hands, Danny Brown played through hits from breakout album XXX as well as the critically acclaimed Atrocity Exhibition. Hardly relying on a backing track, it was as intimate as it was rowdy—the Detroit rapper delivered each line with a playful spirit, and the crowd knew all the words. Playing “Iron Man” as his entrance music, there wasn’t a moment Danny Brown took too seriously, which worked to his advantage, for the most part.
Although, most of his set consisted of tracks that harness a heightened energy, building off one another — which made for the dialing back for “Grown Up” a little awkward. A deeply personal, subdued track from Brown, “Grown Up” is his declaration of beating the odds to the world. Growing up in Detroit, Brown faced several strains throughout his life from the declining industry to hard drugs; but he’s come out on top, armed with his unique, high-pitched nasal voice he’s turned into a cornerstone of his persona.
Straight From the Comedy Stage: Tegan and Sara
This wasn’t the first year Tegan and Sara have played Boston Calling (we last saw them in May 2014), but this time they brought an aesthetic that could only be described as “Starbucks Unicorn Frappucino.” Singing in front of blow-up “T & S” figures in pink and teal, the sisters pumped through their expansive synth-pop repertoire, voices clear as sky and sweet as bubblegum.
In between tracks like “Back in Your Head” and “Alligator,” half of the set’s fun was had when the duo whipped out their sardonic, self-effacing sense of humor to banter on queerness, marriage, and Harry Styles. And in what definitely wasn’t the first Harvard reference of the day, Tegan quipped, “Sara wanted to go to law school at Harvard. She did not apply herself, so instead she ended up in a band with me.”
Best Band to Listen to While Waiting in Line for Roxy’s: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Achieving peak popularity thanks to constant radio play of “S.O.B.” and “I Need Never Get Old,” Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats captured the hearts of music lovers young and old with Rateliff’s throaty vintage vocals that hearken back to the days of motown. “S.O.B.” has the foot-stomping and clapping built into it already, so you would imagine that at a large scale music festival, the crowd would really start moving to it. But the band fell flat—aside from the two hits, the rest of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’ set got lost in the exhausted, sunburned crowds snaking around the festival ground. With a voice big enough to fill the Harvard Stadium, it comes as a surprise that Rateliff wasn’t able to successfully rally the crowd into the epic dance party his shows so often promise to be. It made great background music for those waiting in the nightmarishly long lines for food, though.
The Band Most Stunned by Their Success: The xx
As singer/guitarist Romy Madley Croft stared out at the hordes of people looking onto the Red Stage, she seemed taken aback by the roaring reception to the xx’s set. “Boston,” she said timidly, pausing before thanking the crowd for their attention. “We want you to know that we see each and every one of you.”
Whether playing old favorites like “Crystalised” and “VCR” or exploring hook-laden territory from this year’s release, I See You, the trio (Madley Croft, singer/bassist Oliver Sim, and producer Jamie xx) captivated the crowd with pulsing beats and breathy, sensual vocal trade-offs. Sim slinked around the stage, playing his bass with two running fingers, while Jamie xx jabbed at his equipment up in a transparent DJ booth.
Fans were probably hoping the group would open with “Intro,” but the song was just as muscular when placed near the end of the set. I’ve never seen a crowd surge forward as they did at that opening riff.
The Guilty Pleasure: The 1975
When Matty Healy peeled off his oversized (although anything could be oversized on his petite frame) hoodie to reveal a lacy-collared white blouse reminiscent of Prince, the crowd—for the most part comprised of teenage girls—went ballistic. Earlier that day I’d seen plenty of The 1975 T-shirts—minimal, very Tumblr-aesthetic ordeals with the band’s name in sans serif lettering against a black background encompassed by a white rectangle. So, it wasn’t surprising that a large portion of the crowd on Saturday came to see England’s hottest boy band second only to One Direction.
Though a lot of their set was cheesy and gimmicky—neon parallelograms hovered over the band, cycling white, pink, and at one point rainbow as Healy swiveled his hips a la Presley, jerking his arms around to the delight of his fans—I couldn’t help but find myself singing and dancing along.
Whether it was the 80s-informed synth pop of “She’s American” or the moodiness of “Somebody Else,” the strobing lights and amped up crowd made for a fun set. This eclipsed, in part, the awkwardness of the cigarette dangling from Healy’s hand (a part of the whole persona, perhaps) and the fractured transitions between songs.
The Band With the Songs You Knew the Most Words to: Mumford and Sons
If you could actually see the stage for Mumford and Sons, I salute you. If you were like me—stuck behind tall people, a mile away from the stage, and craning your neck to even see the screens—that actually turned out to be okay, too. The singalongs were probably just as spirited from wherever you stood. With glow sticks and hands protruding into the night air, people belted out lyrics as Marcus Mumford and co. strummed, thumped, and fiddled through hit after hit. There were multiple appearances of fire, but I was more impressed when, in one swoop, the upright bassist hoisted his instrument straight overhead during “The Cave.”