Sunday at Boston Calling definitely drew a different type of crowd, with the lineup featuring several punk/hardcore acts and culminating in the return of headliner Tool. (There was someone wearing a Tool shirt within a five-foot radius of you at all times.) It was a thrashing end to another successful—almost flawlessly executed—weekend for Boston Calling.
Best New Band of the Weekend: Mondo Cozmo
Frontman Josh Ostrander said during Mondo Cozmo’s set: “It’s spelled with a Z because that’s how my dog spells it. I named my band after my dog.” He grinned and ate it up as the crowd laughed, shaking his bare shoulders under his patched-up denim vest. With most members of the audience showing up knowing only one song—“Shine”—Mondo Cozmo had their work cut out for them in winning the crowd over. And they succeeded.
A few songs into their set, they broke into a cover of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” adding a grungy edge to it, and Ostrander continued joking with the crowd, earning their attention through the set before finally playing “Shine.”
Far From a ‘Soft Animal’: The Hotelier
No doubt, Boston’s punk fans in pink hair and ripped black jeans came out just for Sunday. And Worcester rock band The Hotelier were there to kick off the day’s lineup with “less talking, more playing.”
“I called in sick from your funeral,” frontman Christian Holden wailed as the crowd chanted along during “Your Deep Rest.” On “Soft Animal,” Holden’s words (“make me feel alive”) had a way of puncturing the air and then hanging there, even as his bandmates shouted and harmonized in response, their mouths gaping. The Hotelier’s time slot was much too short to attract a full swarm of moshing bodies, but the band sure warmed up the pit.
Best Special Treat: Scott Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit’s Acoustic Set
Technology can frustrate us to no end, but there are times when it proves its worth. For those using the curated Boston Calling app throughout the weekend, you probably noticed the features that accompanied the ability to create your own schedule and pull up a map of the grounds—users would receive updates throughout the day, of when bands were taking the stage, special offers, and more.
If you were one of the 40 odd people lucky enough to make it to the Xfinity tent after they sent out an update for “fans of Frightened Rabbit,” you bore witness to one of the most beautiful events of the weekend. Vocalist and guitarist Scott Hutchinson was their gift, standing on the stage in the comedy tent with his acoustic guitar, playing a too short set mostly comprised of audience requests. It was intimate and unique, Hutchinson breaking between songs to tell anecdotes: He grew up listening to Eric Clapton records, always astonished by how Clapton could inspire applause with only the first few chords of a song, so naturally, we did the same for him—he giggled in delight.
“You’re picking well because none of these songs made it into our main set,” he said, playing through old songs the most dedicated fans hold dear to their hearts, like “The Loneliness and the Scream” and “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” laughing after noting that he can’t reach all the same notes he could as a 20-year-old, as well as a heartbreaking, honest acoustic performance of “I Wish I Was Sober.” A particularly heartfelt performance of “FootShooter” left several audience members with tears rolling down their faces. Totally not me, though… never.
The Band You’ve Most Likely Forgotten Was From Boston: Buffalo Tom
With a name like Buffalo Tom, it’s not hard to imagine why plenty of audience members’ faces shared an awkward glance when the band announced they were happy to be back in their hometown. “We live so close that my kids just called me to turn it down,” guitarist Bill Janovitz said, to no avail: some awkward laughter, but the joke didn’t land. A pretty run-of-the-mill rock band, Buffalo Tom played a tight set without too many bells and whistles.
The Self-Declared Loudest Band of the Festival: Converge
“We’re probably the loudest band of this festival… and definitely the weirdest and ugliest,” vocalist Jacob Bannon warned onlookers before strangling the mic and letting out the kind of raw, guttural screams that had crop top-clad teenagers retreating to the Roxy’s Grilled Cheese stand for the remainder of the set.
Formed in Boston over two decades ago, Converge have amassed a cult following in the metalcore community—and their live presence delivered. Bannon galloped across the stage, swinging the mic cord (even coiling it around his neck like a noose) and contracting his body while detonating his vocal cords in fits. Hair, sweat, and strings of spit went rogue. The drum kit needed a mid-set repair.
Not Kids Anymore: Piebald
As Flatbush Zombies were finishing up on the Red Stage, cheers erupted from the crowd waiting for Piebald at the Green Stage. A little blond boy had emerged from the wings to wave at the audience and perform a wiggle-dance. He certainly wasn’t Piebald, but turns out he was a descendant of Piebald—the son of one of the members, we later learned.
Indeed, it’s been awhile since Massachusetts indie-punk outfit Piebald broke up (2008, to be exact), and the members have gone on living their lives. The group reconvened in 2016 for a reunion tour, and, as leadman Travis Shettel put it, they were honored to be asked to play Boston Calling.
On Sunday, Piebald charged through a set that was packed with oldie favorites. Shettel bared his big white teeth during “Giddy Like a School Girl” and mandated crowd participation for “American Hearts.” During “Grace Kelly With Wings,” white confetti shot out and floated down onto headbanging fans.
The Best Motivational Speech Within a Set: Run The Jewels
Killer Mike made a name for himself as a Bernie Sanders supporter during the 2016 presidential election. And when he paused between songs to give a short speech about remaining active and mobilizing in the wake of perceived political injustices, it was met with deafening enthusiasm from the crowd. “We’re so happy we can play these songs for you while the world crumbles around us,” the rapper said. The duo was playful throughout the rest of their set, with fellow rapper El-P trying out some spoken word poetry onstage—“Snaps only, please,” he insisted as he recited a spontaneous poem.
Throughout the set, the crowd was throwing up Run The Jewels’ signature hand sign, a finger gun pointing at a fist, and chanting along to the songs. They powered through fan favorites like “Close Your Eyes (And Count To F***)” and “Stay Gold,” keeping up the playful banter in between. Despite some of the language in some of their songs and the the tough personas they embody, Run The Jewels have their hearts in the right place, reminding the crowd to make room for and pick up anyone who can’t hang as well as not to touch anyone who doesn’t want to be—“Especially women. Touch a woman who hasn’t asked and we’ll punch you ‘til you black out,” Killer Mike said.
Killer Mike and El-P kept a flawless flow, building off each other’s energy to create a dynamic, solid set. Their chemistry on stage was unmatched by any of the other duos—or larger groups—performing that weekend, striking the perfect balance between good natured bro-ship and thoughtful teammates who pick up where the other left off.
The Frontman With the Most ‘Moves like Jagger’: Cage the Elephant
Cage the Elephant’s lanky frontman, Matt Shultz, may have rivaled the stamina and fervor of Converge’s Jacob Bannon from earlier that day. Sliding, leaping around, and collapsing to the floor with the mic stand, Shultz was the centerpiece of Cage’s steaming rock show. He’s probably sick of hearing it by now, but he’s a dead ringer for a young Mick Jagger.
After the band spun through Southern-tinged hits such as “Trouble,” “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” and “Come a Little Closer,” Shultz left the stage and returned 30 seconds later with his shirt off. He pinballed into the crowd and, as if a cheerleader, balanced standing upright with fans grabbing him by the feet and legs. Cage’s set ended with a barefoot Shultz swinging his white shoes in the air and inciting a chant of “Olé, Olé, Olé.”
The Most Nostalgic: Weezer
Though some of their set choices—a lifeless, uncomfortable cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” almost anything from the post-Raditude era, the too-quiet “Thank God for Girls” with the slideshow of powerful women—fell flat with the audience, Weezer’s performance was a delightful trip back to the 90s, visuals and all. Rivers Cuomo was in full quirkiness, donning a sombrero at one point and breaking out a short cover of Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” before launching into “Holiday.” The crowd had been gathering since the gates opened on Sunday, stretching across the entirety of the turf in front of the blue stage. It became a giant singalong, with even those furthest at the back belting the words with reckless (probably drunken) abandon.
Weezer played through a collection of classics, featuring the guitar driven “My Name is Jonas” and the anthem to awkwardness, “Undone – The Sweater Song.” With hardly a pause to acknowledge the audience, they packed in many of the songs that have cemented them in twee stardom. Their sound was tight, though the set evolved, admittedly, into more of an exercise in nostalgia. Weezer’s whole thing has always been not being cool, which made the crowd screaming along the words to the heartbreaking “Say It Ain’t So” feel like home.
Weezer ended their set with “Buddy Holly,” some of which got muddled by the droves of people dipping out early to head over to Tool’s promised-to-be legendary set at the Green Stage. Confetti cannons showered the crowd still pressed against the stage, capping off an overall feel-good set that left everyone yearning for long summer nights spent on their own “Island in the Sun.” Sorry, I had to.
Best Act for Trampling Over Your Neighbor: Major Lazer
Now I really know what Lorde meant when she sang, “I’m kinda over getting told to throw my hands up in the air.” Then again, what else could you expect from a Major Lazer show?
Besides telling fans to “put your hands in the air” every time the beat dropped, the electronic trio led a Simon Says game instructing the audience to jump and “run” (yes, run). Diplo surfed through the crowd in a giant, see-through hamster ball, dancers got low on stage, and an animation of a woman’s derrière in bright green underpants projected on the screen while a sample from “Bubble Butt” played. It was a good time.
Most \m/_(>o<)_\m/: Tool
Existing at an intersection of art rock and alternative metal, Tool has established a cult following since their inception in the 90s. So naturally, at noon when the gates opened on Sunday, small hordes of people beelined for the barrier, clad in their Tool T-shirts, laying out blankets and preparing for the wait. The band has hardly performed since going on hiatus in 2009, so the hype was real—the crowd had stretched halfway back to the entrance by the time the evening hit. While Saturday night’s Mumford and Sons crowd had a sizable draw, the pure need to get to the gig on Sunday could be felt throughout the Athletic Complex. As soon as Weezer’s set ended, the crowd became a mass of people embarking on an exodus across the grounds. Due to some questionable layout decisions, there were several bottlenecks, leaving many Tool fans questioning whether they should have opted for Major Lazer instead, so they could’ve been closer.
But was it worth it?
Employing some heavily psychedelic visualizations featuring a seven-pointed star that glowed behind the combat-ready frontman Maynard Keenan, clad in a full outfit of black body armor, helmet, and goggles. Swirling patterns and animations danced on the screen behind as the band churned out scuzzy, guitar-driven rock. The music moved in calculated riffs, not descending into the kind of metal Converge spat out earlier in the day. The band members hardly moved, their concentration on their instruments—or in Keenan’s case, his moody, aggressive vocals—too great. The pulse of the drums reverberated throughout the entire crowd, captivated by the projections on the screen.
Tool played towering classics like “Schism” and “Ænema,” much to the delight of the audience members who had been waiting all day—and perhaps nearly a decade—to hear their rock gods in person. For fans of Tool, of which there seemed to be plenty, the set may not have been too visually pleasing—the band’s stage presence was hollow and stiff—but aurally so, rather. The issue comes with those who have yet to fall in love with the band; worse yet, those who hadn’t heard of Tool before Sunday at Boston Calling. Tool failed to accomplish reeling in any new fans, but we can only imagine that long standing fans walked away satisfied.