A thick, unforgiving heat wave rolled through Boston Calling on Sunday, but that didn’t stop festival goers as they packed in close to hear the sets of indie rockers like Snail Mail and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, bubbly pop star Marina (who certainly brought the sun with her) and the vibrant, explosive music of Travis Scott and Snakehips.

The Aussies Most Likely To Pass As Locals: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Delta Blue Stage (1:40 PM–2:25 PM)

Given the 86-degree heat, Australian rock quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever had the perfect band name for kicking off Sunday’s sets at the Blue Stage. Set in front of sweeping drone footage of the Australian coastline, their songs transported the small crowd clustered around barriers to a much-needed trip to the beach. Vocalists/guitarists Fran Keaney, Tom Russo, and Joe White traded lead vocals on verses, alternating between speaking and singing but often teaming up for bright choruses like on “Mainland”. Kearney and Russo further ingratiated themselves with the Boston audience by sporting a grey Celtics tee and retro Red Sox cap, respectively. After each number, Fran offered a friendly “Cheers!” and once remarked on the high percentage of Aussies on this year’s lineup (like Gang of Youths, Tame Impala, Skeggs, and Betty Who). Jangling 80s-style guitars and the declamatory spoken-word verses of “Fountain of Good Fortune” were high points of their set, filtering some of the band’s sharpest songwriting through bright and hazy sounds. Despite the heat, a few young fans with Raybans and sunburnt faces continued dancing. Sun and sweat don’t feel so bad when you’re standing ankle-deep in the surf.

-ME (Michael Enwright)

High School Jazz Ensemble MVP: Cautious Clay

Red Stage (2:30 PM–3:15 PM)

No one flexes quite like Cautious Clay’s Joshua Karpeh. You dig the flute? How about the saxophone? You like guitar? What if it was played upside down? Oh, you’re into jazz? How about rock? Soul? There’s a Joshua for all of that.

Anyone would be impressed by that range of talent—even Lake Street Dive’s Mike Calabrese, who was chilling in the crowd with his infant son. There’s something different about artists who go to music school and make it big (Calabrese went to NEC and Karpeh attended GWU). They have an unmistakable command over their music that allows for a chameleonic transition between genres and instrumentation. You can see it in Calabrese’s utility-man role for Lake Street Dive, and you could hear it clearly on Sunday as Karpeh ran through a plethora of tones, sounds, and styles. There’s a hip-hop beat to many Cautious Clay songs such as “Blood Type”, but that song also included elements of rock with a distorted guitar, a soulful tone, and jazzy guitar licks as well. “French Riviera” also incorporated a hip-hop loop, but also carried a droning guitar that would fit well on a U2 song. Karpeh’s willingness to blend various genres can be attributed to his education, but also to his mastery of various instruments and styles that music school emphasizes. The result was an artist whose voice resembled Kid Cudi’s, but had the ability to flaunt his technical expertise at the same time.

-DP (David Paradela)

Most A-List Guests: Snail Mail

Delta Blue Stage (3 PM–3:45 PM)

Lindsay Jordan arrived early to the Blue stage to soundcheck, accidentally creating an awkward situation—fans who had arrived early weren’t sure if she was performing. As she warmed up and tuned, little pockets of applause and cheers broke out, unaware that the show hadn’t started. When 3 PM rolled around, she officially opened with the very apt “Heat Wave”, removing her sunglasses mid-song and somehow playing the riff while clutching them in her right hand, stepping away from the mic to focus on playing chords. On record, Jordan’s songs are as hard and sharp as diamonds, relying on angular fifths and fourths that catch the light and glimmer when her pleading vocals are added to the mix. Live, she is a strenuous singer, leaning into the mic and pushing out the defiant chorus of “Pristine” and turning away from the mic to yell the rhetorical question in the third verse: It just feels like the same party every weekend / Doesn’t it?” While her songwriting and guitar chops possibly outpace her vocal ability, her passionate delivery made up for moments where her tuning wavered.

Midway through her set, she noticed her hand was bleeding. “That sucks, I have blood on my guitar,” she said matter-of-factly, “and I gotta fly to Paris tonight.” Unperturbed, she treated the crowd to a new song (“I’m getting really bored of playing the golden oldies”), a tender ballad with a few bluesy chords thrown in. “Yeah, kinda John Mayer-ish, right?” she remarked in-between verses. Meanwhile, a few teenage fans gawked and pulled out their phones as Clairo and King Princess danced along in VIP to Jordan’s set. After her set, Jordan joined them to catch up and greet a few lucky fans.


Dream Wedding DJs: Snakehips

Red Stage (4:15 PM–5:05 PM)

EDM shows aren’t for everyone. Some people find them boring. But two guys behind a desk playing “Drop It Like It’s Hot” or “Crank That (Soulja Boy)?” Everyone loves that. Consequently, Snakehips’ 4:15 PM DJ set was a success.

Of course, the duo of Oliver Lee and James Carter also played some of their hits such as “All My Friends,” featuring Chance the Rapper and Tinashe, and the MØ collaboration “Don’t Leave.” Both songs are excellently written, and Snakehips have sustained their EDM relevance since their breakout hit “Days With You” with Sinead Harnett. But, like many producers who double as EDM DJs, Snakehips needed filler. So, they mashed up several agreeable songs—even throwing in DMX’s “Party Up (Up In Here)”—and set off doing what they knew how to do best: getting people to go wild in a public setting on a Sunday afternoon.


Best “Like Mike” Reference: SOB X RBE

Green Stage (5:10 PM–6:05 PM)

Bay area rap quartet SOB x RBE came out to a roaring crowd, thanks to some excellent pre-show warm-ups. Before their set officially began, Slimmy B, acting as DJ, played a dizzying array of hits—“Look At Me!” into “Plain Jane” before taking a left turn into “Party In The USA” and “Thotiana.” Shortly afterwards, the rest of the crew sauntered onstage—Lul G, then DaBoii, and finally Yhung T.O—to a roar of applause from the hyped-up crowd.

SOB x RBE approached songs like “Anti” like impressionist painters, loosely coloring in the outlines of beats with one-liners and Yhung T.O’s minor-key hooks. Despite the hard-charging beats and gang-vocal hooks, their songs are often conversational and personal, and during songs like “God” they roamed the stage, swapping verses more focused on narrative than catchiness. Crowd pleasers like the snarling “Calvin Cambridge” and “Paramedic” (a hit off the Black Panther soundtrack) got the crowd moving early, but by the middle of their set, the initial burst of energy had worn off. While their set was easy to dance to, there were more people nodding their heads or checking their phones by the time it was over.


Most Unboxable: Rainbow Kitten Surprise

Delta Blue Stage (6 PM–7 PM)

Rainbow Kitten Surprise don’t fit in. They are unorthodox in their musical style, in their fashion sense, in their performances, and of course, their name. They blend elements of folk, rock, and hip-hop into a genuinely unique sound best compared to a more energetic and unpredictable Milky Chance. On “Fever Pitch,” lead singer Sam Melo jumped from a seemingly straightforward folk-rock song into a rap verse with a 90’s style flow with his voice transmitted through a vocoder. He then climbed with ease into a blues rock melody that would impress The Black Keys. Every moment of the set was a surprise.

Melo began the set on keyboard before leaving it to join guitarist and backup vocalist Darrick “Bozzy” Keller, guitarist Ethan Goodpaster, and bassist Charlie Holt at stage front. The band’s style was hardly infectious—Melo’s lyrical approach was mostly train-of-thought and lacked in choruses. Yet, their music remained highly danceable, as displayed by Melo and Keller’s improvised yet entertaining dance moves. Keller, in particular, was reminiscent of Eric Wareheim at his silliest, moving his large frame around carefully but lacking in grace. The band’s fashion was also a stand-out in comparison to most rock bands. Holt wore feminine attire, wearing a skirt and a tight, floral, long-sleeve shirt. He wore his long hair down and rocked a tiara on his head. Melo wore a bright floral shirt which he took off to go shirtless towards the end of the set. Unlike Superorganism, RKS managed to present their oddness favorably because they were not lacking an important characteristic—confidence.


Bubbliest Set: Marina

Red Stage (6:10 PM–7:10 PM)

It’s been a minute since Marina (formerly “+ the Diamonds”) has been in Boston, and she knew it. “What has it been? Four years? Five?” she exclaimed in disbelief, adjusting the gauzy train of her bright green gown. “Oh no—I’m slightly stuck.” Accompanied by four dancers dressed in peach leotards and tights, she was one of the festival’s few proper, old-school pop acts, along with Betty Who. For years, Marina has occupied a space in pop similar to Carly Rae Jepsen—slightly left of center, a devoted LGBT fanbase, and flirtations with commercial success. Her Sunday evening performance was pure pop theatre, sparkling and pristine but still full of personality.

After introducing herself and her dancers properly via the operatic “Froot”, Marina sat down at a keyboard for “I Am Not A Robot,” an old fan favorite that spurred quite a few diehards in the crowd to join in for the entirety of the song. While the production on her latest album is glossy and full, Marina’s songwriting and singing voice is still the same: pop radio-friendly, but leaning more towards Virginia Astley or Regina Spektor than Katy Perry or Demi Lovato. Besides “Robot,” “Human” was another piano-only highlight, and a hush fell over the crowd as she sang while footage of war protests and the Parthenon played in the background, a reference to her Greek heritage. As she descended from a raised center-stage platform for the hilariously straightforward but undeniably great “Enjoy Your Life,” technicolor bubbles floated towards the stage before popping overhead, blown from back of the crowd.


Rudest Toddler at a Set: Sheck Wes

Green Stage (7:15 PM–8 PM)

Aside from headliners Twenty One Pilots, Tame Impala, and Travis Scott, nobody packed the Green stage quite as fully as the viral rap wunderkind Sheck Wes. Pacing the length of the stage, clad in a white lab coat and red bandana, Sheck Wes stared down a football field’s worth of screaming teenagers. He was 10 minutes late for his set, but had a pretty good excuse: “It’s Ramadan, y’all, so I’ve been fasting all day.” Without missing a beat, he set the tone for the rest of his performance with “Chippi Chippi,” an exemplary introduction to his witty, angry style of lyricism. Given the amount of NBA references in his songs, his uniform was appropriate, shedding the white coat and bandana for a pickup ballplayer’s uniform—dark blue tank, athletic shorts and black sneakers. While bending over to conjure up the opening verse of “Wanted,” celebrity mugshots raced by on the screen behind him—OJ, Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods, Charles Barkley and LL Cool J, to name a few. When “Mo Bamba” finally arrived, the crowd appropriately lost their minds, and, especially for Boston, he played himself out with “Kyrie” (maybe the “B-b-b-byrieeeee” lyric was prescient?). Also notable, during “Mo Bamba”—a six or seven year old boy outfitted in a black CHVRCHES t-shirt and Sox snapback hat, charged through the crowd on his father’s shoulders, filming with one hand and flipping everyone off with the other. Never change, Boston.


Most Worth It: Brandi Carlile

Delta Blue Stage (8 PM–9:15 PM)

The heat. The $44 pizza. The swarms of obnoxious teenagers. The fatigue. The port-a-potties. Peat in sneakers. The feeling of societal and moral decay due to capitalism’s exploitation of materialism. They were all worth it—because of Brandi Carlile.

Brandi Carlile stepped onto the stage with the Hanseroth twins and made the crowd believe her when she sang, “Wherever is your heart, I call home.” Home: that’s what watching Brandi Carlile rip into “The Story” felt like during a beautiful sunset over the Delta Blue Stage. She performed a breathtaking cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” with such beauty that her version might just be preferable over the original. Neck hairs raised as she and the Hanseroth twins sang “The Eye” with nothing but gorgeous three-part harmonies and a guitar. Tears welled when she spoke about questioning her motherhood and writing “The Mother” for her daughter in response. The crowd was silent as she told the story of a nameless woman found beaten to death in a field in Georgia—who inspired the song “Fulton County Jane Doe.” She rocked a Red Sox cap to further enliven the crowd. She even brought a real church bell to pronounce the hope that exuded from her artistry. Her string ensemble touched hearts and added elegance to her already outstanding musicianship. Then, she melted those same hearts by serenading her wife on the piano with “Party of One.”

So, spend that inordinate amount of money. Wait in a crowd for an hour. Wherever Carlile is, that’s where you want to be.


Most Extraterrestrial: Kilo Kish

Arena Stage (8:15 PM–9 PM)

Despite a tough time slot, Boston Calling’s best-kept secret was Kilo Kish, the Brooklyn-via-Orlando singer. While Logic who-can-related over on the Red Stage and Brandi Carlile broke hearts at the Blue Stage, Kish entranced a small but enthusiastic crowd that never left the Arena during her 45 minute set of experimental pop.

Clad in silver dress, boots and eye shadow, Kish didn’t speak to the crowd once until the end of her performance. Save for a bank of six rectangular white lights, the arena was almost completely dark. Slinking and crouching through “Alive”, she treated the small stage of the arena like a much larger one, using the full length of the stage during almost every song. Her bizarre, bone-crunching take on Pop/RnB feels a little like Bjork in the vocals and Hudson Mohawke in the production, but her live act stands on its own. Moments like “Like Honey” were as strangely beautiful as they were abrasive. “Elegance”, her final song, was particularly powerful, the white lights beginning to strobe as thunderous drums boomed out into the darkness of the arena. As she thrashed and twisted, her silver silhouette contorted with each flash, a space-age snapshot captured in stop-motion. Nobody moved.


Most Likely to Overthrow the Oligarchy: Travis Scott

Green Stage (9:30 PM–10:50 PM)

“Security!” With a wave of his finger and a shake of his head, Travis Scott made it clear that he was the captain now. The 28-year-old rap maestro, infamous for his chaotic shows, told security to calm down as they attempted to corral the rowdy crowd closest to the stage; Scott devilishly referred to this frenetic section as “the pits.” Scott’s shows thrive on wild behavior—and Boston Calling was no exception.

The Astroworld theme which Scott based his album and shows might have drawn a lot of hype prior to the show. Although Scott had released one of the strongest rap albums of 2018, there was no way he was serious about recreating an R-rated theme park as the basis of his shows. Let’s just say that expectations were exceeded. The entire stage’s design and pyrotechnics were elaborate even as far as modern concerts go. Everything was giant: ferris wheel lights, a teddy bear head, a shoe with Scott’s name engraved on it, and platform from which Scott could jump. Flames shot up every time the beat dropped and the sound of a screeching eagle implored the crowd to lose their minds at ideal moments for rioting. Regardless of your opinion on Scott’s music, he does not disappoint his fans’ rabid desire for a moment of havoc.

Scott performed songs from every part of his discography. Although the release of Astroworld catapulted Scott into superstardom, he played a relatively small number of cuts from it. Of course, “Sicko Mode”—the second-to-last song of the set—carried a lot of energy. But Scott also played several songs that only his older fans would remember, such as “Mamacita” and “Way Back” from Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight. As usual, Scott’s oldest hits—“Antidote” and “Goosebumps”—caused the most commotion. In fact, although much of Scott’s music (regardless of album) sound similar, the crowd appreciated his older tracks more. Scott had mastered playing those songs to full effect and used them to his advantage in timing his jump off his platform or instructing the pyrotechnics manager to provide extra heat at a particular moment. At Scott’s shows, the music itself isn’t the main draw; rather, it is the experience of watching someone do a masterful of job hyping it up.


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