Co-written by Jon Simmons

The final day of September’s Boston Calling brought to the stage aging punk rockers, rap legends, and a pair of pop-rock ninjas. Football-jersey-clad fans entered City Hall Plaza on the first Sunday of the season, stealing glances at their phones to check on their teams. But as the music began to ring across the bricks and concrete, people stashed away their devices. At least for the afternoon, rock ‘n’ roll had come out on top.

The band who made us guinea pigs of love: Gentlemen Hall

Day 3 of Boston Calling was off to a solid start with Gentlemen Hall. Lead singer Gavin Merlot led the group in a set that included songs with crooning harmonies as well as a Kendrick Lamar cover, and he was one of the first to really play with the crowd.

“We’re gonna do a new one for you guys, okay?” he said. “Only our mothers have heard this song. So you’re our guinea pigs. Our guinea pigs of love.”

At first, their traditional indie pop seemed clean but forgettable — a fun band to hear at a music festival but not necessarily one that you would seek out. But when they spiced up the songs, throwing in some flute solos layered with effects, the set got a little bit more interesting.

“Did it suck?” asked Merlot half-jokingly after playing some new material, looking only slightly anxious. No, Gavin, it didn’t suck. And since Gentlemen Hall is from Boston, you can bet that these guinea pigs will be keeping a close eye on you.

– ZA

The virtuosos: White Denim

We got our melody fix over the weekend with Austin-based rock band White Denim. For musicians in the crowd, this band was easily one of the most technically proficient groups that played the festival. They took their time with high-energy guitar solos, working up and down the necks of their instruments like seasoned lovers. White Denim’s songs aren’t particularly memorable — they don’t center around catchy choruses or hooks — but the band was sure as hell fun to watch. Oh, and they’ve certainly perfected the chicken-neck bob.

– ZA

The band with the biggest rising star: Lake Street Dive

Lake Street Dive may as well have been called the Rachael Price Band. Although the three other members of the Boston-founded indie jazz/soul group (Bridget Kearney on bass, Mike Calabrese on drums, and Mike Olson on trumpet and guitar) formed a solid harmonic cushion, it was really Price’s vocals that made the band stand out — husky and deep with a technical finesse that gives away her New England Conservatory training. Riding on the magic carpet of her voice, we traveled from a swanky 20s jazz club to the halls of a gospel church. Lake Street Dive provided a nice breather from the steady rock that dominated most of Boston Calling. The songs themselves were catchy, easy to sing along to, and fun — a stepping stone on Price’s road to stardom.

– ZA

The band who celebrated Halloween early: Twenty One Pilots

Two masked men sieged the stage Sunday afternoon, pulling stunts like beating water-filled drums held up by fans in the crowd, standing on the railing of the VIP section, and hurtling over the upright piano as smoke machines erupted and the beat dropped.

Spastic, brick-rattling, and bursting with color, Twenty One Pilots are the Cirque du Soleil of live music. Acrobats Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun made City Hall Plaza their personal jungle gym, engaging audience members better than any other performer at the festival.

“This is a duet featuring you,” Joseph said as he began pounding the piano for “The Run and Go” and humming our part of the song.

Their music — is it pop? Rap? Punk? Two things it is for sure are catchy and singable.

As Twenty One Pilots tumbled their way through their gymnastics routine, people climbed on their friends’ shoulders in festival fashion and sang along, air drumming with gusto.

– JS

The band that was lost on the crowd: The Replacements

The Replacements are known for being trailblazers of alternative indie rock in the 80s, but a band can only ride so far on its legend. Their lackluster performance may have meant that this fact was lost on the primarily college-aged crowd. They were able to muster energy to pump out their hits, but it seemed more like a chore than a pleasure.

“Oh, you’re so kind,” said lead singer Paul Westerberg about halfway through the set. “Thank you for enduring that.”

At another point during the performance, he laughed in the middle of a song and shook his head, seeming to forget the words. It was easy to see where their fame comes from when the Replacements were actually playing — they pumped warmth into the air that had cooled down considerably since Saturday. However, it wasn’t quite enough. As the crowd began to dwindle to get closer to the JetBlue Stage for Nas x the Roots, the Replacements slowly became the replaced.

– ZA

The roots that sprouted late: Nas x The Roots

As Nasty Nas took the stage to close out Boston Calling, something was missing. Where were The Roots?

Performing with just a DJ for the first half of the set, Nas flew through a few Illmatic classics, including “New York State of Mind,” which he cutely changed the lyrics to “Boston State of Mind.”

“It’s good to be in one of the toughest cities in the world,” Nas said to a sprinkling of cheers.

Thirty minutes passed. The Roots remained offstage. Nas’ DJ pressed play on the next track. Anticipation turned into annoyance. Finally, The Roots emerged, tuba and all, and joined Nas for a couple of songs. There was not much crowd interaction between songs other than, “What’s up, Boston?” At least they got the city right.

After briefly performing together, Nas excused himself and wasn’t seen again. The Roots went on to play a rushed, up-tempo version of “The Seed 2.0” and a muddied version of “Break You Off.” It was a disappointing end to a long weekend. The music, homogeneous and hurried; the anticipated collaboration between legends, almost nonexistent. Still, with solid performances during the day from Lake Street Dive, Twenty One Pilots, and others fresh in the air, festival goers left energized.

– JS

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