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Boston Calling Fall 2014: From Worst to Best

Festival Review

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Last time we were here, I posed the question about how a consistently well-run, enjoyable festival could improve. It’s the inverse of that old saying about there being nowhere to go but up. So here we are, back for the fourth edition of Boston Calling in just two years, and the question remains the same: Did Boston Calling outdo themselves yet again?

There were certainly a few changes around City Hall Plaza, still man’s second worst place to hold a music festival (behind CBGB’s maniac Times Square location), still surprisingly smoothly handled. Part of that smoothness comes from the BCPD – yeah, I’m actually complimenting the police presence. Sure, it was a little jacked up this time around, but with the way festivals have been making headlines recently for all the wrong reasons, it’s not really surprising that a young event would try to cover itself as much as possible. All those yellow-vested officers never seemed in your face or in the way, however, except perhaps when blaring a siren to move the crowd out of the way of a medic cart.

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Then again, there weren’t that many medical incidents either. I heard of a crowd surfer crashing quite lifelessly into the pit for the Replacements, only to be tickled (yes, tickled) awake by staff. But on my way out on Sunday, I stopped by the first aid area outside the festival gates to ask how the weekend was. The officer I spoke with said he saw no more than 30 or so incidents over the course of the day (he wasn’t around Saturday), none of which were more serious than some dehydration. You can probably thank the BCPD’s newly imposed one-beer-at-a-time policy, preventing the ever popular double-fisting policy of festival attendees. Okay, so you had to make extra trips to the bar, and there was no way to hold down a spot if your group wanted drinks, but you weren’t having to dodge as many drunken stumblers on your way back and forth either.

Even with the limitations on libations, the folding in of Sam Adams’ Oktoberfest celebration added another level of imbibable amusement. There were stein-hoisting contests and free German-style hats for all. Over on the Plaza’s south side, there was a turf lawn set out with giant games of Jenga and Connect Four, Adirondack chairs, free Wi-Fi, and TVs to catch the NFL opening weekend. Best off all, there was a new water station with recyclable plastic cups provided to keep folks hydrated. (Now that I think about it, what took them so long with that one?)

boston calling fall 2014 Boston Calling Fall 2014: From Worst to Best

And then there was the lineup, arguably the best in the festival’s short history. After having the shruggable lineup of Edward Sharpe and Jack Johnson back in May, Friday became a can’t-miss day with Future Islands, Neutral Milk Hotel, and the return of The National. There was something for everyone, with pop (Sky Ferreira, Lorde), indie (The War on Drugs, Spoon), rap (Childish Gambino), radio pop (Bleachers, Twenty One Pilots), and rock (The Hold Steady, White Denim) all well represented. What’s more, there were two gets that would’ve been big at a festival four times the size of BC with The Replacements and Nas with The Roots.

But all of this is standard growth for a burgeoning festival. What really proved Boston Calling’s mettle came from God him-(it, her, their, whatever)-self. The weather reports had been less than stellar all weekend, but after a blistering hot early Saturday afternoon, people started getting comfortable with the idea that it might all be just silly meteorologists again. Then the temperature dropped and the clouds came in. Lightning and hail advisories took over news headlines on the TVs in the VIP area and the Wi-Fi zone. There was even a tornado warning. This was it – armageddon for an outdoor music festival, and it was barreling down on the most inhospitable of event locations. Boston Calling has been receiving praise for their organizational competence from the beginning, but how would they deal with something beyond their control?

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Photo by Ben Kaye

In short, with an excellence that belies the young age of this event. Details on exactly how the BC crew and the 44-Communications PR staff managed to avoid disaster are ahead in our full review, but consider it proof that this is a festival that seriously knows what it’s doing. In just two years and four events, they’ve proven themselves worthy of being considered more than just a little upstart festival. Now they’re the seasoned all-stars that other newcomers should look to for lessons on how to do things right. Boston’s lucky to have them.

–Ben Kaye
Assistant News Editor

Boston’s Best Attempt at Electronica

St. Nothing

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

Exploding in sound: Boston’s got a ton of great up-and-coming bands that are inching their way around the blogosphere, like Speedy Ortiz and Pile, but it’s not often that one of them is electronic. St. Nothing seized the opportunity and have been employing synths and beats with rapid speed, making up for the lack of sound. Unfortunately, they still have quite a ways to go in terms of coining their sound. The synth can get a bit boring at times, as can the vocals. After all, they’re fresh on the scene.

Play me a song: Blame it on the cost or blame it on the availability of string players, but getting live string players at an electronic show is a rare treat. St. Nothing’s cellist Jenna Calabro and violist Meredith Nero were on point.

–Nina Corcoran

Who’s the Stiff?

S. Carey

Nina Corcoran, S. Carey 3

Photo by Nina Corcoran

Frozen solid: We get that the band members have to stay pretty stationary by their instruments — not to mention their microphones, too, since most of them sing — but it was hard to tell if they moved much from start to finish, if at all. Wooden shades and a rigid posture made him seem unaware of how to keep an audience interested. When sandwiched between bands as lively as Clifflight (literally) and Sky Ferreira (musically), S. Carey seemed all the more nervous, too. Talk to the photographers. They were the most bummed out by a handsome band standing still.

Say goodbye to summer: We do have S. Carey to thank for shooing away the late summer sun. After their set, it began to cool off, much to the happiness of sweat-drenched patrons. At least we can always count on wintery music at a summer festival to do just that, if only for 40 minutes.

–Nina Corcoran

Best Gimmicks with the Worst Music

Twenty One Pilots

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Photo by Ben Kaye

They’re pretty crazy, dude. For two guys, Twenty One Pilots sure have a lot of energy. Coming onstage, the duo obscured their faces with balaclavas and immediately began jumping on and around their instruments, mirroring that scene in Zoolander where Derek Zoolander and Hansel McDonald smash a computer. Drummer Josh Dun even played drums on top of the crowd, which I’ll admit was pretty cool. So, while the duo succeed in showmanship, they should probably work on their songwriting chops. Their music came off as a ham-fisted mishmash of some of modern pop’s worst trends. Seemingly unable to focus on one sound, the duo veered from poor Matt and Kim impersonations to ukulele-driven covers to schmaltzy piano ballads that featured dubstep drops in lieu of choruses. Maybe they’ll find their own sound and style one day, but for now their sideshow antics hardly make up for their derivative and unoriginal music.

Are they even playing? A damning criticism, but every time singer Tyler Joseph left his small upright piano, the notes somehow magically continued to follow the music. I get that their show is probably heavily scripted, but is there really any point in bringing the piano out if you’re going to use it mainly as a trampoline?

–Edward Dunbar

Band Having the Most Fun Playing the Least Interesting Music

Bleachers

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Photo by Ben Kaye

They want to get better: I won’t lie and say I had high expectations of any sort heading into a set from a fun. side project. But Jack Antonoff’s side band Bleachers feels more like a reflection of its creator’s personal tastes — plenty poppy, but more deliberate about its influences. Antonoff was a bundle of spastic energy as Bleachers took the stage Saturday for their first ever Boston show, but the band’s retreat into the sounds of yesteryear acts like David Bowie, Duran Duran, and (yup) the Cranberries still felt a bit meh. Kudos for really cranking up the showmanship, but even the sight of a skinny white dude doing his best Springsteen/Clarence Clemons impression on sax couldn’t cover up the band’s safe-to-the-point-of-starched indie pop sound. Bleachers might be a step up creatively from fun., but man, talk about a low bar.

Biggest cover song tease: I didn’t realize how much the intro to the Cranberries “Dreams” sounds like the beginning of every Jesus and Mary Chain song I’ve ever heard. Sadly, now I know.

–Ryan Bray

Most Returned Love for Their Fans

The 1975

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Oh, to be a groupie: The first dozen or so rows of fans lined up at The 1975’s stage were screaming long before the Manchester four-piece stepped onstage. “I literally have been waiting for this moment my whole life. This is my peak,” one girl said to her friend, the other clinging to a hand-drawn portrait of singer Matt Healy that took two days to make. There’s a lot of die-hard obsession for the band, and they are quick to thank the crowd for it. When another fan tossed up her needlepoint portrait of Healy with a cursive lyric framing his face, he picked it up, waved it in the air, and smiled. Minutes later, he pulled a lucky soul onstage to sing along with them, never once making it awkward. Kudos.

Cut to the chase: Good call on bringing an entire bottle of red wine onstage, Healy. That explains why the nonstop screams don’t seem to be giving you a headache.

–Nina Corcoran

Most Plagued by Sound Issues

Sky Ferreira

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Things change: The last time I saw Sky Ferreira was two or three CMJ Music Marathons ago, and my actual thought was, Well, this girl just isn’t good enough to go anywhere. A few years and endless spins of her debut later, and she was one of my most anticipated Saturday acts. With the heat picking up and a series of downer synth acts droning through the early afternoon, I was excited for a solid pop pick-me-up, only to be completely let down by sound issues. Sky started off struggling to find the key on “24 Hours” and “Ain’t Your Right”, but started sounding great once she pulled out her ear monitor and went into “Boys”. Then she cut off “Lost in My Bedroom” because it wasn’t sounding right. The crowd was confused, but from way in the back you could tell the mix was off. Worst of all was when she stopped closer “You’re Not the One” halfway into the first chorus, politely asking the sound guy to tweak the levels. Her band started the song over, but actually sounded even worse, with the guitars and synths refusing to stay level. I’m sure Sky and her band have a good show in them, but I didn’t hear it this time.

At least she made the setlist easy to remember: Between every song (every song!), Sky would fill the audience in on what was coming next by saying, “The next song is called …” Sure, musicians do this all the time, but at some point that old writer’s adage comes to mind: Don’t tell me, show me.

–Ben Kaye

Most Talented Band with the Least Interesting Set

Lake Street Dive

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Keep it local: Having missed Lake Street Drive at Newport Folk Festival and heard tales of what a show they put on, I was looking forward to this local band’s set. There’s no doubt the quartet has talent; band introductions were done between songs, with one member acknowledging that the previous number was written by another. Beyond writing duties, they all shared in some seriously spot-on harmonies. Of course, none could match frontwoman Rachel Price’s effortless, soulful vocals as they blanketed the audience in the cool afternoon, rousing cheers at every big note. But then again, the crowd was one of the chattiest of the weekend, and that’s probably due to the band’s almost one-note soul sound. Perhaps it played better in NFF’s more intimate setting, but with an hour-plus set on a big stage, the songs just started to blend together. Don’t get me wrong, “Seventeen” and “Bad Self Portraits” sounded great, and the two new numbers in the middle there seem to put a nice ’60s/’70s rock twist on things. But if the set was half as long, I think I would’ve been more satisfied and less bored.

Someone sure likes denim: Okay, Price’s jumper wasn’t denim, but it was definitely denim-colored. But between that and bassist Bridget Kearney’s jean jumper, plus guitarist Mike Olson and drummer Mike Calabrese’s matching blue shirt and jeans outfits, there was as much denim onstage as talent. And two jumpers in one band? Really, now.

–Ben Kaye

Fanciest Footwork

Childish Gambino

Nina Corcoran, Childish Gambino 3

Photo by Nina Corcoran

Donald Glover can do it all: The stand-up comedian, beloved actor, former 30 Rock writer, and up-front musician is the type of guy who just gets it. He knows how to command attention, and to be honest, we love giving it to him. He’s quick to flash a toothy smile and drop a few winks here and there, but for the first time ever, that wasn’t what got the crowd swooning. Right from the opening of “Freaks and Geeks” and “All the Shine”, Childish Gambino was flying through the air with incredible dance moves. One swish of the legs and he was busting out turns and twist and toe taps. Look out, Bruno. He’s coming for you.  

Take a break: On each side of the drum kit were couches for his entourage to laze about between songs. Talk about keeping the homies homey.

–Nina Corcoran

Least Music Played

Volcano Choir and Girl Talk

footage Boston Calling Fall 2014: From Worst to Best

Dogs and cats, mass hysteria: I may have been chuckling to myself wondering how the transition of The Hold Steady to Volcano Choir to Girl Talk to Lorde would play to the Boston Calling crowd, but I was still looking forward to those sets. Unfortunately, we never got to see how it played out because neither Volcano Choir nor Girl Talk took the stage. Of course, it wasn’t either act’s fault, as nasty weather blew through the city and nearly took out the Red Stage. Which actually leads us to our next entry…

–Ben Kaye

Best Handling of Inclement Weather

The Boston Calling Staff

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Raindrops keep falling on my head: Bad weather is an inevitability at outdoor music festivals; at some point we all experience it. A lot of how we feel about it afterwards, however, depends on the festival staff itself. Thanks to the Boston Calling and 44-Communications teams, the three-hour rain delay went down in the best way possible. Before the bad weather even hit, they announced that everyone was to head for cover, with VIPs seeking shelter under City Hall and GAs being allowed to use the nearby parking garage or any of the local restaurants and bars. The storm came through and did some damage to the Red Stage, and there was the threat of another squall on the way, so they eventually evacuated the entire grounds.

But thanks to nearly constant communication, there was barely more than 15 minutes of confusion at any given point. In fact, I didn’t see a single angry individual the entire time – or a single wet one for that matter. There was some twitter activity about people being aggressive with security once gates were closed, but in general everyone seemed well-informed and, most of all, safe. The crew repaired the damaged equipment, made sure the nastiness was over, and welcomed folks back as smoothly as if opening gates at the beginning of the day. Applause, BC and 44. Well done.

Hey, Hudson Music Project and Governors Ball: You guys paying attention?

–Ben Kaye

Best Jam Band Who Aren’t Actually a Jam Band

White Denim

Nina Corcoran, White Denim 3

Photo by Nina Corcoran

I hate Phish, though. I’m pretty sure White Denim had some vocal mics set up, but I barely remember any vocal melodies. What I do remember is a near endless stream of “kiss-the-sky” guitar solos that gently mixed with the cool breeze and wafted over most of the audience. However, that’s not a dig at all because these guys know how to jam. While there were solos aplenty, James Petralli and co. knew when to hold back and let the rhythm take control. Allowing their music to stretch into a more freewheeling and sprawling form, White Denim was a relaxing yet captivating way to usher in Sunday’s rock lineup, positioning themselves somewhere in between headliner The Roots’ jazzy grooves and Spoon’s direct songwriting.

Side stage antics: Okay, okay another semi-stalker moment, but it’s worth noting how cool it was to see most of White Denim loving the hell out of The Replacements near the photo pit. “Bastards of Young” sent them, along with the rest of the crowd, into a frenzy while White Denim guitarist Austin Jenkins looked like he had just won the lottery. When the song was over, Jenkins walked away with jacket over his shoulder, fist in the air a la The Breakfast Club.

–Edward Dunbar

Best Way to Get Your Second Wind in the 90-Degree Heat

The Hold Steady

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Let’s fucking party! How the hell does Craig Finn do it? I’m pretty sure the happy-go-lucky Hold Steady frontman’s worst day is still miles ahead of me on my best, and it’s that healthy disposition that makes The Hold Steady the poet laureates of feel-good, everyman rock and roll. The sticky weather and boorish heat took a lot out of the crowd by late afternoon on Saturday, but Finn rallied the crowd back to life with his literal-leaning rock tales of youthful exuberance. The band only gingerly touched base with its latest release, Teeth Dreams, opting instead to hurl classic chestnuts like “Sequestered in Memphis” and “You Can Make Him Like You” at fans. This is a band that lives completely in the moment, and they proved once again at Boston Calling that they never let it slip from their grasp when it presents itself.

Lyric that clearly predates the Boston Calling Festival: “Now city center’s over, no one really goes there.”

The Hold Steady, in one gesture: High-fiving your guitarist with a smile is the kind of unpretentious stuff this band is made of.

–Ryan Bray

Best Returning Headliner

The National

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Déjà vu? Yes, The National played last year, and yes, they’re most deserving of a return. After all, guitarist Aaron Dessner factored heavily into the production and execution of the festival’s inaugural year, a role he’s since maintained. (Festival house band, perhaps? Not a shabby choice.) Regardless, The National’s appearance was rather poetic, bookending their tour behind Trouble Will Find Me, which tipped off at the festival last year and is now dwindling down. Despite some setlist overlap between the two shows, there were still some unique highlights to round two, including a beautiful rendition of “Ada” complete with an homage to Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” in the outro. As always, “Mr. November” packed a wallop as singer Matt Berninger reached out over the barrier to the faithful, while the now obligatory acoustic rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” put a proper cap on the night.

Double Take: In a somewhat stalkerish moment on my part, I spotted Aaron (or perhaps it was twin brother Bryce) near the soundbooth, watching a good chunk of Bleacher’s performance. Clad in a striped tank top and flip-flops, Dessner was no doubt taking in the very relaxed and friendly vibes that permeate Boston Calling.

–Edward Dunbar

Best Underdog Turned Certified Festival Mainstay

Neutral Milk Hotel

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Ripe with age: Never underestimate what 15 years of silence and solitude can do for your career. Jeff Mangum’s decision to sit on his new-age classic In the Aeroplane and Over the Sea for years seemed like a curious move, but the way Neutral Milk Hotel transcended their status as indie rock folk heroes to become festival headlining superstars since coming out of hibernation proves it was a wise move.

All hail the Kings of Carrot Flowers: Watching the band co-headline Friday night felt akin to going behind the curtain with Oz. After years of existing solely through our headphones, the band is at long last a physical entity, a living, breathing, touring machine like everyone else. Watching the band play live felt like a long-missing piece of the NMH puzzle falling perfectly into place. Accordians, saws, tubas, horns, and other oddball instrumentation came together in the form of a marvelously left of center indie rock opera. No stone went unturned during the band’s hour-long set, with the setlist leaning generously toward “Aeroplane”, while Mangum walked a perfect line between reluctant rock star and a guy who humbly appreciated how far his tunes have taken him. Music this quirky and highbrow shouldn’t be a good fit for a large outdoor setting, but NMH made their time in the sun worth the wait.

Most hopeless plea to the audience: “We’re not really into the whole camera thing, so no pictures please?” Mangum to thousands of people with smartphones. They didn’t listen.

–Ryan Bray

Best Soundtrack to a Sunday Morning Wake and Bake

The War on Drugs

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Photo by Ben Kaye

“They’re the War on Drugs, alright:”…an older festivalgoer behind me opined dismissively upon first glance of the Philadelphia indie rockers as they took the Boston Calling stage on Sunday afternoon. Although maybe gramps was right. Having just played AV Fest in Chicago the night before, the band looked a little ragged and weary, even though that’s kind of how they look all the time. No bother, though, as the slightly withered and stoned aura the band projects perfectly suits their breezy, atmospheric brand of heartland indie pop. Adam Granduciel and company’s music floated serenely in the sunny, fall-like afternoon breeze, and fans ate it all up. This year’s excellent Lost in the Dream was well represented with cuts such as “Red Eyes” and a powerful rendition of “Under the Pressure”, while elsewhere the band just pumped out track after track of glazed but workman-like rock and roll. Beautiful weather, beautiful band. This comes pretty close to what you might call perfection.

A little awkward stage banter, anyone? “You guys still have WBCN here? 104.1,” Granduciel asked of the now-defunct station to a crowd of fans silently scratching their heads wondering what radio is. “Guess not.”

–Ryan Bray

Best Way to Shake Off the Weather

Lorde

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Storm’s coming: To Lorde’s dedicated fanbase, a day full of intense heat followed by a two-hour long thunder and lightning storm delay was not enough for them to lose faith. By the time Boston Calling’s gates reopened at 8:45 p.m., there was a heaving mass of fans ready to trample over each other to get a sight of Queen Bee. Despite a shortened set time, Lorde made the most of her headlining spot, opening with a stunning version of “Glory and Gore” before running through “Pure Heroine” in its entirety. Standing against stark mood lighting and a minimal stage setup, her movements were commanding, proving that, even at the young age of 17, she can effortlessly headline any festival of her choosing.

And You Know We’re on Each Other’s Team: The dedication of Lorde’s fanbase was not lost on her. In between nearly every song, Lorde graciously thanked the audience for braving the tough weather conditions, stating that it was an incredible honor to be headlining a festival in a city that is so far away from her hometown. Unlike many artists’ canned “you’re the best *insert city*,” Lorde’s gratitude was honest and heartfelt, elevating the connection to her fans towards a more personal level.

–Edward Dunbar

Most Shakespearean Performance

Future Islands

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Go the distance: Some bands just get up there on stage and play their music. Oh sure, they put on a show, they act gracious, they rock on, but they do their thing and that’s that. Future Islands put on a performance — or more specifically, Samuel T. Herring does. Keyboardist Gerrit Welmers and bassist/guitarist William Cashion didn’t do much up there except play their instruments well (heck, touring drummer Michael Lowry seemed more excited to be in front of a crowd than those two). But with a guy like Herring leading your band, how could you compete?

He’d pound his chest with sincere feeling, sending spritzes of sweat flying from his dampened shirt. He’d twist his hand in the air like it was Yorick’s skull and his lyrics were Hamlet’s speech. He’d bite the palm of his hand, rip at his face, grasp at his own throat. Best of all is when he’d drop to his knees and find some speck on the stage, as he did during “Inch of Dust”, and just give his all right to that spot. Not for a line or a few seconds, but for entire verses he would pour himself out to that one, insignificant spot, and suddenly it was as meaningful as any fan in the crowd. It was silly, it was weird, but goddamn if it wasn’t powerful stuff.

Oh, yeah: He danced too. Boy did he dance. Those hips are as rare as his presence, and the crowd seemed to be there to see those moves as much as to hear the songs. Either way, they weren’t disappointed.

–Ben Kaye

Best Opening Act for The Replacements

Spoon

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Gene Simmons thinks rock is dead? Err, maybe he should have checked out the one-two punch of Spoon and The Replacements. Opening with the pounding “Small Stakes”, Spoon never relented over their hour-long, 15-song set. Breathlessly alternating between groovy psychedelia (“Inside Out”, “Who Makes Your Money”), anthemic sing-alongs (“The Underdog”, “I Summon You”), and a handful of newer tracks (“Knock Knock Knock”, “They Want My Soul”), the Austin outfit crafted a festival-winning setlist that surely won them some new fans. Singer Britt Daniel was in a good mood, donning a Red Sox hat that was thrown on stage and giving a shout out to The Replacements (“How about some new tunes?”). In a day full of rock bands, Spoon proved themselves to be heir apparent to the throne.

Jonathon Fisk, still wants my soul: So goes one of the lines in “They Want My Soul”. Unfortunately, Jonathon Fisk was nowhere to be found in Spoon’s setlist. I know the band only had an hour to blast through their set, but this Spoon fanboy could have gone for five or 10 more songs. Hey Britt, can Boston get its own headlining show soon?

–Edward Dunbar

Headliner That Least Met Expectations but Still Delivered Huge

Nas and the Roots

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Photo by Ben Kaye

So … they’re not playing Illmatic in its entirety? Unfortunately no, although that’s no doubt what everyone in attendance Sunday night was expecting. After all, it was billed as Nas and The Roots, and Illmatic‘s boho jazz backdrop seems tailor-made for the Roots to jump in and get funky. Instead, the two acts were like musical ships passing in the night. Nas took the stage for about an hour, dropping pearls from Illmatic alongside other gems like “If I Ruled the World” and “Street Dreams”. For a guy who’s been in the game two decades, his songs aren’t stained with age. All these years later, Nas’ rags-to-riches brand of street-bred hip-hop still resonates with resounding clarity.

The Roots intersected with Nas for about 10 minutes, playing behind the MC as he made his exodus. From there, Jimmy Fallon’s musical warhorses put on a clinic demonstrating why they’re among the most accomplished and respected acts in pop music. Music rooted in the smooth sounds of Jimmy Smith and Grant Green doesn’t make for a clean inroad into mainstream success, but the band’s purist musical instincts were perfectly intact Sunday night. Black Thought, Questlove and the rest of the crew let their jazz hop jams flow, and they also threw in a few surprises, including a surprisingly rocking version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Fans might have come looking for a collaboration, but Nas and the Roots did them one better by meshing two monster sets into one.

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Stray observation: It was a bit of a letdown to see how many people failed to stick around Sunday night for the enormous triple-header of Spoon, The Replacements, and Nas and The Roots. While it worked to my advantage, something felt wrong about how I pretty much went untouched all the way to the front of the stage five minutes before the Mats came on. Similarly, there was way too much open square footage for Nas and The Roots. What, did the 1975 tucker everyone out? Call it the curse of the Sunday night headliners.

–Ryan Bray

Most Seasoned Rockers

The Replacements

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Practice, schmactice: Okay, so maybe calling The Replacements “seasoned” considering their 20-year absence and the abundance of mistakes they made over the course of their Red Stage-closing set is a stretch, but Paul Westerberg came out and literally sprinkled his guitar with salt and pepper, so he practically gave us that one.

But all those glorious little imperfections are what have made this reunion such a joy to begin with, and how the band handles the slip-ups is what truly makes them seasoned. We don’t want our ‘Mats to be all perfect and error-free; we want them sloppy, dirty, and loud, and that’s how Boston got them. So when Westerberg forgot the lyrics and chords to “Take Me Down to the Hospital” (just a few minutes after being unable to name the album “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” came from), shrugged, and just kept on doing whatever the fuck he wanted to, the crowd roared. He replaced the words with randomness like, “I smell weed. Hippies! Fucking hippies!” and counting in Spanish, and it was all spectacular. “Thanks for enduring that,” Tommy Stinson said after they laughed their way out of the number. As if to say thanks again, the band then tore into their cover of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, with Westerberg saying, “Let’s see how this goes!” Oddly, the cover came off smoother than “Hopsital”, but that’s rock ‘n’ roll for ya.

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Photo by Ben Kaye

It’s that sort of thing that makes these guys such a joy to watch and such a welcome reunion. There’s no fancy lighting system or backdrop, and they’re using hunks of duct tape to make bridges on their guitars. They’ll fuck up the lyrics to one of their best songs, “Androgenous”, let the crowd take over, and then deliver a furiously sped-up outro for “I Will Dare”. They’re so lovingly imperfect and yet simultaneously such magnificent rock stars. There’s so much careful craft these days, and not to poo-poo all the great modern acts I love dearly, but it’s refreshing to be taken back to the dirty roots of rock music by some of the truest forefathers.

Final thought: As I write this, it strikes me that for all the glory in this reunion, there’s always that risk of it running old and mucking up the excellence they’ve been delivering. In fact, I don’t want to see The Replacements at another festival gig (this setlist probably couldn’t be beat anyway). Now, at an indoor venue on the other hand…

–Ben Kaye

Gallery

Photographer(s): Ben Kaye, Nina Corcoran

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