Last weekend’s Boston Calling music festival was a game-changer, not because of the acts, but because it will be the last time the event is held at Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Organizers of the festival announced on Friday, just hours before the show began, that unlike other years, there will be no festival this fall, to allow them to focus on moving it to its new location: the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston, where it will resume in May 2017. In order to end a a three-year era of widely enjoyed shows, the organizers of Boston Calling had to put on a great one for this spring’s festival.
After an opening performance Friday night from talented Irish singer Lisa Hannigan and guitarist Aaron Dessner of The National, indie pop artist Sufjan Stevens enchanted the audience with a theatrical set that featured multiple costume changes with neon colors, giant wings, and intricate patterns, a trombone conga line, and countless balloons. Concluding with his twenty-five-minute song “Impossible Soul,” Stevens ascended a ladder dressed in a suit covered entirely in tinsel and glitter.
Stevens’ psychedelic performance could only have been outdone by “Chandelier” singer Sia, who did not disappoint. The famously elusive pop star (with characteristic face-covering wig) never once moved from her microphone during the whole set, leaving the drama to her highly expressive and talented dancers. Like her Coachella performance, each song had its own choreographed dance, which was also shown in a studio-filmed video on the stage’s big screens. Despite not participating in the dancing, Sia’s stunning vocals made hers the most extraordinary set of the night.
Highlights from Saturday’s show included local up-and-comer Palehound, feminist rapper Lizzo, rock group the Vaccines, and EDM duo Odesza. Lizzo, performing with DJ Sophia Eris, was a crowd favorite, with catchy beats and an empowering message that caught the attention of the audience, despite being early in the day. Soon after, the Vaccines rocked the stage, their indie rock vibes catching the festivalgoers’ attention and energy despite the heat. Other great acts from Saturday included badass rocker Courtney Barnett and folk group City and Colour.
Of the two Saturday headliners, Odesza shined the most. The spectacular light show nicely accompanied dance music that swept the audience off its feet for the entire set. Pop singer Robyn, who followed Odesza to close out the day’s acts, put on a good show, but her 80s-style music did not wow the crowd as much as it could have.
The first Sunday act to make an impression was French pop group Christine and the Queens, who combined dance and acting into their performance and spread a message of acceptance (especially their song “Tilted”) and engaged the audience. Their stage presence was rivaled by soul singer Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires. Bradley’s fiery screams (his nickname is, rightly, the “Screaming Eagle of Soul”) and emotional singing often brought him to his knees. Also much-anticipated and well-received were the Front Bottoms, whose catchy pop punk melodies and goofy lyrics had the crowd dancing and singing along to their favorite songs.
The later acts of the day all impressed as well. Elle King showed her rockabilly side, playing guitar and banjo through her hits like “Playing for Keeps” and “Ex’s and Oh’s.” Janelle Monáe and HAIM both rocked the crowd with tributes to Prince, Monáe closing her set with a cover of “Let’s Go Crazy,” and HAIM performing a cover of “I Would Die 4 U,” among some of the band’s new music. Disclosure ended the weekend with another great EDM performance.
Overall, this year’s spring festival was varied and full of talent, with an act for every music fan. The festival has continued to impress, and is sure to continue this tradition when it returns next year at its new location.