Boston Calling’s City Hall Plaza finale – 5/27-29
Following the recent announcement of its Allston relocation for next year, Boston Calling offered its final outing at City Hall in late May with sets from Sia, Robyn, Sufjan Stevens, Haim, Janelle Monae and many more.
There was plenty to dislike about City Hall Plaza as a festival location. The omnipresent brick and stone made it an echo-y acoustic nightmare for many a set, particularly from the elevated VIP and Media spaces under City Hall itself. It also wasn’t a particularly comfortable place to stand around and watch music for hours on end. Still, something’s going to be lost in the translation to the Harvard athletic fields next year. For all of City Hall Plaza’s disadvantages, the encircling skyscrapers did offer the unique advantage of a festival location that truly felt like it was in the heart of a city. And to give credit where credit is due, festival organizers learned from the logistical mistakes of Boston Calling’s early editions and made the best of an odd space in recent years. Alas, however, a bigger festival with a bigger budget is on the horizon, and City Hall Plaza won’t be able to accommodate it.
Though Boston Calling’s bookings haven’t always aligned with my taste, I’ve covered every edition in some capacity and I do feel some sentimental attachment to its now-former location. The inaugural Spring 2013 BC was the first proper festival I covered, and there have been plenty of outstanding sets in the meantime. The National (x2), The Walkmen, The Shins, Spoon, The Replacements, Modest Mouse, The Decemberists, Warpaint, Brand New, Beck, Pixies and St. Vincent number among my favorites from years past.
For May’s edition, I was on assignment for the Globe all weekend and shot a total of 24 sets. This lineup was surely the festival’s most forward-thinking thus far, featuring a significantly more diverse roster of artists than previous white dude indie/pop-leaning editions offered. It was a welcome change to finally see a pair of female headliners in Sia and Robyn, even if the latter ultimately confused many festival-goers with an anti-hits remix set.
Sufjan Stevens’ Friday night performance was the major weekend highlight for me, due in large part to finally hearing him and his band tackle the entirety of the bonkers 25-minute Age of Adz closer “Impossible Soul.” The climactic “it’s not so impossible” bit was among the 5-10 moments of genuine unadulterated joy in my life this year. Sufjan smashing a banjo at the conclusion of “Seven Swans” was also pretty great.
Elsewhere, Courtney Barnett’s witty garage-pop impressed as always. Battles translated their colorful math-rock into a jubilant set that worked surprisingly well in Saturday’s 90-degree heat. Janelle Monae executed a stunning set of neo-soul art-funk with a top-notch band and just the right amount of theatricality.
This was a particularly fun and photogenic final iteration of the festival’s City Hall Plaza identity to cover. Robyn’s moody Saturday night lighting was a challenge, but otherwise there was lots of visual appeal to capture. I finally finished my exhaustive edits of everything this past weekend, so here’s a lengthy gallery of the weekend’s acts from Friday openers Lisa Hannigan and Aaron Dessner to Sunday closers (the still pretty boring) Disclosure. A few of these shots have appeared in the Globe already, but most are unpublished.