Boston Calling is a still relatively young festival, with an established date of 2013, but it continues to prove itself as one that’s not to be missed. Now a Memorial Day Weekend tradition, nearly 40,000 people flood the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston each day to soak up the sights and sounds of the famously versatile fest, which also features elements of comedy and film.
The ninth Boston Calling (May 25-27, 2018) was headlined by Eminem, The Killers and Jack White, and served as the official kickoff of festival season for those who didn’t make it to Coachella. Also, the inevitable rain held off until Sunday, which is about all you can ask for.
Top highlights of the weekend:
Day 1: Enrolling in the Harvard School of Rock
Portugal. The Man delivered a tight set on the Green Stage, and prompted laughs with their trademark projections on the screen behind them bearing cheeky phrases like “we love playing [city name]” and “f— rock critics, you can kiss my whole asshole.” Towards the end of the set, they promised they would “play that song next,” referring to the Grammy-winning hit “Feel It Still,” which a bulk of the crowd had been patiently waiting for. PTM also played the inaugural Boston Calling, so this felt like a homecoming show of sorts.
Paramore brought a stellar medley of After Laughter jams like “Rose-Colored Boy” and “Caught in the Middle,” and mainstays like “Ignorance” (though “Misery Business” was missed). The band also told the crowd they’ve been coming to Boston for 13 years, and said they’re “real happy” to be back — before launching into “Fake Happy,” of course. The talented Hayley Williams’ powerhouse vocals never wavered as she bounced around the Delta Blue Stage.
Friday headliner The Killers are one of the best touring rock bands today. They played just about every hit in their arsenal, plus a cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl,” and took a page out of the Foo Fighters’ book to invite an audience member up to the Green Stage to play drums during “For Reasons Unknown.” Later, “All These Things That I’ve Done” utilized an explosion of confetti and didn’t fail to get the audience screaming the iconic bridge at the top of their lungs (“I got soul but I’m not a soldier”). Frontman Brandon Flowers underwent a necessary outfit change for the encore, strutting out in a glittering gold suit for “The Calling” and “When You Were Young.”
Day 2: St. Vincent Rules the Field
Over at the indoor Arena Stage, actress Natalie Portman showed six artistic short films featuring visuals from the early 1900s. The first one involved a score by St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, who came out and harmonized over a song, captivating everyone in the repurposed Harvard Stadium. Portman read a poem over the second film, and the other four saw Leikeli47 rushing over from her Delta Blue Stage set to perform along with backup dancers as the footage played.
Later, St. Vincent, who went to the Berklee College of Music, took the opportunity to show off her local knowledge. The singer-songwriter subbed lyrics in “New York” to make it Boston-specific, referencing Cambridge’s The Middle East venue and more. She also played with a full band, as opposed to when she stood alone onstage each night during her Fear the Future Tour, so that was exciting in its own right. Fans also got to hear a fantastic “gay version” of “Slow Disco,” with Clark making it into a danceable pop track, lighting up the Green Stage.
Day 3: Braving the Inevitable Rain
In the Arena, comedian Cameron Esposito took on Donald Trump, discussed her Boston College past, and gave the audience a taste of her powerful new “Rape Jokes” set when she mentioned her own experience with sexual assault. She also shut down a heckler, causing the arena to erupt in roaring applause and cheers.
The Decemberists brought their brand of baroque indie rock to the festival, and while a miserable drizzling rain (if it’s not at least misting, it’s not Boston Calling) had begun by the time they took to the Delta Blue Stage, the poncho-clad audience didn’t mind one bit. Everyone was swaying in time by “O Valencia!” and a giant inflatable whale appropriately flew over the crowd during “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.”
Also on the Delta Blue Stage, Fleet Foxes sounded phenomenal, and again, the rain never bothered us, anyway. Sacred hits from their self-titled 2008 album flowed into new favorites from Crack-Up, their most recent effort. Frontman Robin Pecknold jokingly told the crowd not to worry, as he’d keep them updated on the score of Game 7 — it was Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — which conflicted with the fest. (The Cavs swept the Celtics 87-79.)
Eminem closed the festival with a high-energy, pyrotechnic-filled performance, his first since playing Coachella in April. Bostonians were treated to a few hits that Coachella-goers didn’t get to hear, including “Like Toy Soldiers,” “Forever,” “Berzerk” and “Without Me.” Royce da 5’9 also made a special appearance, and vocalist Skylar Grey held her own on the Rihanna and Beyonce-assisted tracks. Excitement mounted impossibly higher when Slim Shady addressed the Nicki Minaj dating rumors, asking: “Boston, how many of you want me to date Nicki Minaj?” (Cue screaming.) “God dammit, me too. Nicki, if you get this message, just text me later, we’ll talk about it,” he yelled. Minaj has since responded to his public plea, inviting him to collaborate on her upcoming album, Queen. Your move, Slim.