Boston Calling’s first day was loaded with talent, from up-and-coming Little Fuss to big-hitter The Foo Fighters. Despite some lineup switches, the festival delivered fantastic performances and an atmosphere that started the weekend off right.
Opening the Festival with a Bang: Razor Braids
Razor Braids’ stage presence was immediately apparent, as they were wearing matching red outfits. The Brooklyn-based, queer, all-female/non-binary group plays a mix of chill and up-tempo indie and alternative rock. They pumped out some truly excellent punk energy that had some heads moving even at 2 PM. I can only imagine what a 9 PM crowd would be like at one of their shows, and hope to experience that in the future.
Imagine if Aretha Franklin Fronted the Jimi Hendrix Experience: Celisse
There’s something magical about a well-done power trio. Nobody has any space to hide; everyone in the band needs to pull their weight, and the group needs to maximize their song arrangements to provide textural contrast. And wow, does Celisse deliver! Her rhythm section was reminiscent of the John Mayer Trio, especially with the bassist giving off Pino Palladino vibes. And above that solid foundation, Celisse absolutely soared.
Playing in a fantastic blue outfit in front of her two pink, sparkly, custom Benson amps with two matching 4X10 cabinets, her vocal and guitar ability took center stage. Her voice is soulful and bluesy, and she used to build toward huge guitar features. Her extended solos were stellar and demonstrated both her ability on the guitar and her masterful use of effects. I will always fall for great guitar playing, and Celisse has been the highlight of my festival thus far.
Like if ZZ Top was Fronted by Brad Delp: GA-20
GA-20 are a Boston-based blues trio featuring two guitars and a drummer. They lean old-school, playing new variations of classic southern and Chicago blues. They’ve clearly mastered the genre, though. Both guitarists—Matthew Stubbs and Pat Fahrety—are excellent soloists, and often traded solos while the other played rhythmic backing. GA-20 are also boosted by Fahrety’s incredible voice. Singing with strength in a very high male range, Faherty’s voice is reminiscent of Brad Delp of Boston or Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad. GA-20 supplied the energy, riffs, and solos that kept the crowd engaged and enthralled.
Hometown Heroes Arrive to Save the Day: The Dropkick Murphys
From my browsing of some forums beforehand, I knew some people were truly upset by the dropping out of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. That said, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such anticipation in a crowd before a set. I’m not even sure that the Dropkick Murphys were the best “fit” for Boston Calling considering whom they were replacing and the general tastes of the attendees, but it didn’t matter—this is a hometown band. The field was absolutely packed half an hour before they were slated to come on. I spoke with a couple (one in a Dropkick t-shirt, the other in a kilt) who bought tickets the day before and drove three hours from Connecticut just to see them. That’s how big they are in this town.
And of course, the Dropkick Murphys delivered. Nothing more needs to be said about what they do: playing original songs in a punk/pop-punk style with tinges of Irish folk music (bagpipes and accordion included). Their set was high-energy, a decent portion of the crowd knew all the songs, and just about everybody knew the hits. While Boston has plenty of lifelong locals, it has also become a transient town with plenty of students and professionals coming and going. But even the transients have adopted some Bostonian identity, and I believe we were all witness to it at this set. Hearing “Shipping Up to Boston” played live in Boston to a massive crowd singing along will definitely be one of the highlights of my year.
An Upcoming Artist Makes a Name for Themselves: Little Fuss
Little Fuss are an up and coming local band, and definitely one to keep an eye on. They have a classic indie rock sound, but showed an impressive array of musical arranging and storytelling for such a young group. They’re fronted by singer/guitarist Olive Martinez who masterfully used her voice to convey emotion in her songs. A particular highlight occurred when she read a mysterious passage from a novel over ambient guitar. Speaking of which, lead guitarist Cody Von Lehmden displayed plenty of wizardry with his part writing and use of effects. His playing was extremely tasteful, never overstepping Martinez’ vocals, but seasoned guitarists would definitely appreciate his work. The band is rounded out with bassist Delia Martin (a crowd favorite!) and drummer Vitor Oliveria, who together formed a rock-solid foundation for the other two.
The four members met at Berklee through their coursework and study abroad programs; three are still students while Vitor just graduated. With shades of the Killers, Sonic Youth, and even headliner Paramore, Little Fuss was one of my favorite finds of Boston Calling.
One of the World’s Biggest Rock Bands Makes a Comeback: The Foo Fighters
The Foo Fighters are one of the hardest working bands in rock and roll who went through the worst of tragedies, causing them to cancel their appearance at last year’s festival. The sudden passing of legendary drummer Taylor Hawkins still hung over the evening, and frontman Dave Grohl told the crowd multiple times that many of their songs have since taken on new meaning. At their core the Foo Fighters are carried by a few key elements: Dave Grohl’s ability as a singer-songwriter, the band’s ability to arrange building energy, and the incredible talent of its drummer. Their new drummer, Josh Freese, had huge shoes to fill, and fill them he did. He even brought some levity to the situation by wearing a shirt that said “Fingers crossed for the new guy.”
Beyond that narrative, the Foo Fighters delivered a great set. The crowd was absolutely packed, and a large majority knew their songs and were singing along. They played some new songs and all of their big hits. Grohl also brought out his daughter, Violet, to sing a couple songs with the group, in addition to a cameo from Hawkins’ son, Shane, on drums. It was an excellent way to end day one of the festival.