Boston Calling 2024: Friday

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The opening day of Boston Calling attracted an eager buzz to the Harvard Athletic Complex, a rested energy awoken by an eclectic lineup of spirited ascending acts and widely acclaimed singer-songwriters. The discovery-to-familiarity ratio could not have been more proportional.

The Sunscreen Settles In: Divine Sweater and Madi Diaz

Divine Sweater brought the beach to Boston Calling, as the Boston-based five-piece indie outfit kicked off the festivities at the Red Stage with breezy tunes that may as well have changed the name of Seurat’s renowned painting to “A Friday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” From woozy string and keys performances on tracks like “I Knew You Better,” to a texturally additive saxophone solo on a new track titled “Deep Side,” the waves never turned choppy in the set’s 30-minute duration. The band saved “2×2”—their most uptempo hard-hitter—for last, illustrated by ceaseless on-stage jumping and falling to their knees while jamming and soaking in the moment.

Anointing the Green Stage just five minutes later was indie-folk-country intersectionalist Madi Diaz, who offered a cohesive warm-weather transition from shimmering sand to roamable green pastures. The screen behind her projected her silhouette atop a horse, arms wide open in the foreground of ample trees and flowers… and frankly, nothing epitomizes the character of her craft more aptly. At an instance of transition from a slower ballad to the accelerated pace of “Everything Almost,” the accompanying drummer almost lost his hat in the wind, as though the horse began to gallop. Upon learning from Diaz that she used to live ten blocks away and throw house parties that ended in fleeing the scene when the cops showed up, consider her set an ode to a roaming soul who never stopped running. – EC

The Wolff Sisters served as the biggest wow of the day. While each sister demonstrated a mastery of their respective instruments—one on acoustic guitar, one on electric guitar, and one on the keys—the set’s dynamism sprouted from the even distribution of vocal solos from all three, each possessing a unique timbre on the mic. Their performance of their newly released track “Hurricane” marked the most exhilarating part of the half-hour, elevated by instrumental and vocal shredding of the highest order. As their set’s closer “Honey Whiskey” succinctly summarized, the experience of being engulfed in flooring harmonies rife with familial chemistry was “so sweet til it [was] gone, but it lasted.” – EC

Blue Stage Bloomers: MARIS and Ric Wilson

Even from a distance, the starpower of Montana-born, Los Angeles-based pop artist MARIS emanated from the Allianz Blue Stage, effortlessly floating through epic compositions, synth-riddled head-nodders, and interspersed stories and crowd engagement. She recounted the story behind her freshest track “Julia Roberts” before gliding across the stage while performing it, tapping into the relatable feeling of seeing ourselves in the storylines we binge and finding our place in them. The amalgam of an attention-grabbing voice, on-point choreo, magnetic outfit and set changes, and unfaltering charisma formed a stunning showcase in her debut festival appearance.

To maintain the good vibrations put forth by MARIS was no easy feat… and yet Ric Wilson snatched the baton with ease. The Chicago-based, funk-infused hip-hop artist declared Boston to be his second-favorite city (we’ll take it), reminiscing on the days of drinking $3 margaritas with friends in Somerville (I’m holding out hope that these have persisted through inflation, but the odds are slim). The setlist bathed in funky grooves and hip-swaying basslines, with cuts like “Pay It No Mind” and “Don’t Kill The Wave” providing textbook definitions of what it means to flow in the pocket. The mid-set pulse change to “Kiddie Cocktail”—a heartfelt track written in traffic and performed over sparse piano and trumpet parts—oozed regional connection, with Noname and Saba-esque qualities cementing him as a must-revisit musician. – EC

I Hate Boston” allegations while facing the city? In all seriousness, anyone who knows the substance of the song understands the vitriol points indirectly towards the place and directly towards scorned ex-lovers who have populated it… and that’s exactly what she explained before diving into an off-menu performance of it, delivering the impassioned crescendo of a ballad as a rainy filter overlaid images of the Charles River, the Citgo Sign, and Faneuil Hall behind her. Not a single lull was felt as she made her way through hit after hit, ending the singalong session with “Snow Angel”—her self-proclaimed most massive release of pent-up energy every time she performs it. The feeling was mutual, Reneé. The feeling was mutual. – EC

Leon Bridges could not have been a more perfect selection of a sonic palette to cool down to. Donning a corduroy top, bell bottom jeans, and thick-framed sunglasses, the Texas-based R&B/soul stalwart displayed his tenor range in full for the day’s Red Stage finale, exuding charm and tenderness with each soothing selection. The gradient of the sky aptly grew orange-tinged as the nostalgia-seeped “Texas Sun” wafted through the speakers, making it plausible that Bridges and his bandmates painted it themselves. The interplay between two-step beckonings such as “Twistin’ & Groovin’” and sensual serenades such as “Sho Nuff” kept audience members cool, calm, and collected under multiple layers of haze. Setting the over/under on how many babies were conceived following his masterclass at 5.5 may be too conservative, but time will tell. – EC

Ed Sheeran’s headliner nod was admittedly high. How could a one-man show orchestrated by a single guitarist and his looper featuring increasingly formulaic, run-of-the-mill wedding fodder possibly leave the listener in any state exceeding underwhelm? While resentment towards the bored trajectory of his career did not evaporate once the set concluded, to recall all the earworms the British megastar could squeeze into two hours was a refreshing and communal experience. Whether recounting the number of open mics in which he unsuccessfully performed “The A Team” before reciting it to thousands of emboldened karaoke singers, or meshing covers of songs like Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” into a seamless loop of his original “Don’t,” Sheeran proved that he does not need an on-stage supporting cast to keep the masses entranced. – EC

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