Fans watch Foo Fighters perform at Boston Calling 2023, photo by Josh Darr

I’ve written a few different versions of how I wanted to start off this review and scratched through them before deciding to go with this one. I’m not sure if you want to call this a spoiler alert or just good ol’ fashioned transparent honesty, but instead I will lean into what we have taught our kids: “We get what we get and we don’t get upset.” And if I’m being completely honest, I’m really happy with what I got this past weekend at Boston Calling Music Festival.

This year celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the music festival with marquee headliners Foo Fighters, The Lumineers and Paramore. The opening song for the Foo Fighters' set on Friday was one of the band's newer tracks “Rescued” from their new album But Here We Are, the band’s 11th record, which also marks their first since the passing of their drummer, Taylor Hawkins.

Waiting for my flight home early Monday morning, it dawned on me the entire weekend’s experience could be summed up by the song’s chorus: “Kings and queens and in-betweens, we all deserve the right.” I debated whether or not to mention personal frustrations with the amount of photo restrictions we dealt with throughout the weekend, at no fault towards the festival, but moreso with some of the bands/musicians themselves. It’s always been my understanding that we (the media and press) play a pivotal role as the eyes and ears for all of you, the fan who doesn’t get the opportunity to experience the festival in person. Maybe that expectation has changed or maybe it’s a similar reason to why the writers continue to strike. Ironically enough, back on that honesty tip, it has been about 10 years since the last festival I got to cover so maybe it’s just the nature of the festival beast as it has evolved over the years too.

What was an enjoyable highlight for me is how successfully Boston Calling embraces and celebrates a lot of young, up-and-coming, as well as a number of local-ish bands/musicians. I definitely came into the weekend not completely familiar with many of the artists on the lineup, but thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them and their music and experiencing their energy that was clearly infectious enough to feed into the crowd’s excitement. The festival consists of four stages—Green, Red, Blue and Orange, presumably coordinating with the city’s own subway system line colors. Much like those train lines, the layout was easy enough to navigate around and no matter which stage I arrived at, aside from my previously mentioned frustrations, I was happy with my experience.    

Day 1

Friday was the milder of the three days—both weather and crowd wise—and was the perfect ease into the weekend’s festivities. My day began at the Red stage with Alisa Amador, who had such a delightful and upbeat presence and much like many of the descriptors I've read about her music, there was not one distinct style for it. She exuded joy when she sang and was very grounded and connected with the crowd. A highlight for me was her cover of the Radiohead song “high/dry.”

Afterwards, I didn’t go too far to the Green stage that sat adjacent to the Red stage with a faux green monster wall displaying the weekend’s lineup in scoreboard fashion in between them. Razor Braids, a quartet out of Brooklyn, donned all red from head to toe. Their music for me was very reminiscent of a mix between Hole and Sleater Kinney and given their high energy presence on stage, these queens in red clearly have no problem letting their hair loose and sharing their hearts with us lyrically.

Finally making the trek to the other side of the festival at the Blue stage, I was welcomed with a ferris wheel and what sounded like home with GA:20 and their Chicago-style blues. This hometown trio seemed comfortable on stage and was a nice change of pace/sound. Given my limited knowledge in Blues music, I mostly trust my ear to dictate my perspective. That said, I usually dig a lot of it and it leaves me wondering where would be a good place to delve into that rabbit hole. I’m sure there are obvious answers to that quandary but specifically in this instance, GA:20 definitely is good place to start.

From there, I made my way over to The Beaches' set, an all-girl Canadian indie pop band whose high kicks and high onstage energy definitely ramped up the crowd for the evening’s final two bands on the Green stage. It must be noted, due to an illness, the Yeahs Yeahs Yeahs had to cancel their stop through the festival and were replaced by the hometown favorites the Dropkick Murphys, who played an ideal background to reset. Over on the Red stage, Chelsea Cutler’s devoted fans sang, screamed and howled away with her as she traipsed on stage, repping her Patriots jersey with commanding force.

At this point, what can I write about The National that Variance readers have not read in my two previous reviews? I was pretty amped to be able to catch the band twice in less than a week (see review from their recent Chicago show here); based on obvious time restraints in the festival setting, their set was abbreviated from their standard 20+ songs. There were a few songs they played this round they hadn’t on Sunday in Chicago and I think it was an ideal setting for their ever-growing fanbase. Having had the privilege of living in this niche of listeners, I've always enjoyed and been familiar with their music and witnessed their growth and evolution in popularity. Matt Berninger kept himself pretty mild-mannered for the evening although still made a couple rounds out into the crowd leaving us all ready for the return of the Foo Fighters to close out the first day.

Fresh on the heels of their recent announcement and introduction of their new “family” member, drummer Josh Freese, the Foo Fighters came out swinging. Playing a two hour-plus set which spanned the band’s 26-year career together with an extraterrestrial like setting and a heavy hitting explosiveness leaving no stone, or in this case, song unturned. There was an introduction of everyone onstage including a celebratory one of the new drummer, Freese, who showed off some of his chops and learning of songs throughout the entire set on the skins. The band made the evening a true family event, as at one point Dave Grohl invited his daughter, Violet, on stage to sing two songs, “Shame Shame” and “Rope."

Afterwards, an emotional Grohl talked about how the band is family and the experiences attached to their songs, in particular his with Taylor Hawkins and the writing of the song “Cold Day in the Sun," he mentioned how as a family they walk into each chapter together, noting everyone’s families were there, including the Hawkins family, as he dedicated the song to Taylor. They then invited Taylor’s son Shane to play with them for the song “I’ll Stick Around.” It’s hard not feeling the emotions we go through when losing a loved one and knowing the difficulty it takes picking ourselves back up and being strong for loved ones. As this first night came to a close with class, Foo songs and shared tears, there was a sense of promise moving forward.

Day 2

I began the day not only with the soreness of feeling my age but—full disclosure—it was a heavy press day and a lot of it was spent in the press tent getting to know bands and shooting portraits. That said, the upside here was, many of the artists/bands not covered this weekend will be rolling through Chicago in a couple of months for Lollapalooza and are definitely on my radar for that coverage so stay tuned!

Our first act on Saturday were The Aces, a band that was started when the four women were in school together and it consists of two sisters, Alisa and Cristal Ramirez, and their best friends, Katie Henderson and McKenna Petty. The alternative pop outfit from Provo, Utah were dressed to a T in their versions of suits and patiently worked through sound issues with an unwavering confidence and their excited fans following suit (haha..get it, suit!) in their momentum.

Over on to the Green stage was Joy Oladokun, one of the artists I was looking forward to seeing this weekend, and she did not disappoint. She has such a soothing voice and a friendly demeanor making the afternoon heat bearable, keeping us in this peaceful musical oasis of feelings. She invited one of her friends from Mt. Joy on stage to join for the song “Friends” and her set included a few covers as well the included a rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man" with Peggy Lee’s “It's Been a Long, Long Time.” She also included Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” and finally Joan Osborne’s “One of Us.” I can't help thinking she was probably excited herself to catch Alanis Morissette later that evening over on the Red stage.

Wait—you ask, where are the photos or coverage of Alanis? Yes, I admittedly lived through that stint of my teenage years when Jagged Little Pill was a part of my daily anthem in the car. young adulthood years won out and my love for Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots prevailed! Growing up with three sisters and divorced parents during my formidable years, JLP will always hold a special place in my heart. However, when I first moved to Chicago back in 2001, there are a handful of albums that changed the way I viewed the world and Yoshimi was one of them. Being given the opportunity in my career to cover a Flaming Lips show sealed the deal; it’s an experience everyone should witness and can almost never be replicated.

Upon arrival at the Blue stage, the biggest concern was how anyone was going be able to fit on stage with all the props and inflatables waiting to be blown up. With no idea of what was in store for us and an audible countdown leading into their performance, frontman Wayne Coyne stood on the side stage excitedly like a kid on Christmas morning eagerly awaiting the countdown hitting zero. Coyne graciously greeted the crowd and positioned himself smack dab in the middle of the stage as four giant pink robots began inflating themselves, suffocating the entirety of the stage and thematically overwhelming the frontman by sheer size. And the battle began! He seemingly soaked up the surprised and thrilled expressions to the spectacle revealing itself before our eyes. All the colors, lights and confetti It felt like we had been transported to a fantastical world as Coyne continued to narrate for us the adventures of young Yoshimi.

He prefaced the performance, explaining it was a celebration of the 20th year of the album (although now the 21st year) in almost a professorial fashion, like teaching the youth in the crowd to understand why us elder folk were so excited to celebrate the album. I'm learning in this stage of my life how to enjoy the sometimes smaller experiences, in this case a newer generation of music lovers learning and discovering what a gem it is to see the Flaming Lips live.

Our second day in Boston was back at the Green stage for the evening’s headliner, The Lumineers. In the distance, Alanis was singing the final songs of her set and I can vouch that she is much shorter in person. Back when The Lumineers hit the music scene, it was on the heels of Mumford and Sons and The Head and the Heart, who were establishing themselves as well. I personally was afraid that the Denver trio (at the time) wouldn't be able to survive this surge of indie folk popularity off of a single with the chorus, "Ho Hey!" Please don’t misunderstand me; I thoroughly enjoyed their music and the balance of simplicity in sound and complexity in the song’s lyrics. And who doesn’t like toe tapping, knee slapping chorus callback sort of songs?

As the duo has evolved with their music over the years with a lot of the themes and narratives addressed in their songs, what's quite beautiful is they don’t need to reinvent the wheel with their sound and in doing so, warmly welcome listeners to relate to the subject matter they sing about and feel uplifted as we sing our worries and fears away with them. The sentimentality of recovering from personal pain and a traumatic upbringing through making music and banding together to survive hit me at some point during the set as this cinematic experience unfolded onstage. When we find an art or a creative and healthy outlet, we do so much for ourselves and all The Lumineers ask of us to do is clap and sing along and sometimes cry with them. 

Day 3

Here we were at Day 3 and somehow my camera was feeling a lighter on my shoulders as I was mentally preparing for what was forecasted to be the hottest day of the weekend. Finishing up with the last of my additional press, first up for the day were the junior all-female quartet from Los Angeles, The Linda Lindas. Definitely one of the performances I've been looking forward to since the initial lineup was announced and they definitely exceeded those expectations! Needless to say, I couldn't help myself from grinning ear to ear based on the amount of enjoyment and energy the tween/teen foursome was exuding from the stage. They were like these adolescent pixies rocking us out with wisdom beyond their age. If you ever want to know what a day in the life of a teenage girl is like and don’t have one of your own to experience their misadventures, I highly recommend checking 'em out.

I had the pleasure to start the day with the local-ish trio Sorry Mom! and was amped to finally make a stop through at the Orange stage. Coming off a Linda Lindas high, this trio continued that euphoric feeling and cemented what I already knew but was well reminded throughout this weekend—Women Rock!!! Heading back over to the Red stage, Bleachers was another one of those acts I was excited to catch live. They came to exist during a period of my life where I was on hiatus and wasn't really paying attention to some of the bands/musicians who had emerged. I was familiar with Jack Antonoff from his time with Fun! and someone who since has made a name for himself as a songwriter and music producer, most notably for his work with Taylor Swift.

None of that mattered though. There’s a certain sense of nostalgia and emotion I get when listening to his music and being from Jersey, one might think he’s the reincarnation of Springsteen! Clearly, he is an inspiration for Antonoff and understandably so, but at the same time, he brings his own skillset and an emotional tenderness in his songwriting that I don’t think Springsteen will ever be able to achieve. Arriving onstage with high energy and a gratefulness to be performing as well as a missed excitement to see the crowd, he revved up the pace of the set and the crowd’s energy even though the heat was already beyond the point of unbearable. Apparently there's a longstanding tradition at Bleachers shows to include a cover song and for this weekend’s performance he invited friend Joy Oladokun on stage to sing Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds." Prior to that, he invited his dad, “Little Ricky Antonoff," on stage to play along with them for “How Dare You Want More,” jumping around the stage conducting parts of the song and dueling with his guitar and the sax player.  There is a music producer quality about him on stage as well, as he listens and plays around, searching for the right key and sound and at the right time including the crowd to chime in for the quintessential live performance experience. There is a pure enjoyment and passion that exudes off of him while he’s performing, and it's inspiring and infectious as he clearly animates the band to play along with a comparable energy. Grateful for having them performing with him, he introduced his band mates before sharing a vulnerable point in his life. 

I tried my best to jot it down but it was what inspired a change in Antonoff’s own life and the direction of his musical career. “Being in a dark place with no direction I put my finger on a B flat and it fucking held me.” And like that, he found his sound and Bleachers was born. 

This is the part of the review that would be considered the “home stretch” as we stuck with Bleachers to catch as much of the set as possible before scooting back over to the Blue stage for The Walkmen. It was another personal treat getting to see the band twice in a little over a week’s time. You can check out my review of the first night of the band’s stop through Chicago here. The band appeared relaxed, and there was definitely a different sort of ambience when seeing them near sunset in contrast to an under-lit club. What I appreciate is frontman Hamilton Leithauser’s version of storytellers giving us some context behind certain songs as well as memories and history they’ve had in the past twenty years in Boston. My favorite was him asking “if that dump, Blanchards (liquor store) over on Harvard and Brighton is still open...I wonder if they have my fake ID up on the wall. That fucking thing cost me $125! I don’t forgive and I don’t forget.” Still, once the music and guitars started up, his pleasantries disappeared in a “Mr. Hyde” fashion and were replaced with his scowling expression and howl that harmonized along with the music.

This is definitely a band I've missed seeing in the live setting and is such a happy place in my ears and one of those performances I sang and danced along with in the pit and afterwards from the crowd. The band has been on their revenge tour celebrating 20 years of existence and I love that sentiment of revenge versus a reunion, because I don’t feel there was a certain amount of closure when the band took a break after their last release Heaven. Something might have been passively insinuated but I do feel we were left waiting as to what's next. Who would have thought it wouldn't be until 10 years later after the music had marinated in our ears and space during that time we’d get to experience the full jist of the band.

Like most chess games, in the end it’s up to moving the king and queen in order to win and that was exactly the case this weekend. There were some choice moves we could make to finish the night but either way we needed to get through the queen—more specifically, the Queens of the Stone Age. Returning to scene six after their previous release, Villians, and on the heels of their upcoming release In Times New Roman, which is out on June 16. Now time to submit another one of those personal admissions: I'm not sure why or what the circumstance was at the time other than maybe just being a teenager going into college, but I never really got into QOTSA when they hit the scene and given a lot of the music I was listening to at the time, it would’ve made sense.

I had the opportunity some years ago to experience them for three nights in row as one of the openers for Pearl Jam at their PJ:20 celebration and again just didn’t pay attention to them. In recent years, I've learned humility and can admit when I'm wrong and I think I was really wrong. As mentioned in the opening of this weekend’s review, I have a hard time with restrictions and the downside to their performance was only getting to shoot the first three songs from the halfway point of the pit, but in comparison to some of the other headliners, I’ll take it!

I have to say, what I heard this time was enough for me to spend more time with their music and revisit what it's been all these years that had so many of you fans amped for their performance and why frontman Josh Homme had such swagger when he arrived on stage. I've discussed previously how there was so much music my dad excitedly attempted to turn me onto at an earlier age that wasn't until years after he passed that I found myself really enjoying. This felt like one of those instances for myself and I'm excited to see them when they roll through Chicago later this month for Riot Fest. Checkmate, Boston Calling!

So then arrived the nail-biting, edge-of-our-seats point of the game where coverage decisions for the final act of the weekend’s festivities were pivotal. I think in hindsight, if I looked at my hand there might had been different decisions made but living in the present, I am pretty amped with choosing King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard over the obvious favorite Paramore. Albeit the latter made that choice easier by not allowing photo coverage and to raise the stakes, King Gizzard opened the pit for their entire set. So all signs pointed to the unsung hero Blue stage.

A brief history if like me you’re unfamiliar with the rock band out of Melbourne, Australia. I'm using that term rock extremely loosely, as their mind-melting tunes are a crossover of a variety of styles and genres, and they are constantly refreshing their musical explorations. Because of that dreaded Covid, they had to bow out of last year’s Boston Calling similarly enough like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs this year, and they definitely made up for their absence this evening. From the onset, there was no part of me that regretted my decision, and the freedom to shoot as much or as little of this unfolding adventure cemented it. With the use of voice modifiers, there was no telling who onstage was singing at times, which wasn't important, because there was so much going on I didn’t know which part to focus in on.

It felt like the culmination of many bands I've grown to love throughout my entire life exploding in front of my eyes and I was in this state of sensory nirvana, if that makes sense. Something about their style of play that fluidly translated beautifully through the lens and their nonstop energy and long jams upped the ante to capture as much as possible. There were so many layers of sound and the crowd was just eating it up as crowd surfers slithered their way towards the pit. It should be mentioned, the band had requested for fans to be able to be on stage throughout the show, which would have added another layer of something within itself, but because of obvious safety concerns that was not allowed. I was seriously on a head-banging high and couldn't help smiling! At this point, I’m not sure how many more metaphors I have in me to explain and persuade you, but if you’re not familiar with them and have the chance to see and experience King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard live, take it! Checkmate, me! 

So, I've come to learn to not focus on the differences in life and to embrace what's in front of me, and that for the most part summarizes my weekend’s experience at Boston Calling. At the end of the day—or in this case, the weekend—all the boxes I was looking to check mark throughout the festival absolutely happened. I was introduced to a slew of new and upcoming bands to look forward to seeing more of in the future. What may have been missed in coverage here in Boston will be made up back in Chicago or elsewhere at some point this summer, and I have a renewed interest in some bands I’d never given a chance. An unintentional theme that I'm taking away from this weekend is, music is a safe space for all of us, even those of us making the music and sometimes we need to band together as a music family to get through anything. Friends grow together through music and some records prove to be timeless over the ages, and if we keep an open mind, what we sometimes need is on a stage, the radio, our stereos or earbuds to remind us of that! Thank you, Boston Calling...Until 2024!