An event like Boston Calling is about choices. With three concert stages and one comedy stage spread throughout the Harvard Athletic Complex, the options of how to spend even one of the festival’s three days open up dramatically. They’re also limiting; plant yourself in front of Christine and the Queens’ open-hearted performance-art pop and you miss out on the riotous exuberance of Tank and the Bangas. Grab something to eat and avail yourself of the facilities and kiss Lord Huron goodbye. All an attendee could do was choose wisely and try to push regrets aside.
Adia Victoria’s dark soul music kicked things off on Friday under two giant cat’s eyes with a tough slinkiness, while on the other side of the grounds, Turnstile’s slowed-down metallic hardcore took an occasional detour into wibbly space psychedelia. But Pale Waves provided the festival’s first great performance. Their smoothed-out post-punk thrum owed more than a little to the Cocteau Twins, from Heather Baron-Gracie’s leaping vocals to her and Hugo Silvani’s infinity guitars, but they were snappy and energetic enough that even when she was glum on “Red,” Baron-Gracie couldn’t keep from dancing.
Gang of Youths, on the other hand, were unambiguously beatific, with heart-to-the-sky rock anthems practically built for the outdoors. Every instrument was heavy and every instrument rang out, with the charisma and million-watt smile of frontman David Le’aupepe lifting a band that might have fallen just this side of dull without him. The same could be said of Christine and the Queens, whose sunny, slightly clinical ‘80s-pop sound was equal parts Haim and Kate Bush.
Much has been written about Greta Van Fleet’s shameless aping of Led Zeppelin, but what’s been overlooked is that it’s specifically “Does anybody remember laughter?” Led Zeppelin. The same self-serious condescension that characterized Robert Plant’s infamous “Stairway to Heaven” ad lib was on full display: stiff, labored singer Josh Kiszka took the stage tossing white flowers into the crowd; his guitarist brother Jake leaned back on Josh and sang choruses over his shoulder like he’s seen other bands do; and Danny Wagner’s drum solo arrived just two songs in. They were little boys playing dress-up.
At the same time Greta Van Fleet was enshrouded in smoke, Chvrches was awash with light, proving that sometimes stagecraft speaks in metaphor. The Scottish synth-pop band was delightful: loose and spry and electric, with a capacity for ominousness and joy that weren’t diminished for sometimes occurring simultaneously.
Twenty One Pilots seemed genuinely stoked to be in the headlining slot that even singer Tyler Joseph seemed uncertain they’d earned, and that buzz took them further than they might have gotten otherwise. Seemingly fueled by a combination of ADD and weed, the duo threw everything at the wall to see what would stick, changing clothes and instruments every few songs (and sometimes during), setting fire to a car onstage, and climbing the lighting rig. The reggae/hip-hop/rock hybrid songs were affable but repetitive, though Josh Dun’s overly busy drumming made them sound more dynamic and exciting than they were. And they ended 15 minutes ahead of schedule, as if they knew they’d exhausted their arsenal.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.