For a city with a fairly long and storied history of both homegrown bands and legendary concert venues, Boston had not, until recently, had a major entry into the ever-expanding summer music festival circuit. That all changed two years ago with the creation of the Boston Calling festival. Held over Memorial Day weekend, the fifth installment (the festival takes place in May and September) of Boston Calling brought with it a reported 50,000 show-goers to witness what was, perhaps, the most diverse three-day lineup yet.
While they don’t see much (read as: any whatsoever) coverage on these pages, acts like Beck, Tenacious D, My Morning Jacket, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Tove Lo, TV on the Radio, Marina and the Diamonds, St. Vincent and Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals each gave spirited, high-energy performances, striking nary a sour note across the course of the weekend. As the hours progressed and the crowds increased, the increasingly popular bands seemed to draw off the energy of the headliners and the openers alike, rarely, if ever, bowing to the vast, stark downtown environs.
While there wasn’t much for the “punk” crowd to draw on across the three days, former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way took the stage mid-afternoon on Saturday to one of the larger, more adoring crowds of the daylight hours. While most live performers tend to draw from the audience’s energy (or at least to say that they do), Way seemed to genuinely mean it. Toward the end of his set, Way alluded to his almost walking away from music entirely in the post-MCR breakup period, only to feel compelled to carry on thanks to his legion of loyal fans.
The Pixies took to the stage in most triumphant fashion as headline act of the festival’s last day. It’s perhaps a tad strange to say that a headliner stole the show with a given performance, but that’s exactly what it felt like, almost from the moment that the core trio of Black Francis, Joey Santiago and David Lovering took to the stage (accompanied by bassist Paz Lenchantin, who took over for The Muffs’ Kim Shattuck, who in turn took over for longtime Pixie Kim Deal) and saluted the audience before even taking to their instruments. ‘Legendary’ is a word that gets thrown around an exorbitant amount in our present hipster-fied world, and yet, in trying to explain the cultural significance of the Pixies to my seven-year-old daughter, it’s unquestionably the first word that comes to mind. It’s been said an almost infinite amount of times over the years (perhaps most recently by Jack Black, whose Tenacious D headlined the festival’s other stage, essentially serving as direct support for the Pixies), but without Frank Black and company, there’d certainly never have been a Nirvana, never been a Weezer, and never been the trillion clones that each of those bands inspired (many of whom you read about here frequently).
With that, the fourseome launched into a high-energy trio of songs (“Bone Machine,” “Break My Body” and “Broken Face”) from their influential-beyond-words debut full length, 1988’s Surfer Rosa, followed closely by “U-Mass,” the tongue-in-cheek story of the falsely-idealistic place where it all began. Perhaps in honor of the importance of the Pixies to Boston (and vice versa), the band were able to pull off a career-spanning 32 song set (including encore), eschewing the typically abbreviated setlist-creating rules of an average summer festival.
Head below to check out our photo gallery from both bands’ sets. It’s worth mentioning that the stage setup and over-crowded photo pit for the Pixies performance created the most difficult shooting experience that this rank amateur has experienced to date. Sometimes it’s about the journey and not the destination though, right?
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