Boston Calling 2018 day 2 pics/review: Jack White, QOTSA, Brockhampton, St Vincent, more
After a fantastic day one, the 2018 edition of Boston Calling music festival continued on Saturday (5/26). After spending all of day one at the outdoor music stages, I started my second day at the fest at the indoor comedy/film/podcast/etc stage -- which has an hour-long Natalie Portman & Friends segment all three days -- because for day two, Natalie was promising a guest appearance by St. Vincent. It wasn't announced beforehand what St. Vincent was going to do, and it turned out that she was performing an original score for a 1930s silent film. It was a pleasant surprise (and her score sounded great), and a much more subdued event than the one I would step outside to see next: Oh Sees.
Oh Sees have a constantly revolving live lineup (and band name), and as you may know, main member John Dwyer is currently playing with a bassist and two drummers. I'm not entirely sure why he needs two drummers -- more often than not, they were doubling up on the same thing -- but hey they ruled so who am I to question their creative decisions. As you'd expect, it was a totally raw, totally loud show that was equal parts punk rock and 1960s San Francisco Sound (there was one lengthy jam that really made Boston Calling feel a little like Monterey Pop for a second). I'm pretty sure they played that new metal-leaning song, and it fit in perfectly with the rest of their set.
Speaking of metal-leaning, the next band on the green stage after Oh Sees was Manchester Orchestra, whose live show was heavy. Even though they've got a great new album to support, they chose to only play one song off of it: "The Gold," which is actually sort of popular as far as rock songs go right now, and Manchester's biggest single in a while. It seemed to get the biggest singalong of any song (though possibly just because it's a quieter one so you could hear the crowd better), and I'm kinda wondering how many people showed up mostly to hear that song (which they ended with). That whole album is Manchester's quietest music in a while, but for this Boston Calling set, they gave us the version of Manchester Orchestra best heard on 2009's raw, grungy Mean Everything To Nothing. They played three songs off that album, and even when they played later songs like "Cope" (which crushed), they approached them with Mean Everything To Nothing style rawness. It's a nice thing that, as they continue to add studio polish to their sound, they still go for raw power as a live band. Andy Hull is as commanding a frontman as ever, and the secret weapon of their live show is current bassist Andy Prince (who joined in 2013). He rocks hard enough for the whole band, banging his head and lifting his bass in the air and slamming the hell out of those strings, without ever missing a note of his often complex basslines. My only complaint is I'd love to hear more of their classic debut ("I Can Barely Breathe" was the only song they played from it), but I get that those songs probably wouldn't have fit the sludgy vibe of this show, and I've got no complaints about seeing them rock this hard.
Next up for me was one of the best sets I've seen all weekend so far, Brockhampton. They were without Ameer Vann (who had recently been accused of sexual misconduct, which he denied), and they stayed silent during the parts where Ameer's verses would have been, but didn't explicitly address his absence. The group then announced this morning that Ameer is officially out of Brockhampton. It couldn't have been easy to figure out how to handle that at live shows (it got a little emotional on stage at one point, and the group have since cancelled their remaining tour dates "to go home and regroup"), but Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, Merlyn Wood, Dom McLennon, Joba, and Bearface still managed to put on a festival set for the ages.
When I first saw Brockhampton (NYC's Highline Ballroom in 2017), they had just released Saturation II. At the time, some critics were still skeptical about the group (something Brockhampton and their fanbase frequently fired back at), and they didn't really have any commercial hits or anything, but they still packed that NYC venue twice in one night with (noticeably young) fans who knew every single word. Now, less than a year later, they drew one of the biggest non-headliner crowds I saw at Boston Calling with people of all ages who were going absolutely nuts, jumping up and down and yelling along the whole time. Always trust the kids.
The energy on stage matched the energy in the crowd too. As Brockhampton shows have been lately, this one was carefully choreographed and had the members in matching outfits (they were all wearing bullet proof vests with slurs/labels written on them), but it didn't feel too calculated. Though a lot of planning clearly went into it, Brockhampton still knew how to let loose and go wild up there, running/jumping around and rapping their asses off. (Joba's chops as a rapper have noticeably improved since I last saw them.) They've been compared to early Odd Future and even early Beastie Boys and it's easy to see why. They've got the punk mentality of being loud, in-your-face, and unpolished, and also of just being yourself. Their choreography is like a boy band, their rapping has the aggression and technical prowess of pre-mumble rap times, and their energy and attitude is punk. Combined with a message that treats mental health, homophobia and racism as real issues, Brockhampton feel more representative of their generation than most young acts out today. So many millennials grew up on the Backstreet Boys, got into punk and rap later on, and take social issues very, very seriously. Brockhampton are that in a nutshell.
Seeing Brockhampton unfortunately meant missing a lot of St. Vincent, but I managed to catch the end of her set and I'm glad I did. MASSEDUCTION was a very high favorite of 2017 here at BrooklynVegan, and it was one of my personal faves too, but her literally solo live show supporting it left me feeling a little cold. (Others at BV felt differently.) I like that she did something out of the ordinary, but I really prefer seeing her with a band, so it was nice to finally hear her play the MASSEDUCTION songs with one at Boston Calling. Her band members were just as razor-sharp and eccentric as she was (two of them were wearing faceless masks), and her songs really came to life with backing vocals and a rock-solid drummer. It reminded me all over again why I love MASSEDUCTION and St. Vincent in general.
Just minutes after St. Vincent ended on the green stage, the red/green stage area offered up a back-to-back of still-huge-rock-acts-that-had-MTV-hits-in-the-early-2000s: Queens of the Stone Age and Jack White. The last time I saw QOTSA was Riot Fest 2017, just a few weeks after Villains came out. Compared to their previous comeback album ...Like Clockwork, I wasn't totally sold on Villains, but hearing stuff like "Feet Don't Fail Me" and "The Way You Used To Do" live a year later, after the chatter died down and the songs have settled in more, they sounded great and fit right in with the classics. I still prefer the ...Like Clockwork songs -- "I Sat By The Ocean" and "My God Is The Sun" were almost as exciting as the Songs for the Deaf songs on Saturday -- but if I walked away from this set with any major takeaway, it's that Villains is kinda underrated. Though of course it's when they play the real classics that QOTSA remind you why they can headline (or do direct support to a likeminded headliner) at festivals all these years later. Songs like "No One Knows" and "Go With The Flow" are part of modern rock's DNA at this point, and QOTSA perform these stone-cold classics with the same enthusiasm as songs they just released.
While Queens of the Stone Age played "No One Knows" as the second song in their set (and The Killers opened with "Mr. Brightside" on day one), Jack White didn't play "Seven Nation Army" until the very last song of his 23-song set (and I admittedly did not stay to hear it), but he didn't need to rely on signature hits to put on an awesome, crowd-pleasing set. He did a nice balance of solo songs and White Stripes songs, with a little Raconteurs and Dead Weather songs in the mix too, and everything he played was rockin'. He's so famous now that it can be easy to forget about his roots, but seeing him and Oh Sees in the same day was a reminder that they come from very similar places. Singalongs like "Steady, As She Goes" and "The Hardest Button to Button" were awesomely nostalgia-inducing, but even the deeper cuts were delivered with enough star power for the packed festival grounds. Unlike the previous day's headliners The Killers, Jack White is one of those acts where it doesn't really matter what song he's playing, 'cause he and his band just know how to rock out and jam together in a way that's a thrill to watch. Fame can change a musician and Jack White is no exception, but one thing that hasn't changed is his knack for putting on a loose, unpredictable rock show.
Pictures of day two, including shots of Tyler the Creator, Bridget Everett, Belly, Mount Kimbie and The Menzingers, are in the gallery above. Jack White's setlist is below.
Jack White at Boston Calling 2018 Setlist (via)
Over and Over and Over
Wasting My Time (The White Stripes song)
Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes song)
Hello Operator (The White Stripes song)
I Cut Like a Buffalo (The Dead Weather song)
Black Math (The White Stripes song)
Steady, as She Goes (The Raconteurs song)
Freedom at 21
The Hardest Button to Button (The White Stripes song)
Connected by Love
Little Bird (The White Stripes song)
I'm Slowly Turning Into You (The White Stripes song)
Ice Station Zebra
Why Walk a Dog?
When I Hear My Name (The White Stripes song)
That Black Bat Licorice
Ball and Biscuit (The White Stripes song)
Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes song)
photos by Chelsea Pineda