Boston Calling closes on high note
Following the biblical-storm drama of Saturday night, it was smooth sailing on Sunday for the final day of the Boston Calling music festival on City Hall Plaza.
A nutty iPod shuffle of sounds and styles hit the two stages under clear skies. The disparate vibes on offer meant that large pockets of the very chilled-out audience would rotate, taking up residence stagefront for their favorite artists, milling about the plaza eating and drinking, or sitting on the ground to use the music as a backdrop to their sunny afternoon revelry. (The final attendance tally was 45,000 folks over the course of the weekend, with Saturday’s show featuring Lorde a sellout.)
When the lineup was first announced, it was unclear what the billing of “Nas x the Roots” might mean when it came to the festival’s closing act.
The definition was white-hot individual sets by both the revered emcee — celebrating the 20th anniversary of his debut, “Illmatic” — and the versatile Philadelphia group, with a jubilant hip-hop summit at the hand-off point.
Nas hit the stage first with a fast and furious flow, churning through two decades of rhymes in 40 minutes including the dramatics of “Hate Me Now,” the buoyant “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That),” and a crowd-bolstered “Represent.” The atmospheric-yet-defiant “One Mic” — with its sample of Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight” — was a peak, as was a mini-set with the Roots when Black Thought joined Nas on the microphone for “The World Is Yours.”
In their 50-minute closing set, the Roots schooled anyone in the crowd who might not have known that they are so much more than just the house band for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” With a seamlessness speaking to its intuitive musicality, the group ricocheted from fiery originals like “The Seed” to deftly executed covers — including an exhilarating hit-and-run on “Sweet Child ’o Mine” by Guns N’ Roses — and extended instrumental forays into jazz, blues, and funk territories, ending in a blaze of guitar fireworks from “Captain” Kirk Douglas.
Perhaps the day’s biggest draw for the older rock fans in the crowd was the return of the Replacements, who last played Boston nearly 25 years ago. Frontman Paul Westerberg, who remains the picture of scruffy elegance, recalled that gig as ending poorly. This one did not.
Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson, as rubbery and goofy as ever, played a smashing set of college-rock classics. Joined by a pair of actual replacements — Boston’s own Dave Minehan of the Neighborhoods on guitar and journeyman Josh Freese on drums — the band polished the dust off shimmering garage-pop gems like “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Alex Chilton,” as well as punky jams “Take Me Down to the Hospital” and the gauzy “Achin’ to Be.” The band veered between stop-on-a-dime perfection and careering off the rails in an endearingly ramshackle fashion.
The set by Austin rockers Spoon was marred by the oddly diminished volume at which it was mixed. Given the deafening levels at which groups before and after them played, the curiously anemic sound — tested from several vantage points — was a real frustration, since it was clear that the band was giving its all to older songs like “The Underdog” and “Don’t You Evah” alongside tracks from its excellent new album, “They Want My Soul.”
Mancunian pop-rock group the 1975, fronted by Matt Healy and his cherubic head of curls, charmed a sizable crowd in the late afternoon with its ’80s throwback sound, and made the day of one excited young female fan brought onstage to sing along and take selfies.
While a large contingent of the audience grooved to the mash-up sounds of Twenty-One Pilots and thrilled to the energy of the duo —
The Boston-spawned Lake Street Dive was an early winner, thanks to the big voice and winsome charm of singer Rachael Price and the band’s deft combination of roots music and soul fire.
If there’s not much to be done about the unforgiving surface of the plaza itself, organizers continue to improve the Boston Calling experience in other ways: the continued eclecticism of the bill, a free refillable waterbottle station, nailing set times to the minute. Even if every band wasn’t every fan’s cup of tea, this fourth installment boded well for the future.