After three hours of wind, rain, thunder, and ominous skies streaked with lightning temporarily halted Saturday’s edition of Boston Calling on City Hall Plaza, the music festival needed to roar back. It did exactly that when Lorde took the stage to teen screams and a sigh of relief that the night hadn’t been canceled altogether.
“You guys are officially my favorite crowd in America right now,” said Ella Yelich-O’Connor, the 17-year-old pop star from New Zealand who performs as Lorde. “I hope none of you got struck by lightning.”
All had not been lost, except for two sets — by the mashup artist Girl Talk and indie-rock ensemble Volcano Choir, neither of which was rescheduled. As expected, there were grumblings online about the disruption, including calls for refunds, which will not be issued. “Rain or shine,” as the event was billed, is a broad and tricky proposition, but the organizers deserve credit for playing it safe and keeping attendees updated through social media.
Early in the afternoon, under sunny skies with beach balls flying overhead, Sky Ferreira’s neon pop songs reverberated off the plaza’s brick and concrete like ’80s anthems amplified through a bullhorn. At times pitchy, she was also pitch-perfect in conveying youthful angst in songs that tried to make sense of love’s vagaries (“You’re Not the One,” “Everything Is Embarrassing”).
Bleachers schooled the crowd in muscular dance-pop anchored by frontman Jack Antonoff’s infectious enthusiasm and heavy bass that rumbled in your chest. Also a member of the band fun., Antonoff led the band in big, bouncy songs whose choruses sought catharsis: “What I lost in you/ I will not replace,” the members all sang in unison on “Like a River Runs.” “I Wanna Get Better,” the group’s breakthrough hit, tore through the audience like an unstoppable fireball.
Next up was the Hold Steady, who brought some flesh and blood to the proceedings with visceral stories about “hood rats,” too much booze, and the seedier side of life. The band’s appeal was hard to deny, even if a good chunk of the crowd looked like they were counting the hours till the headliners took over. Arms outstretched and shimmying up to the microphone, frontman Craig Finn was a live wire, the guy at the party who’s having a ball and compels you to do the same.
The decision to take shelter from the stormy weather was announced right after the Hold Steady’s set, a calm but firm request that the plaza be evacuated in an orderly fashion. Within minutes attendees had fanned out along the plaza’s edges, and VIP ticket holders huddled under City Hall’s cavernous concrete façade.
Just after 9 p.m., the crowd had reassembled for Lorde’s mesmerizing, 50-minute performance. She was the lone major pop star in the lineup, and the energy surrounding her set — and at the core of it, too — was electric. With little more than a drummer and someone playing keyboards and cueing a laptop, Yelich-O’Connor made an instant connection with her poise, but also her ability to tap into her demographic. You sensed her fans took her songs, particularly “Royals” and “Team,” to heart not just as pop songs, but as parables for their own lives.
“You know how it feels to be constantly running from what’s to come,” she said as a preface to “Ribs,” and the crowd nodded as if it were receiving the gospel.
Closing out the festival with 50 minutes on the clock, the rapper Childish Gambino barreled out onstage as if each one counted. His set was brisk and full of bravura, a mix of swagger and the occasional foray into sweet soul.
By the time he finished, at 11 o’clock on the dot, the festival had weathered the storm and Lorde’s earlier comment rang true: “You have made magic tonight.”