ALLSTON — For four years and seven iterations, Boston Calling had a very specific personality. Decidedly urban, the eclectic music festival earned the place-making of its name by turning City Hall Plaza into a densely packed festival site tucked tidily into the heart of the city. You couldn’t ever forget where you were. (In a subtle bit of local poetry, it even fulfilled the rock and roll daydream of the Modern Lovers’ deep cut “Government Center.”) The compactness of the site and a policy of staggered set times preserved a sense of manageability, according to vets of the event.
The newly birthed conception of Boston Calling rambled across the Harvard Athletic Complex on Friday for the first of its three days. Does it still feel like the same event?
Almost certainly not. With two more stages (one for music, another for comedy), for a total of four, and a capacity approximately doubled to about 40,000 attendees daily, it feels more like the familiar sort of big-swinging music festival you’ll find on nondescript fields around the country — with long lines for almost everything (entrance, food, bathrooms) stretching in every direction.
But this is a new event with its own flavor. And if it clicks, attendees will find different sorts of indelible moments that give it its own personality. For some, maybe it’ll be the oversized version of Connect Four set up for folks to play. Or a spin on the Ferris wheel (priced at $5 a ride).
I had my own nouveau Boston Calling moment during Sigur Rós’s evening set, when the Delta Blue Stage’s relative isolation from the rest of the action offered the perfect space for that Icelandic trio’s cresting waves of shimmering, otherworldly post-rock. The slightly chilly rain, which had cleared away for a spell after christening the event’s kickoff, returned as if another stage effect to complement an LED backdrop that invited the audience to an exploration of the astral plane.
If that set was a beautiful ice sculpture, Chance the Rapper rained fire over the rest of the festival grounds with a vivid, Technicolor finale to the day. I still feel a bit overwhelmed by his triumphant barnstormer of a set. I was stunned at how boldly and brightly his hip-hop, buffeted at times with the gospel flavors of his backing singers or dabs of pop and funk augmented by a live drummer, cut across the space.
“All Night” extended the dance party way back to the line for the Ferris wheel. When he simply danced in silhouette in front of an LED screen blaring bright white, it was the simplest of stage gestures amplified to stadium size. He had already made the grounds feel almost intimate before popping up on a riser deep into the crowd for a version of “Same Drugs” that, save a few touches of electric piano and a hint of backing vocals, was powered solely by the voices of Chance and tens of thousands of his newest friends.
In the earlier going, Sylvan Esso (a duo of the Cambridge-reared Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn) impressed with a sometimes-heady set of oozing beats and pop hooks; the group’s mix of psychedelic whimsy and dancefloor instincts proved winning. “Radio” made me want to buy a radio just to listen to the song on one.
Bon Iver’s introspective set was a less obvious fit with the festival setting but worked for fans able to lock into the richly textured soundscape familiar from his latest album. And though late scratch Solange was missed, Migos stepped in with a high-energy set that felt like exactly what the soggy afternoon needed (even if it was yet more male energy).
At the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston, Friday
Continues through Sunday