St. Vincent Stole the Show at This Year’s Boston Calling

The highs and lows of Boston’s best music festival.

This year’s spring edition of Boston Calling Music Festival took place during a beautiful Memorial Day weekend filled with plenty of Whitmanesque, Jane Jacobsesque, and José Martíesque cityscapes. A far-off piper busked Revolutionary War era music somewhere within earshot of the Boston Commons. A Boston Terrier gave chase after a ball that had been thrown for another dog–and missed. Photographers clustered around a palm-sized collection of baby ducklings in the Gardens. Four trombones played Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” outside of Copley Church. A unicyclist on a higher-than-usual unicycle passed through the Commons, easily clearing the umbrellas stabbed through the middle of the outdoor tables, calling out to pedestrians below, “Look out! Unicycle!”

“They don’t give you a tiny little bell to go with that thing?” I asked.

“It does not come standard, no,” he replied.

Sharon Van Etten opened the festival with slow, lovely numbers. The following act, Tame Impala, was better than expected. Take the “Television Rules The Nation” bit from Daft Punk, give it a swishy bit of backing rock, and you’re close.

“I like the guys on the ramp,” the lead singer, Kevin Parker, said at one point. “It’s like a three-dimensional audience.” He waved. The crowd on the ramp waved back. And, indeed, from the ramps underneath the columns and overhangs of City Hall, there is a great feeling of being perched over a battlefield to it all, especially when the plaza below is packed.

The big moment of Boston Calling, though, was a performance from Annie Clark and her band. Before the set, she was St. Vincent. After the set, she was the Green Wing Sue White of music. (I’m referencing this, if you’ve never seen the show.) It was the kind of set where Bob Dylan’s preoccupation in interviews regarding how his songs sound in studio versus how they sound live became very experientially evident. Annie Clark’s studio tracks and videos of live performances, as good as they are, sound like they were politely recorded old Christmas toys in comparison to her live show and live set, where gloriously flailing octopus tentacles of buzz fuzz made their way disaster movie-like out of the speakers. It was a sound of pronounced oomph, replete with extra goofy solos and solos serious enough that they all but electrocuted and fried the previously invoked imaginary octopus in question.

“St. Vincent sounds like …,” someone behind me said before trailing off, and I half-turned around, tempted to ask if they wanted any help with being pointed towards the stage and show in progress in front of them.

And while I’m sure people came to see Run The Jewels for lines like, “We can double Dutch in a minefield” or for a rhyme of “blunderbuss” and “thunderous” or My Morning Jacket for their broad rock or The Pixies for their canonical hometown joys–I’m of a mind to simply quote one producer for Radio Boston Dot Com, who said, “You can all go home now. Boston Calling is over. Because St. Vincent just happened.”

Photos by Mike Lawrie/FilmMagic