Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr The Memorial Day 2017 festival marked Boston Calling’s eighth run in only four years and will be remembered as its most significant since its debut. Despite some impressive past bookings (grabbing The Replacements, Nas, The Roots, and Lorde in September 2014 was a personal highlight), this year’s fest is the first to take place in a larger and more improved venue—the Harvard Athletic Complex. It’s the first year Boston Calling stepped out of the city, loosened things up and finally felt like a real festival. Boston has always benefitted from a strong national and international presence in its concert scene, but before Boston Calling the idea of a major festival taking place here seemed outlandish. Boston Calling proved the doubters wrong, going from strength to strength while dealing with a less-than-ideal initial venue that restricted both crowd capacity and star-garnering power. The fest’s move to a more luxurious venue this time around was a well-deserved upgrade. One of the biggest changes? Grass and AstroTurf. Long gone are the days of Government Center’s unwelcoming bare concrete and the difference was palpable. Thanks to a steady stream of rain throughout Friday morning, the grounds were already happily dewy by the time I managed to get through security. Good for the grass, bad for the shoes, as Lucy Dacus kicked the main stage off with her somewhat middling take on indie and folk. No matter, as I ventured over to the AstroTurfed blue stage for an early, but high-energy set from Deerhoof. They’re not the type of band you’d normally see at a fest, so it was nice to see an eager crowd enthusiastically pogoing around to their noodly guitar riffage and noise freak outs. The gleeful mad scientists of Deerhoof were followed by Sylvan Esso’s synth-pop boogie. Frontwoman Amelia Meath proved to be too charismatic to ignore as she slid around a slippery stage in foot-tall heels. Despite being met by a somewhat indifferent crowd, the duo seemed to be having a good time and things started to pick up when they dropped early singles “Coffee” and “Hey Mami.” Solange was originally supposed to play after Sylvan Esso, but instead she dropped out due to “production issues.” So Beyonce had her twins, right? Okay, that’s understandable, but replacing her with Migos? I guess we could have gotten nothing, so kudos to Boston Calling for that, but their set represented time better spent grabbing some food. The blue stage’s wonderful bleachers were key to my enjoyment of Mac Demarco. His music is pleasant, though not particularly gripping, so zoning out while enjoying some delicious waffles was a damn good choice. “Chamber of Reflection” is always nice to hear and Mac’s crowd surfing antics were warmly received down in the pit. With an insurmountably large crowd taking in Bon Iver, it seemed like grabbing a good spot for Sigur Ros would have been the right choice. Well, yes and no. Sigur Ros were unquestionably a highlight with an amazing 3D-esque stage production. For once, the cold weather felt appropriate as the trio unleashed their massive, crater-inducing soundscapes, giving us a bit of Iceland on stage and out in the field. However, the constant rain proved to be too much for some and, by the time the band finished things off with a stunning version of “Popplagið”, their crowd had dissipated to a couple hundred people in front of the soundboard. The majority of Sigur Ros’s set, unfortunately, conflicted with Chance The Rapper, but he still managed to draw a massive crowd despite the weather. Having seen all of Sigur Ros, I was bummed to hear that I missed all of the Acid Rap songs Chance played, but his eternally endearing stage presence warmed my heart all the same. Saturday treated the festival to both warmer weather, at least early on, and a seemingly more streamlined process. Lines for both entry and food seemed to be moving in a more orderly fashion and things didn’t feel quite as claustrophobic as Friday. With a huge group of sunbathers watching from afar, Moses Sumney’s ethereal vocals swept across the fields. His sound was a bit too quiet far back from the set, so I squeezed my way up front for the last half-hour of Sumney’s pure, harmonized magic. Utilizing a looping device, he built up his vocals into dubby echoes that would pan across the stage, tumbling over ambient blasts of guitars and clarinet. Much like Deerhoof, Moses Sumney is another act that would feel somewhat out of place at other major fests. To Boston Calling’s credit, they’ve consistently booked a handful of smaller, more experimental acts each year. While these acts may not be for everyone, it’s a much appreciated booking tactic in an increasingly homogenized festival scene. Another point at which Boston Calling (and Boston, in general) exceeds is hometown pride. Local acts made up much of the earlier sets throughout the weekend and Cousin Stizz and his energetic rap found one of the most enthusiastic crowds of the fest as he bounded across the blue stage. With the sun still gloriously shining, Brandi Carlile’s summery folk-pop was well-received. While not really my cup of tea, her energy was infectious and you could tell that Boston Calling was reveling in the warmth of both the sun and her songs. Two songs in and I headed over to Danny Brown to catch a handful of songs off last year’s absolutely excellent Atrocity Exhibition. However, perhaps in the best interest of the fickle festival crowd, Brown stuck to his less challenging early material. Fun stuff, and “Ain’t It Funny” and “Really Doe” did pop up in the set, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Of course, the one day where the sun was out I decided to check out the indoor comedy club. Originally, the “Natalie Portman Film Experience” (whatever that would have entailed) was scheduled to take place in the Complex’s hockey arena, but its cancellation brought Boston Calling something much better. With a setup mirroring a traditional comedy club or theater (dining tables up front with arena seating in the back) and a thoughtfully curated line-up of marquee headliners including Pete Holmes, Hannibal Buress and Tig Notaro, the comedy club conceit was a more-than-welcome replacement. Main opener Phoebe Robinson (creator and co-host of “2 Dope Queens”) delivered a strong set before Hannibal Buress made it weird and funky in a way only Hannibal could. Coming out to gray clouds and damp grass was less than ideal, but at least The XX’s colorful lightshow brightened things up. Slowly revolving mirrors refracted rainbow hues onto the crowd as the band powered through a surprisingly upbeat set consisting mostly of their latest album, I See You, and classics off of their debut. I caught them at Coachella earlier this year, and here they seemed less nervous and a little more in the zone. Unlike Bon Iver in the same spot a night before, The XX played to an unexpectedly small crowd. Perhaps The 1975 pulled most of Boston Calling’s inhabitants over to the blue stage? Things began to fill up again before headliners Mumford and Sons took the stage. Boston Calling’s stage layout is similar to previous iterations—while the blue stage is pushed off onto the other side of the Complex, the red and green stages were practically side-by-side and created a bottleneck when things got a little too busy. I caught a handful of songs on my way out of the crowd, including a particularly exciting version of “Little Lion Man,” but the crowd’s close quarters were a bit too much for my liking. There was more rain and gloomy clouds on Sunday, but at least the crowd was dressed appropriately. Tool’s headlining slot brought out their passionate and somewhat uncreative fans—no offense Tool fans, but I saw the same sweatshirt design on four separate dudes within a minute of Converge’s blistering set on the green stage. “We’re probably the weirdest, the ugliest and the loudest band here,” proclaimed singer Jacob Bannon. “We’re Converge and we’re from here, thank you so much!” Typical stage banter for the most part, but you could tell Jacob meant it. Indeed, the weirdest and loudest band of the day (ugliest is debatable, I suppose), Converge’s set was a glorious example of the sheer, raw power of live performances. It was refreshing to see a band come on stage and immediately tear it up, especially in front of a mosh-ready hometown crowd. Frightened Rabbit enjoyed a similar welcome reaction. “Coming to Boston is like coming home! It’s the closest we got to Scotland in the States,” proclaimed singer Scott Hutchinson. “I don’t know what we’ve done, but we appreciate it.” Following them on the same stage, Wolf Parade did probably know what they had done to draw such a celebratory crowd, though they were certainly surprised by it. Their first Boston show in seven years was met with a hero’s welcome and anthems like “Shine a Light” and “This Heart’s On Fire” went down a storm. They played some new, unreleased songs, guitarist Dan Boeckner, in particular, was having a blast conjuring huge waves of distortion and then they closed with the epic “Kissing the Beehive.” Perhaps even more confident than they were when they started their reunion tour last year, the entire band looked really happy and excited to be together, which is a good sign for their yet-to-be-announced comeback album. Weezer certainly had the hits, but compared to Wolf Parade and Frightened Rabbit, who preceded them on the blue stage, they seemed tired and lethargic. It looked like almost the entire festival was there to see them, despite some competition from Major Lazer, and “Hash Pipe” and “My Name is Jonas” were met with huge applause. However, a relentless run through their more recent material (including an unexplained cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya”) quickly eroded any goodwill. Some Blue Album classics at the end ensured everyone left satisfied, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that they could have been much, much better. With Tool’s heavy prog-metal pounding away on the main, I gave myself time to grab some discounted food and take in the entire weekend. Boston Calling’s first foray into the major leagues wasn’t without its growing pains. While Friday’s long lines seemed to be smoothed over by Saturday, I still had the feeling that had the festival actually sold out there would be far too many people for comfort. Despite the relatively close proximity of the three stages, I did not experience any major sound bleed issues other than Chance overpowering Sigur Ros, which was particularly egregious. Most importantly, this year’s edition of Boston Calling didn’t forget what made every previous year special: Boston itself. With a food line-up that could have literally been pulled straight from a street in Allston to an overflow of great local bands (Converge vs. Buffalo Tom was a tough choice for those interested in local legends), the festival repped its hometown in a way few other fests do. Stormy weather aside, Boston Calling’s new identity has a bright path to the future.