Thursday, June 13, 2024

Justin Clancy at Boston Calling on Friday. (Photo: Julia Levine)

The Boston Calling music festival is back this weekend at the Harvard Athletic Complex, where it’s been held every Memorial Day since 2017, barring a couple of Covid years. It began as twice-yearly events at Boston’s City Hall Plaza starting in 2013, relocating to allow for a doubling of crowd size to around 40,000 and an expanded roster of bands and other attractions – to around 45 performances in a logistically troubled inaugural year at the Harvard facility and up to 54 performances since. While there’s been some grumbles about the year’s lineup, sellout ticket categories proved even before Friday’s start that the mix of bands was potent beyond headliners Ed Sheeran, Tyler Childers and The Killers. 

Our reporters found plenty to be excited about Friday:

Divine Sweater

(Red Stage, 1:45 to 2:15 p.m.) It was a veritable running of the Red Bulls as soon as the gates opened at 1 p.m. Fans flocked full speed to the front row of every stage. The catch, though, was that the music wasn’t scheduled to start for at least another 45 minutes. Good for local electro rockers Divine Sweater, who were the biggest winners of the “dazed and confused” lotto, reeling in the stragglers. Fans realized belatedly they didn’t need to be 90 minutes early for Madi Diaz at the adjacent Green Stage. So it was either Divine Sweater or standing in line for the two-story corporate eyesore that is House of Dunkin’. Choose wisely. Divine Sweater has a thrummy, synth-laden propulsive sound that plays well in open air and broad daylight. And, at 1:45 in the afternoon, the daylight is plenty broad. (Michael Gutierrez)

Kieran Rhodes

(Blue Stage, 2:15 to 2:50 p.m.) Straight outta the bucolic splendor of Saratoga, New York, it’s Kieran Rhodes. The man at the keys fronts a five-piece that updates piano rock for Generation Whatever. A little Elton John and Billy Joel star power in the mix? Sure, but don’t count out the solid backing band. Americana overtones, faint emo undertones, gobs of bandanas littering the stage and rustic lyrical imagery that will transport you to the majesty of purple mountains. (Michael Gutierrez)

Madi Diaz

(Green Stage, 2:20 to 2:55 p.m.) Singer-songwriter Madi Diaz began her set with “Same Risk,” the opening track off of “Weird Faith,” the album that came out Feb. 9 on the Anti Records label. The soft guitar matched a cool breeze across the stage as Diaz and a drummer kicked off the Green day, bouncing between soft vocals and emotional belting in a mix of pop, folk and rock brought together by a honeylike voice. She played hits such as 2021’s “Resentment” and reflected on her time living in Cambridge “about 10 blocks that way” before joining Harry Styles’ band back in early 2023, playing guitar and singing backup vocals for the European leg of his Love On Tour. (Lucy Spangler)

The crowd at Boston Calling on Friday loves Reneé Rapp. (Photo: Julia Levine)

Maris

(Blue Stage, 3:20 to 4:05 p.m.)Was the lead vocalist from Maris sporting a Ziggy Stardust look? The face paint was right on point. A suitably spacey vibe for an effervescent set of dancehall electropop. You know when an act brings professional dancers on stage they’re not messing around. These were sweet, beat-forward numbers made for singing into your hairbrush in front of the bathroom mirror. The congas and horns, though, elevated the sound into world music stratospheres. Extra points to the fronter of Maris for being absolutely everywhere after the set, making time for selfies with fans. (Michael Gutierrez)

Justin Clancy

(Orange Stage, 4:05 to 4:35 p.m.) A fixture on the Boston scene since his debut album “The Color Blue,” Justin Clancy served the underserved community of hip-hop fans at Boston Calling. Hip-hop or hip-hop adjacent? Genre, like money and time, is a construct. Clancy does it all: rock, rap, hip-hop, a touch of emo. And the dozen-deep girls choir he brought onstage gave the sound a little gospel push. The choir wasn’t a gimmick, by the way – the visibly-ecstatic gaggle of gospel elevated the sound from the very first song and throughout. With a tight rhythm section and an electric fronter, we were hitting Christian revival-level spiritual decibels. Plenty of homegrown true believers in the crowd. (Michael Gutierrez)

Ric Wilson

(Blue Stage, 4:35 to 5:20 p.m.) The Chicago native Ric Wilson and a three-piece band brought the Windy City hip-hop vibes. No bassist in the bunch. It’s one of those bands, like The Doors, that relies on the keys to fill out the low end. Or as keyboardist Viv Savage of Spinal Tap would have said: “Yeah sure, I’ve got two hands.” A bright and sunny set that showcased Wilson’s bouncy and bohemian rhyming. Shades of Quelle Chris. Add a trumpet for jazz tang and a guitar for funk flavor and you’ve got the makings of a good night out. (Michael Gutierrez)

JVK

(Orange Stage, 5:20 to 6 p.m.)Local hard rockers JVK rolled onto the Orange Stage with a “Who the fuck is JVK?”-style audio collage. Turn it into a T-shirt. There’s a strong and proud tradition of “Who the fuck is … ?” apparel, dating back at least as far as Keith Richards, who used to wear a “Who the fuck is Mick Jagger?” T-shirt during gigs in the ’80s. Stephen Malkmus revived the tradition (sure, why not?) with “Who the fuck is Stephen Malkmus?” T-shirts when he launched his solo turn, post-Pavement. Shout out to the 4 Non Blondes cover “What’s Up?” What the fuck is up? (Michael Gutierrez)

Reneé Rapp at Boston Calling on Friday. (Photo: Julia Levine)

Reneé Rapp

(Green Stage, 5:55 to 6:55 p.m.) With a background in Broadway, television, movies and songwriting, Reneé Rapp can do it all, and despite one of her most popular songs being titled “I hate Boston,” Rapp has a passionate fan base here; they queued up as early as noon to get spots at the barricade. Her band brought energy to the set, especially lead guitarist Towa Bird, beginning with a charismatic performance of “Talk Too Much” but made room for her flawless ad libs. Spotting an audience member’s sign saying “Don’t hate Boston, you’re hot” before beginning “Pretty,” Rapp relented: “Fine, love you Boston, x o motherfucking x o.” “I hate Boston because I’ve had a very trying time here,” Rapp said. “I have some exes here – that shit pisses me off.” There were some issues with heat exhaustion in the crowd before and during Rapp’s set, and she interrupted “Willow” to direct help to a fan needing medical attention. (Lucy Spangler)

Boston Calling attendees head to see Cannons perform Friday. (Photo: Julia Levine)

Cannons

(Blue Stage, 6 to 7 p.m.) Dancehall-first rock out of Los Angeles’ Cannons. If this was another decade, a few yamheads in the crowd would have started an “LA sucks!” chant in the crowd. But now that the Los Angeles Lakers actually do suck, it’s hard to work up the hater energy. Cannons struts on stage like a blissed-out lovechild of the Cure, M83 and The Weeknd. First things first, what a wild night of passion that would be. But it takes a village of procreation to conceive the hybrid fantasies of the contemporary pop scene. Let love rule. Shout out to Cannons’ shout out of their single “Can You Feel My Heart.” Feels like that song title needs a question mark at the end. (Michael Gutierrez)

Kei

(Orange Stage, 7 to 7:40 p.m.) The Friday headliner for the Orange Stage was ready to out-Boston all the Boston acts that had graced the dais hitherto. Kei, and every damn member of her dance crew, donned some sort of Red Sox-inspired look. With a tight backing band of guitar, drums and DJ, Kei spins out a performance that would put a cardio coach to shame. High-energy, high-concept hip-hop with guest spots, dance numbers and plenty of golden-hour moments in the waning daylight of late spring at Boston Calling. Shout out to Dorchester. (Michael Gutierrez)

Leon Bridges is the epitome of cool Friday at Boston Calling. (Photo: Julia Levine)

Leon Bridges

(Red Stage, 7:05 to 8:35 p.m.) Known for his blend of soul and neo-soul and hits such as 2014’s “Coming Home,” Leon Bridges brings the sounds of 1950s and 1960s to the 21st century – along with rocking the 1970s fashion of Sly and the Family Stone: flares and a corduroy button-up with wide-frame sunglasses. As the sun set and temperatures began to drop after a day of relentless sun, Bridges’ signature sound played like a breath of fresh, cool air, starting with a funky intro for the band and “Father Father,” a heartfelt and gentle collaboration with Khruangbin. Bridges coasted through “Texas Sun,” another Khruangbin collaboration, and “Twisting and Grooving” off of 2015’s “Coming Home,” which came with a call to “Lemme see you strut!” If that didn’t work on the crowd, Bridges followed with an upbeat rendition of his 2015 hit “Smooth Sailing,” which was somehow even more groovy. The soul, funk, blues and some R&B made for a satisfying set. (Lucy Spangler)

Ed Sheeran 

(Green Stage, 8:40 p.m.) The English hitmaker began his set with “Castle on the Hill,” a perfect choice for getting the crowd’s energy up in a performance mixed live on stage by Sheeran using audio loops, an impressive feat – and watching Ed Sheeran harmonize with himself as a one-man band was fascinating. Before playing a stripped-down version of his 2011 “The A Team,” Sheeran mused on how he originally expected the song, and himself, to be a one-hit wonder. “I still get to be here, 14 years on, playing for you guys,” he said. The field was filled with people who seemed just as pleased. (Lucy Spangler)