Friday, June 21, 2024

Boston hip-hop phenom Cakeswagg on Saturday at Boston Calling. (Photo: Julia Levine)

The Boston Calling music festival is in full swing 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. Our reporters found much to enjoy Saturday, with a focus on the local and midrange bands playing earlier in the day:

Senseless Optimism

(Red Stage 1:45 to 2:15 p.m.) Local roots rockers Senseless Optimism mix fusion elements and jazz flexes, but when they get down to rock, they rock out with the classics – shout out to the Led Zeppelin cover. And the performance of their recent release “Lost My Mind (In Yours)” doubled down on one of the leading lyrical themes throughout the set: the precarious terrain of modern relationships. Find steady ground to stand on, if you can. (Michael Gutierrez)


(Blue Stage, 2:20 to 2:50 p.m.) Boston-based singer-songwriter ToriTori christened the Blue Stage Saturday. It was a crowded house, with at least a dozen performers contributing to the set. The lead singer brings powerhouse R&B vocals, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Between the horn section, rhythm section, turntable, backup vocalists and dancers, the set went anywhere it wanted with big sounds. There was room for some unreleased gems, though: “You Don’t Even Know” is soft and playful, with bright harmonies in the chorus, while “I Knew” is an emotional slower track showing Tori’s vocal prowess. There was also time for a quick cameo from ToriTori’s brother Latrell James, who popped in for a verse or two before his show at Brighton Music Hall on Thursday. She’s a Khruangbin fan, by the way. (Michael Gutierrez and Lucy Spangler)

The crowd at Boston Calling on Saturday. (Photo: Michael Gutierrez)

Highwater Haulers

(Orange Stage, 2:55 to 3:25 p.m.) The local New England four-piece Highwater Haulers kicked off Saturday at the local music stage with big country vibes. They pack a heavy punch. Raucous guitar solos combined with honey-sweet vocals from co-vocalist Meaghan Casey, and there was a nice high-low dynamic as acoustic guitarist and lead electric traded off. But what really got the crowd charged up were the hard Southern rock solos and performance stylings from the lead guitar that would pass for a step fitness routine at your local gym. (Michael Gutierrez and Lucy Spangler)

D4vd performs Saturday at Boston Calling. (Photo: Levine)


(Green Stage, 3:55 to 4:50 p.m.) D4vd started his set with a backflip before launching into “Worthless” off of his 2023 EP “Petals to Thorns.”Known for his mix of bedroom pop, R&B and moody pop punk, d4vd showcased his range with his setlist. The pop punk influences shone through, but there were also softer tracks such as “Here with Me” that got the crowd singing along. Pop punk comes out of its shell when played live, taking on a rawness that doesn’t show up on the studio recordings, and d4vd brought that energy out with his vocals. He also played songs off his second 2023 EP “The Lost Petals.” (Lucy Spangler)

Cakeswagg cooks on the Orange Stage on Saturday at Boston Calling. (Photo: Levine)


(Orange Stage, 4:05 to 4:35 p.m.) Bonus points straight out of the gates for sign language support at the Cakeswagg set. The signer positioned herself stage right and kept pace effortlessly with the rapper’s rapid-fire rhyming. The local hip-hop act brought a fleet of dancers too, all dressed up in pink and purple aprons because it was “Cakeswagg’s kitchen.” Good vibes in the kitchen, with DJ Whysham at the turntable as Cakeswagg reeled off a laundry list of bangers, including a song about feeling bougie. Not always easy to feel bougie while the sun’s heat radiates off Harvard’s tennis courts and rivulets of sweat creep down your treasure trail, but she makes you a believer. (Michael Gutierrez)

A layered guitar sound was made Paperlady a standout at Boston Calling on Saturday. (Photo: Julia Levine)


(Orange Stage, 5:20 to 5:50 p.m.) The band’s family was visiting from Florida to hear Paper Lady make some noise on the Orange Stage, and they didn’t disappoint. A cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” was dedicated to dear ol’ dad. Otherwise, it was an all-originals affair as the Boston band pulled generously from their latest EP, “Traveling Exploding Guitar.” The six-piece ensemble goes big on guitar: At least three guitars at any given time, plus a bass. Hey, add one more when the keys player picks up his own six-string instead. Alt-rockers love the layered guitar sound. Can you hear them all in the mix? Maybe so, maybe not. But much like a local dive bar that all of a sudden hangs an “Out of Business” sign in the window, you’ll miss those extra guitars when they’re gone. (Michael Gutierrez)

Khruangbin brings a cerebral set to Boston Calling on Saturday. (Photo: Julia Levine)


(Green Stage, 6:05 to 7:05 p.m.) It’s entirely too reductive to call Khruangbin “world music for the Pitchfork crowd.” It’s lazy pith, and disregards the unique talents they bring to music making. Such as wrangling a wide-open, jammy sound without boundaries from just three instruments. The band basically operates within the guitar-bass-drums rock vernacular, but they play their way well outside those boundaries. All that being said, if you love Khruangbin, wait until you hear what’s playing on nearly every jukebox in nearly every non-aligned country. (Michael Gutierrez)

Evening sets in at the Red Stage at Boston Calling. (Photo: Julia Levine)

Trey Anastasio & Classic Tab

(Red Stage, 7:15 to 8:45 p.m.) A fix for Phishheads who need something to pass the time until the next reunion tour. Trey Anastasio has been doing his solo thing since the last millennium. But if you thought this was just the lead guitarist from Phish doing a little song and dance in front of a bunch of cardboard cutouts, think again. Classic TAB members Russ Lawton (drummer) and Ray Paczkowski (keys) have been part of developing Anastasio’s solo sound for years, and Dezron Douglas comes aboard with some of the most exciting fingers on the jazz bass scene. The musical concepts are less ambitious than Phish, or less convoluted, depending on your point of view. Regardless, you’ll enjoy the straight ahead boogie with plenty of room for Trey to roam. (Michael Gutierrez)

Jessie Murph could pause and let the crowd sing her choruses Saturday at Boston Calling. (Photo: Julia Levine)

Jessie Murph

(Blue Stage, 7:35 to 8:35 p.m.) Jessie Murph brought major charisma and deliciously raspy vocals to close out the Blue Stage for the night. Playing songs off her 2023 album “Drowning,” Murph gave Boston a taste of her blend of country, rock and pop. She also gave us her version of Rihanna’s “S&M,” adding a personal touch with the help of her band. “Cowboys and Angels” got big cheers from the crowd – she didn’t even need to sing the chorus at some points, as the crowd beat her to it. (Lucy Spangler)