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Boston Calling recap: Most anticipated artists, reviewed

Fans of all ages flocked to Boston Calling from May 24-26 as the four-stage festival overtook the Harvard Athletic Complex in Cambridge and featured some of the most sought-after acts in pop music today. Here’s a look at who met, succeeded and failed to reach my expectations.

Reneé Rapp

Reneé Rapp at Boston Calling on May 24. Boston Calling Music Festival 2024 took place from May 24 through May 26 at the Harvard Athletic Complex and featured artists such as Reneé Rapp, Ed Sheeran, Leon Bridges, Chappell Roan, Megan Thee Stallion and Hozier. MOLLY POTTER/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

“In the past I declared I hate Boston,” she said. “That’s not true anymore.”

Reneé Rapp is unapologetically herself and proved that one girl can take over the biggest stage, as long as she does it in style, charisma and cynicism.

In the scope of a traditional rock band, she is that traditional frontman. She takes no crutch from any guitar, keys or silly little tambourine. She fuels off of a consistent marketplace of angsty teenagers and creates an army of dedicated fans competitive with any other headliner around that weekend.

Rapp, however, does sell herself short with her use of her backing tracks, most notably in her upbeat numbers. Lung capacity is wasted on her steady jumping across the stage, thus there are so many layered vocal tracks that I can’t distinguish which is her live voice. 

When she stripped the sound back, she proved to have more auditory power than any Friday act. She closed the show with “Snow Angel,” the title track off her first and only album to date. From any die-hard fan to the dad grabbing a beer, no one could deny the vocal prowess the 24-year-old has achieved so far in her short career.

If you ask me, Rapp is certainly here to stay, and I don’t think she’ll be hating Boston from higher and bigger venues in the future.

Leon Bridges

Leon Bridges sings on Day 1 of Boston Calling. MOLLY POTTER/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Leon Bridges proved that even kids in Boston can get behind a slide guitar. He is the kind of guy anyone can get behind. — the kind who’s cool enough to wear corduroys in 85 degrees.

Bridges’ band flaunted a genuine musicianship that could only be procured from a seasoned round of veterans. Drawing in a mature crowd, Bridges barely let a moment of silence peak into his set. Each song blended seamlessly into the other, and although no song was a certified banger, no one seemed to mind.

Although I found there to be maybe too many slow ones in a row, that wasn’t gospel among the audience. People instead started taking their shoes off and dancing to hits like “Texas Sun,” as though the fields of the Harvard Athletic Complex were drenched in bolo ties and tumbleweeds.

Bridges’ sound was incredibly raw, and there was something so charming about a confidence so pure that the music just plays. Call-and-response may be the antithesis of Bridges, which coming out of Reneé Rapp, can be a breath of fresh air.

Young The Giant

Sameer Gadhia, lead singer of Young the Giant, performs on Day 1 of Boston Calling. MOLLY POTTER/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

The last time Young The Giant played Boston Calling was 11 years ago, at the first-ever Boston Calling. This year, the odds were stacked against their set with the band playing the stage furthest from the center of the festival — but the sweat of frontman Sameer Gadhia prevailed.

Young The Giant is not a cynical rock band. They played every earnest, wistful melody like a five-years-later alternative to Coldplay. By the third-to-fourth song, they came into their own with a crowd ready to hear hits like “Cough Syrup” and “Wake Up.”

I expected more than what I got from their performance, but they did what they could for a not-so-packed set at the spot with the worst commute.

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran plays the guitar and sings on Day 1 of Boston Calling. MOLLY POTTER/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

There’s something quaint, but ironic, about screaming the songs we all slow-danced to at our first junior high school dances so many years ago — but here we are.

Alone on stage, Ed Sheeran began vigorously strumming his guitar, opening with mega hit “Castle On The Hill.”

Sheeran was a humble, but commanding presence over the thousands coming somewhat ironically to greet him that night. Using the loop machine controlled by his feet, he assured the audience that what we were hearing was completely live. At each show, he creates his own layers of vocals and instrumentals to create the full effect heard in the studio recordings.

Sheeran actually made it seem like a flannel-wearing cliché singing pop songs could still be cool in 2024, even if I’m still shocked he actually said the f-word on-stage.

He sings with a distinguishable vibrato, one that he’s somehow kept with the same eagerness, earnestness, and currentness as he did in his early career. Although no distinctively new song was played that night, Sheeran proved he is not a legacy act just yet.

Telling the crowd stories of his days on the open mic circuit in London, he worked hard for the attention of the crowd of 20,000 like it was that same crowd of 20 with their backs to him.

The lengthy set hit a lull somewhere in the stint of his Irish folk and white-boy rap conflation, which drew a considerable number of people away from the stage and into the Porta Potties. Still, he reached new highs with covers like “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber — the song penned by Sheeran — which engaged thousands in the ridiculous singing of the trumpet solo.

My photographer, Molly Potter, asked me if I’m an ‘Ed Head’ now. I don’t know what that is, but I certainly walked away with a bigger smile than I intended to leave with. I can’t stand to be embarrassed when it comes to appreciating a talented frontman.

Tyler Childers

Tyler Childers performs on Day 2 of Boston Calling. MOLLY POTTER/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Saturday was, confirmed, the slowest day at Boston Calling this year.

But still, in came the loyal country fans, ready for the subliminal secular and alcohol-related messaging of none other than Kentucky boy Tyler Childers — the second ginger of the weekend.With another acoustic guitar in hand, this headliner brought the good classic country that the boots in the crowd craved to stomp along with.

Childers sported a sinister stare as he sang of prayer, drugs and roads — I swear, every country song has to be about roads — in a true, multi-instrumental outfit that gave each band member a clear personality. Some worth noting are the bassist and keyboardist, respectively decking wild long curls and a blanket over their heads. That band was  dedicated one, and was by far the loudest country act I’d ever heard. The bluesy, Americana influences were somewhere in there, and the entire look and sound felt very fresh to me.

Drinking from his Mason jar, Childers dropped his guitar for a few songs — and regrettably, as this poor soul had no idea what to do with his hands. Still, his mastery of the twang-ridden vocal shriek kept the crowd at their feet. He got rows and rows of frat bros to confess to each other that they will love each other ‘til their lungs give out. And they ain’t lyin.’

Chappell Roan

Chappell Roan performs during her set on Day 3 of the festival. MOLLY POTTER/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

I mean, people were screaming her name when there were still four acts ahead of her.

Chappell Roan freed the audience of anticipation when she arrived at her set dressed like a porcelain doll in cinematic red curls and perfectly sweat-proof makeup. Then, moving as if her limbs were independent from her body, Roan gracefully flailed about the stage as an unprecedented number of festival go-ers crammed her midday performance.

Every word of every song, interlude and monologue was chanted back to Roan, who didn’t sacrifice any moment for an ounce of vocal or physical rest. Pacing a setlist of hype music, bubblegum pop and power ballads, Roan’s sex-positive anthems stretched from the barricade to the very distant waffle truck at the back of the lot.

Beyond the ever-catchy “HOT TO GO!” song and dance, Roan also indulged in a Shakespearean ode to a long green-blonde wig creating an overwhelmingly interactive stage show.

However, there’s still a long way for Roan to go by way of songwriting. Based on her Boston Calling setlist, she’s yet to craft the one really great album track, and some of her singles, particularly “Good, Luck Babe!,” were lackluster.

Roan’s stage presence is undeniable. She’s proven that she has more staying power than a ghost of TikTok dance past, and deserves all the room in the world to grow into the corseted icon she’s becoming.

Megan Thee Stallion

Megan Thee Stallion performs during her set on Day 3 of the festival. COURTESY OF TAYLOR HILL/GETTY IMAGES

How does one prepare for Megan Thee Stallion?

“Tap your neighbor and let ‘em know what the fuck is going on,” she says over the thousands of fans chanting every quick lyric.

Stallion gave a dynamic, engaging set complete with pyrotechnics, backup dancers and outfit changes. She made sure to keep everyone involved, even those 30-something Killers fans who don’t go to clubs anymore and have never been referred to as a “bad bitch.”

Her charm was infectious, and she was the only performer to elicit a true, roaring laughter for her encouragement of some to embrace the uncomfortable in her sexually explicit lyrics.

I not only enjoyed Stallion as an artist, but as a person. I think there’s something to say about someone who can go beyond her rehearsals, and also be sure to just show everyone a good time.


Hozier performs during his set on Day 3 of the festival. MOLLY POTTER/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Coming right off of Megan Thee Stallion, Hozier got off to a slow start, but had the crowd by his second song. He made sure to show off his crazy range and strength of his band, who were a force to be reckoned with as the sun went down.

Hozier was a very gracious performer, who took his time onstage to keep his voice warmed up. His lungs flowed seamlessly in and out of falsetto, serenading his thousands of fans with codas, album tracks, hits — all until the stage would offer

I’m not the biggest fan of strictly falsetto choruses, but I appreciate the sheer vocal range he offered song after song.

I think Hozier was one of the most technically-skilled musicians of the weekend, and his humble nature was a really sweet thing to see. I understand why people not only love his  music, but his entire presence.

The Killers

The Killers headline the final night of Boston Calling. COURTESY OF CHRIS PHELPS

In typical Boston Calling fashion, the job to close out the night was given to the subtly surprising choice of Las Vegas rock outfit The Killers. Another “What else do they sing again?” the band was to close out the festival, and although done well, I still think a lot of people expected more.

The performance was not a dynamic one. Maybe it’s a side effect of their songs sounding too similar to each other, but The Killers drove away a lot of the sold-out crowd that poured through the festival gates.

Frontman Brandon Flowers, however, is certainly carrying the act. Supporting twenty years of the hit album “Hot Fuss,” he surprisingly keeps himself at the same key he initially recorded each song in.

Presiding over the crowd like a velvet-adorned prophet, Flowers loves to fist pump and engage in Gen X dance moves that don’t translate all that great onto a jumbotron. Still, he’s working hard on the mic and the keys, doing so with a theatrical and distinctive attitude.

The generic, radio-friendly tunes of The Killers can only take them so far in 90 minutes, even involving the charms of Flowers’ subtle, fake British accent and biblical lyric allegory. Once festival go-ers realized it would be a while until they hit “Mr. Brightside,” Bostonians started making their way towards the T.

Although this was a slightly underwhelming note to end on, Boston Calling exceeded my expectations in the execution of the festival. I’m so proud to see Boston fight to keep everyone there safe, hydrated and happy, and for that, I say this was an experience I’ll never forget.

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