After two pandemic years off, Boston Calling returned to the Harvard Athletic Complex in 2022. Building off of last year’s success, the festival continues to grow even bigger in 2023. On a mild sunny afternoon, tens of thousands of people descended upon Boston on Friday, for the first day of the event.
With four stages, there’s always music playing at Boston Calling. The Orange Stage is the smallest of them, and there you’ll find some of the greatest local acts around. One of the first acts I caught was Blue Light Bandits, a groove-rock band from Worcester. These guys have a real funky soul/R&B influence, bringing good jams and good vibes to the crowd.
Later on at Orange Stage I caught Little Fuss, a female-fronted art pop indie band, showing what a wide range in musical styles Massachusetts has to bring us. Their song “She’s a Liar” proved to be a big crowd favorite.
Around the corner from the Orange Stage, with opposing set times, is the Blue Stage. Set the furthest away, physically, from most of the rest of the festival grounds, I didn’t make it over there until the stage’s final act of the day, Niall Horan. You may remember him as one of the members of British boy band One Direction, who have been on hiatus for over seven years now. With a pair of solo albums, and a third, The Show, due for release in just a couple of weeks, the audience went wild for the singer-songwriter.
The two main stages of the festival are the side-by-side Red and Green stages. Fans were disappointed the day before the festival to learn that indie favorites the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who hadn’t played in Boston for a decade, had to drop out due to an illness in the band. A last minute replacement for their Green Stage slot was found in the local Irish punks, the Dropkick Murphys. I heard from many who were disappointed that one of the only bands fronted by a PoC was replaced with one of the whitest bands around, but I’m sure options were limited with such short notice.
Amazingly, this was the first time Dropkick has ever played Boston Calling. The band traditionally plays a week of shows in Boston around St. Patrick’s Day, and frontman Ken Casey explained that those shows usually go on sale around the same time as BC, so it’s always been a conflict of interest. He said from now on, they’re just going to block this weekend off, and hope that somebody will drop out. Their set came to a thunderous conclusion with arguably their biggest song, “I’m Shipping up to Boston.”
Headlining the red stage were The National, who a decade ago closed out the inaugural Boston Calling festival, back when it was at City Hall Plaza. As they thundered through their set, frontman Matt Berninger made his way out into the crowd, with a massive cable trailing from his microphone, to get down and dirty with the audience as he sang.
The night culminated on the Green Stage, with an emotional performance that was a long time coming. Back in early 2020, the Foo Fighters were announced as a headliner for Boston Calling 2020. As the pandemic began in March, the festival was delayed to 2021. A year later, the 2021 festival was delayed to 2022, with Foo Fighters again set to grace the stage. Then, in March of last year, drummer Taylor Hawkins tragically passed away from an overdose. Foo Fighters canceled all their scheduled performances, and took time to figure out their next move.
Over the winter, it was announced that Foo Fighters would be continuing on, and they would make the long awaited return at Boston Calling. Following a small warm up show in New Hampshire two days prior, the Foo Fighters made a triumphant return to the stage in Boston.
Frontman Dave Grohl had many emotional things to say about continuing to perform, songs such as “Times Like These” have lyrics that have taken on a whole new meaning to him. Late in the set, Taylor’s son, Shane Hawkins, joined the band behind the kit for “I’ll Stick Around,” with Grohl afterwards remarking that was what the band sounded like 20 years ago, when they were young and had energy.
But who was behind the kit the rest of the show? Josh Freese, a session drummer who has spent time playing with artists like Guns ‘n Roses and A Perfect Circle, was revealed as their new drummer. Sporting a shirt saying “Fingers crossed for the new guy,” he brought a thunder that paid tribute to the legacy that Taylor has left behind.
Foo Fighters next week release a new album, But Here We Are, which features Grohl back behind the drums on it. The band opened the show with one of the first singles off the album, “Rescued.” The twenty song setlist included their many mega hits like “Learn to Fly,” “My Hero,” “Best of You,” and an emotional finale of “Everlong.”
Things will never be the same with Foo Fighters, but the band will continue to honor Taylor, and see where the new course they chart takes them.
With that, the first day of Boston Calling is complete. A warm and sunny weekend is forecast, so the festival shouldn’t see any weather evacuations as it has in weekends past, and many great bands are still set to grace the stages!