September 16, 2013

Reviewed: Volcano Choir


There's no question that Volcano Choir owes its popularity largely to the huge success of Bon Iver. I've always thought that without For Emma, Forever Ago, Volcano Choir would not even be on the map. Silly me.

Last night, Justin Vernon and friends tore down the Paradise Rock Club with their beautiful, epic, brooding tracks. Their recent sophomore release, Repave, has received very positive reviews so far and has allowed the group to make their live TV debut on Jimmy Fallon and travel the States on a nearly sold-out tour. Contrary to what I used to think, this supergroup (that includes members of Collections of Colonies of Bees) has earned its fanbase purely on the music. With vocals from the falsetto master himself, their songs aren't great for a campfire like Bon Iver is. Instead, they are larger, bombastic, and would feel appropriate to listen to on a large voyage.

Standing behind a cloth covered podium, Vernon with his stunning vocals and silly antics seemed to be where the crowd was focused. He, however, chose to stay as far from the spotlight as possible, letting guitarist Chris Rosenau handle all the audience interaction. It was pretty nice to see Vernon not hog the spotlight that he knows he could easily control. It helped the audience see the group as a full band and not just his brainchild.

When they played the brilliant single "Byegone" second to last, I had doubts that anything could follow that display of power. Again, silly me. They next busted out the track "Still" from their debut album, Unmap. This song samples Bon Iver's stunning "Woods," but turns it into something of very grand scope. It is also one of the most beautiful songs I have heard in recent memory.

September 13, 2013

Reviewed: Boston Calling Fall 2013


I must admit, I expected Boston Calling to flop. There were too many things that could go wrong. The inaugural lineup wasn't unique in any way, the venue seemed awkward, small, and ugly, and many locals were frustrated by the lack of local flavor.

I have officially been proven wrong. A week after sweating out half my body weight in the giant mass of people that was Made In America, the accessibility and moderate size of Boston Calling was a welcome change of pace. The second time around, Crash Line Productions, those behind the festival, tweaked the stage locations, separated the daily lineups by genre, and made things a whole lot better. The sound was relatively good, and because of the small venue, you always had a pretty good view of what you wanted to see. The food was shockingly cheap for a festival and by bringing Sonicbids into the mix this time around, two additional acts made it onto the bill for the early risers to check out.

The first day saw the indie/rock bands hit the stage. Lucius kicked things off with a bang, letting the audience know why they should be excited for the October release of their debut album, Wildewoman. Dressed to match (as always), the group's lead singers were in fine form as they previewed new doo-wop tracks and they sing-along title track from their upcoming record.


Unfortunately, the energy subsided for a bit after their set when Okkervil River brought a little too much psychadelia and not enough folk to their set. After they bowed out, Deer Tick played a set of almost exclusively new tracks off their upcoming album, Negativity. While it was interesting to hear the slower direction the band is heading in, some fan favorites wouldn't have hurt.


Later that evening, Boston mayor Tom Menino took the stage to commend the festival and introduce one of the best performances all weekend. Local Natives were hilariously wide-eyed from their mayoral intro and couldn't stop bringing it up. The charming LA-natives played a solid selection of tracks from both of their critically acclaimed discs, closing with the foot-stomping "Sun Hands." This set, and the audience's rapt attention got me thinking that with a little more material behind them, these guys will be a great headlining act. Their material has been remarkably consistent, as have their energetic live shows.


Ezra Koenig and the rest of Vampire Weekend closed out night one in style. With a flowery backdrop, they ran through a lengthy set of the finest prep-pop this country has to offer. I find it very easy to forget how many great tracks they have, until I hear twenty of them in a row. Leading things off with one of my favorite songs of the summer, "Diane Young," and closing with the catchy and Massachusetts-appropriate "Walcott," they had a set packed with hits. The fans new nearly every word and proved why Ezra & Co. were worthy of a headlining slot.


Day two brought a significantly younger (and more brightly dressed) crowd thanks to the EDM-heavy lineup. Starting with Flume, a producer who makes perfect, chill head-bobbing beats, the crowd kept dancing all day long. Beyoncé's funkier sister Solange brought her soulful jams to the center of the city. There must be something in the water at the Knowles' household because it turns out that both daughters are ridiculously talented.


Following the funk, three huge electronic acts rocked the fest with their various takes on dance music. First, Chicago trap-masters Flosstradamus got things "turnt up" with their hip-hop inspired beats with coordinated shouting at the crowd. While I would never listen to their music in my room, their no-holds-barred attitude, booming bass, and squelching synths fit in perfectly among the rest of the lineup.


Wolfgang Gartner was next, taking a more traditional dance music route. His electro-house beats, however, show off his deep musical knowledge, utilizing chord progressions inspired by classical music and rhythms slightly more complex than those often found in EDM.


The climax of the evening came somewhere during the Major Lazer - Kendrick Lamar one-two punch. Diplo, the man behind the dancehall project, put on one of the craziest shows I have ever experienced. With precise command of the crowd, he and fellow members Walshy Fire and Jillionaire led what could have easily passed as a celebratory riot, filled with outrageous dance moves, scantily clad dancers, and a festival-wide clothing swap.

Mr. Lamar had by far the most anticipated set of the weekend, thanks to his hugely successful album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, and renowned live shows. This time, however, he left a few unsatisfied. While the MC himself was on fire behind the mic, his set was unusually short, not even filling up his allocated slot. Also, his backing band seemed to have a few issues, resulting in muddy sound from all his instrumentals. Regardless, it is clear why Lamar has made such a name for himself. He is a genuine, exciting performer with enough popular tracks to keep the crowd's attention for as long as he wants.


Closing out the festival were Boston locals Passion Pit. While enjoying their records, I've never been a big fan of their live shows because of singer Michael Angelakos' weak voice on stage. Despite this drawback (and he has gotten better over time), the electro-pop group was a fitting way to end the weekend. Not only were they one of the few local groups to play City Hall Plaza, they are one of the few Boston bands in recent years to make a large national impact. Somewhat like the slowly growing festival, the band has had to prove themselves to those out of the region. Let's see if Boston Calling can keep this up!

If you enjoyed this past weekend, or wished you were there, Boston Calling will be returning next year on Memorial Day Weekend. Starting now at bostoncalling.com, you can get a weekend pass and poster for an early bird price of only $75!

See the rest of our pictures here!

Photos by Kaitlin Deveau

September 03, 2013

Reviewed: Made In America 2013


I had no idea people owned so many American flag-themed clothing items. Fervent patriotism was in full force this past weekend at Made In America, the Philadelphia festival born from a partnership between Jay Z and Budweiser. In its second year, it seemed as if the festival had worked out kinks and had thought of just about everything that could go wrong. It had a killer diverse lineup, a beautiful riverside park for its location, good food, and spot-on branding/advertising thanks to Budweiser. However, there was one large thing keeping this festival from being near-perfect: over-crowding. You know there are too many people in the venue when someone has to wait nearly an hour for an $11 beer. The capacity of the park was 50,000 per day, yet somehow the sold-out festival claimed 60,000 attendees per day. Not sure how that worked.

Lines stretched and wound all over the park and logjams prevented thousands of attendees from catching their favorite acts or seeing them from a favorable spot. While the farthest stages were only about 1500 feet apart, the walk could easily take 20 minutes due to set times that caused mass exoduses from one stage to another. On night one, I had to wait over 90 minutes for a burger, eventually giving up my morals and bribing people in the front of another line to let me cut. 

Putting the crowd issues aside, this festival proved that it is here to stay. With great support from the city of Philadelphia, Jay Z and Budweiser have created the most diverse festival I have seen and packed it with amazing acts from America and beyond. 


On day one, Haim kicked things off early with a powerful set that easily proved how hard the young sisters can rock. Playing a short six songs, they made the best use of their time, wowing the crowd with the groove of "The Wire" and making their fans dance with "Forever".

Other highlights included an enormous singalong set from Imagine Dragons, and a grand welcome to America for Phoenix, one of the few foreign bands high up on the bill. 


On the rap side of things, A$AP Rocky started things off, well, rocky. After arriving 20 minutes late into a 45 minute slot, he played a brief five tracks to an eager crowd leaving most wanting more. Later in the day, 2 Chainz and Public Enemy competed for the rap show of the day, with 2 Chainz winning over the younger half of the crowd with his over the top lyrics that have been heard in dozens of hits in the last year. 

When Beyoncé took the stage at the close of day 1, it became clear that she ran the show. Queen B drew every single attendee to the main stage to see her recently redesigned Mrs. Carter Show. Even though her hubby decided to stay out of the spotlight and not make an appearance, the show was flawless and clearly demonstrated why so many millions of fans revere her. On the epicness scale, this was among the biggest productions I have ever seen, keeping 120,000 eyes focused on her for an hour-and-a-half of hits, dancing, and outfit changes. 


Day two didn't go exactly as planned (for me at least). Trains carrying kids from the suburbs to the center of the city were so packed that they decided, without informing anyone, to not pick up people at every stop. Therefore, I walked into the show about two hours late, just in time to catch the end of Kendrick Lamar's set. He was joined by his fellow TDE artists Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q and had an immense crowd in the palm of his hand the whole time. 


As every single Kendrick fan left at the same moment to see Miguel, I was stuck in the middle of it all, and was therefore unable to see Alunageorge. I decided to stick around the Freedom Stage anyway to see what GTA was all about. The Miami DJ's mantra is "Death to genres" and they follow that motto pretty strictly. With sets that could please pretty much every EDM fan out there, they definitely made a lot of fans at MIA. 

The rest of the night was full of hits, from a lively set by the always-fun Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to back-to-back-to-back electro-punches from Feed Me, Nero, and Calvin Harris. Each DJ brought their own style to the table and provided the audience with a taste of the currently diverse EDM scene. Needless to say, there was something for everyone. 



A bus issue unfortunately caused me to miss headliner Nine Inch Nails, putting the bookend on a travel-issue-filled weekend. Luckily Jay Z and his pals over at Budweiser put on a great show, one that couldn't easily be ruined by buses or trains. 

Well done Jay. Just remember: more people don't necessarily make a better festival.