Rock N' Roll Lives, And It Has A New Home At Boston Calling

St. Vincent, Boston Calling 2018. (Photo by Jordan Corey/iHeart Media)

For the second year in a row, Boston Calling festival hosted three days of music, food, art, comedy, and politics at the Harvard Athletic Complex. The Memorial Day Weekend celebration, now in its fifth year, has handled the move from City Hall to the larger arena with surprising deft. While there were some growing pains last year, the team behind Boston Calling is firing on all cylinders now, and the festival seems to have found its identity in 2018.

Curated by The National's Aaron Dessner, Calling has slowly become the chill older brother to more hip gatherings like Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Firefly. While hip-hop and EDM artists still dominate the headlining spots at most other festivals, Boston Calling seems to have carved out a niche as America's last great rock fest. 

This year's lineup featured performances from aught-rock throwbacks The Killers, guitar hero Jack White, up-and-comers Portugal. The Man, brooding Brooklynites The National, riff titans Queens of the Stone Age, and the show-stopping St. Vicent. Even Eminem, who closed out an unseasonably chilly Sunday night, had a full band onstage as he maneuvered through a career-spanning greatest hits setlist during his first Boston concert in 14 years.

While urban acts like Khalid, Tyler, The Creator, and Brockhampton drew massive crowds - the overarching theme of the weekend was clear - move over dance music, the electric guitar is here to stay.

"I think bands not kicking back against the mainstream is kinda what we need. Bands like Imagine Dragons, Cage the Elephant - they're pushing to write pop music for mainstream music and get guitars back there," Portugal. The Man bassist Zachary Scott Carothers told iHeart. "I love electronic music. It's huge for me and was a big influence on me growing up, but when it comes down to it I like strings and fingers, and hitting things with sticks - because I'm a caveman."

Zachary Scott Carothers, Portugal. The Man, Boston Calling 2018. (Photo by Jordan Corey/iHeart Media) 

Guitarist Erik Howk went on to explain that guitar music will never go away because the instrument is so ubiquitous. "It's still the cheapest way to get loudest, you know?" explained Howk, the newest member of Portugal. The Man. "Even if a genre wasn't created on guitar, like classical, baroque, chamber music - there's been people that have done it for hundreds of years. Every single genre has been covered on guitar. So even if it falls out of favor in the mainstream, it's still there, they're still cheap, they're still around, they're still fun. Hell yeah! Hell yeah, there's still room for guitar - always."

Portugal. The Man, Boston Calling 2018. (Photo by Jordan Corey/iHeart Media)

Portugal. The Man got things rolling on Friday evening as they settled into a relaxed groove of punchy guitar work, toe-tapping percussion, and infectious melodies. By the time the Alaskan natives pulled out their 2017 surprise smash "Feel it Still," they had the undivided attention of everyone in the venue.

The Killers opened their set with the Hot Fuss-era singalong "Mr. Brightside," setting the tone for the rest of the night and never letting the energy fade. Brandon Flowers is a spectacular frontman, channeling the charisma and panache of Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury with each gyration while still maintaining a bit of his own mystery.

If Flowers carries the torch of iconic frontmen like Freddie and Mick, then Jack White has become the standard bearer of Hendrix, Clapton, and McCartney. White's blistering two-set performance was a masterclass in guitar-heavy rock n' roll, as he mined deep cuts and crowd pleasers from his extensive catalog, dating all the way back to his White Stripes days. Always a bit of an enigma, it's fascinating to watch White silence the crowd with a bluesy acoustic number like "Love Interruption," only to have them bouncing off the walls a few moments later with the arena favorite "Seven Nation Army."

Queens of the Stone Age, Boston Calling 2018. (Photo by Jordan Corey/iHeartMedia)

Josh Homme's Queens of the Stone Age continue to straddle a fine line between melodic beauty and bone-crunching distortion that has sustained the band's career. Surrounded by a bevy of vertical light poles, Homee & co's melodic distortion was best on display with the blistering performance of their 2002 single "No One Knows."

St. Vincent, Boston Calling 2018. (Photo by Jordan Corey/iHeart Media 2018)

While she might not play traditional rock music, Annie Clark, better known by her stage name St. Vincent, exudes the truly subversive nature of rock n' roll. In an age of sterile stereo pop where image is everything and musical integrity means nothing, St. Vincent has turned the industry on its head by embracing her sex appeal and simultaneously demanding musical excellence. A guitar virtuoso in her own right, the ex-Berklee College of Music student melds sonic pop elements with rock sensibility, soaring vocals, and some damn-impressive guitar licks to create a truly masterful live show. Just check out "Huey Newton" and "Los Angeles" for a taste, you won't be disappointed.

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