Boston Calling 2018: The Headliners

May 28, 2018 | By Sophie Cannon

Photos by Sophie Cannon

Like Boston itself, Boston Calling Music Festival 2018 had something for everyone, including a variety of headlining acts. Seemingly separated by day (with a few exceptions) the main acts fell into a few categories like pop, rap, and classic rock, that helped concert-goers plan their festival experience without having to make too many painful sacrifices.


Portugal. The Man kicked off the bigger names on Friday, at the peak of the swelteringly hot day. Possibly to save energy, the band started the set with an announcement flashed on screen, saying that they would not be participating in stage banter but instead showing “pre-approved press statements” from their management. Following a cover of “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd, they were off playing a healthy mix of new and old tracks from their past albums include hits like “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” and a “Modern Jesus” remix with “Black Sabbath” by the namesake band, Black Sabbath.


Then came a point in the night for the tough decisions that would echo on Sunday as well. Both pop-punk band Paramore and the rock-band The National were set to play at opposing stages at the same time. For die-hard fans of either, the choice was easy and at both a great show was guaranteed, although, if you chose The National, you got the added bonus of seeing actress Natalie Portman introduce the band and Maggie Rogers joining them onstage for the song “I Need My Girl.”


At the Blue Stage, fans were greeted with a happy and playful Hayley Williams, abandoning her neon hair and going for an almost eerie all-white look from her bleached hair to her white shirt and jeans. “Are you happy to be here?” Williams shouted from the stage. “Well we’re Paramore and we are happy to be here too. Like real, real happy!” With that, the band launched into “Fake Happy” to the real joy of the crowd. Williams also recognized the sacrifice of some to choose her band over The National, sharing some of the same feelings, but not without a silver lining. “So uh, we’re playing at the same time as The National, and thats sad,” she said. “But tomorrow, we can wake up and say hey, we played with The National!”

The band’s setlist was a mix of new songs off of their 2017 album “After Laughter” and their not-so-new songs like “That’s What You Get” and “Still Into You.” After an long career — their first album debuting in 2005 —  it can be easy to ditch the first-wave fans who attached themselves to the emo-punk vibes of Paramore’s beginnings. Before playing “Hate to See Your Heart Break” the band recognized that and jokingly asked the audience’s permission for a change in the energy. “Is it okay if we play a slow song?” asked Williams. “I don’t know if you know this about us, but we grew up playing fast songs, and now we’re getting older we wanna slow down!” Ending the set with “Ain’t It Fun” and the encore with “Rose-Colored Boy” both old and new fans showed their appreciation for the band with the loudest cheers, met in the middle of the festival grounds by The National’s fans, who’s sets ended in unison.


After a quick walk from The National, or a full on sprint from the Blue Stage after Paramore, concert-goers were stunned to hear “Mr. Brightside” coming from the Green Stage first. The Killers made a bold but well-received choice in their set, while usually bands save their cult-classic jam for the end, they used it as a tool to give the audience what they wanted and amp up the thousands of people gathering in front of the stage. After that shock to the system, The Killers rocketed through other hits like “Somebody Told Me” and “Run for Cover,” saving “When You Were Young” for the encore. The set was not without Boston flair, as lead singer Brandon Flowers followed our sports teams throughout the night, at one point shouting, “according to my calculations, the red sox won…let’s celebrate.” To do that, he called out a young man in the audience, later found out to be Nick from Boston, to play the drums on stage with the band. Seemingly a bit too practiced to be a random choice, the audience ate it up anyway, starting chants of his name as he played.


After a full day on Saturday, the headlining spot of night two fell to the seasoned professionals. Jack White, formerly of the rock group The White Stripes, showed off his solo-skills in an all blue performance. Hiding his face behind the teal lights and pitch-black hair, White said little with his words but a whole lot with his vocal range and energetic stage presence. Many of the songs featured long instrumentals, perfect for head-banging from the audience and the technical skills of his touring band to be showcased. In typical Jack White fashion, the show had no pre-approved setlist, and so White would casually run over to each bandmate and inform them of the next song he wanted to play. Alternating between songs of his own and The White Stripes discography, White made sure to make the older songs his own as well, adding personal flair to tracks like “Black Math” and even the beloved “Seven Nation Army” that closed out the show. “Spread positivity, not hate,” White said, before gathering his band in a collective bow and leaving the stage.


On the final day of the festival, up against Khalid’s set time on the Red Stage, albeit not so much in terms of attendance, was the folk band Fleet Foxes. Back after a hiatus since 2013, the band came back fully energized and ready to play through their hits from 2011 and their new 2017 album “Crack-Up.” Expectedly, the crowd sang with the most passion to songs like “White Winter Hymnal”, “Mykonos”, and the one-song encore “Oliver James” — the last track on their first album.


Closing out the night and the last act of the entire three-day festival was rapper Eminem. Coming equip with his cult-like following, the festival grounds were packed, so much so that the entire grounds all the way back to the festival gates were cluttered with people vying to see the performance.  As expected, Eminem put on a show of the classics, including “3 a.m.” and “Till I Collapse” and ending with both “Not Afraid” and “Lose Yourself.” He also brought some humor to the show, addressing the rumors that him and Nicki Minaj were together. “Yo, Boston, how many people in here want me to date Nicki Minaj?” Eminem asked. “So wait, one more time, let me make sure so I can actually make this official: How many people in Boston want me to date Nicki Minaj? “Well, [explicative] me too. Nicki, if you get this message, just text me later, we’ll talk about it.”