Words by Marc Holden Jaffee. Photos by HoJun Yu.

Xylouris White

Boston Calling 2017

There's a bobber that straddles the water. It is an indicator, a messenger, of the lack of or arrival of something. Nothing comes, there is stillness But, in a moment, from the cool water, a sardine breaks the surface tension. Dangling, rays of sunlight make it glisten like a small skyscraper separated from its city. The sardine, attached to the string, attached to a stick, is attached to a boy sitting by the water in Crete, Greece.

This is the scene painted by musician Giorgos Xylouris of duo Xylouris White as we stand on a running track the first day of Boston Calling music festival. It's a gloomy day subject to more showers after a night of downpour. Giorgos tells me of the contrasting weather in Crete as he describes it to be more dry and mild. Stepping across the muddied ground Giorgos and I continue to talk about the contrast between Greece and North America and one can discern that Giorgos seems to get at that which a sort of essence of Greece.

This essence comes through in the music of Xylouris White as he and Australian born drummer Jim White meld facets of traditional Greek music with aspects of contemporary free-form music and then, drawing back to tradition again, Giorgos belts out Greek phrases over the sound waves of his laouto and White's fluid, resonating drums. It's now mid-day and there seems to be a bit of sun peeking through the clouds as Xylouris White take the stage and begin to present their music with the song Forging off their 2016 album Black Peak.


Sigur Rós

Boston Calling 2017

"There was a star riding through clouds one night, & I said to the star, 'Consume me'." Virginia Woolf writes this in her text The Waves. To be consumed is to be absorbed entirely into that of another. There is blackness as night has fallen upon Boston Calling. Then, out of the black nothing, comes light and sound. And soon I am consumed by that of the soundscapes created by none other than post-rock group Sigur Rós.

After the opening number, Óveður, the band delves into the depths of the song Sæglópur from their 2005 album Takk (Icelandic for "Thanks"). Driven by thunderous drums played with brushes and swelling guitar played with a cello bow Sæglópur brought back the rain that had held off most of the day. The band, accompanied by dynamic lighting and visual production, created a plethora of ethereal noise filtering through the thin veil of light rain. It was as though one were in another place, a better place, consumed by that of the sublime.

Later, after a set that saw increasingly heavy rain, immaculate soundscapes, distressed noise, and echoing waves of immaculate sound, I find myself in the band's trailer with Jónsi as he enjoys a glass of wine, a small meal, and the warm company of friends before the band heads off to Toronto, Ontario. In a lighthearted mood, Jónsi jokes about undressing for the portrait. Before enveloped in intense, sublime, and ethereal sound here Jónsi is seemingly back to earth, with a glass of wine in his hand make innocent jokes. It's with this that we tread through the mud and puddles of our lives occasionally finding ourselves enveloped in the sublime and innocent.


The Hotelier

Boston Calling 2017

Cnicus Benedictus is a plant, rather a weed, that is covered in countless thistles. Coming from the Mediterranean region, Cnicus Benedictus is an introduced species to the America and as we pass the plant bassist and vocalist Christian Holden of the band The Hotelier tells us not to touch it. Christian talks of a childhood story in which they went to pet such a plant as it appeared to be fuzzy but couldn't have been more wrong as the "fuzz" that drew them in was, in actuality, thousands of thistles. "Yeah don't touch that." So we avoid the plant.

It's the third day of Boston Calling. The weather has returned to a gloomy theme and it's chilly. The Hotelier has just played their set; a gut-punching affair featuring tracks from their most recent release Goodness (2016). The gloomy weather corresponded greatly with the band's deeply dark and emotional music. Further darkening the mood we come across a dismantled bunny, an apparent meal for a bird of prey of sorts. We stand in silence gazing at the mangled creature. In some ways, the music of The Hotelier can make one feel like this rabbit. The realness, the emotionality, the tearing feelings, ripping instruments and passion filled vocals, all pull at one's self as they come undone.

Christian talks of playing in other places such as Philadelphia but when asked where the band is off to next they simply say, "home". For the band home is only a 30-minute drive back to Worcester, Massachusetts, they are one of the several local acts playing at the festival this weekend. From thistled plants to torn rabbits, Christian and the music of The Hotelier touches upon something essential within ourselves; something deeply emotional and wanting to be felt.


Kevin Morby

Boston Calling 2017

"I have been to the mountain. And I've walked on his shore. I have seen but I can't see him no more." These words come billowing out of singer-songwriter Kevin Morby's mouth like smoke coming from a burning effigy. One is then drawn down a deep well by the musings of guitarist Meg Duffy and her glass slide. The only light that gets through is the sun that has decided to appear in full the second day of Boston Calling.

The muddy ground from the previously rainy weather coincides with the dirty tones and chords of Morby's music, making for an entirely cohesive experience of engaging rock music. Rising from the well and later talking to Kevin I learn of the busy schedule the group has. Previously coming from Philadelphia and moving onward to other festivals like Bonnaroo and Solid Sound only to wind up in Europe in June which will also see the release of Kevin's new album City Music on the 16th.

With all of this talk of travel I'm brought back to the slide guitar playing of Meg Duffy who provided soundscapes that bring about images of trains moving down a track as well as the chugging-a-long guitar chords provided by Kevin. Down the road, across the sea, "up the hill, past the houses, I sang a song then I came, back down the mountain..."


Deerhoof

Boston Calling 2017

Something one could discern about Boston Calling is the apparent merging with corporations. Most noticeable that of Delta Airlines (for example the Delta Blue Stage). On that Delta Blue Stage, I watched the group Deerhoof perform their bombastic, intricate music for a crowd on the afternoon of the first day. This later became the topic of conversation when I met with drummer Greg Saunier. As we both wandered in confusion as to where the artist compound was. Talking about the festival this year and its growth we mention the corporate air to Boston Calling. Greg points out that as the festival gets bigger they have to find the funding and sponsoring to make it all happen. Moving from the Boston City Commons to Harvard Athletic Complex one fully understands just how much the festival has grown.

Similar to the larger space, Deerhoof has been seeing larger venues than the past. When asked if they prefer the smaller venues Greg is honest and states that of course they like the larger venues as they can fit more people and they make more ticket sales, it just seems a bit odd to be playing larger venues. Later we meet up with the rest of the band including bassist and singer Satomi Matsuzaki who is dawning a free Phillies hoodie she got from the the artist compound. She doesn't have a specific reason for it just that she liked the 'P' as she holds a lemon to her head for the photo. Again we're at the running track and everything just seems a bit odd. But that isn't bad as one can discern from Deerhoof's music there's an oddity to it all that makes it all that much more fascinating.

Watching their set is one of the most fun things one can do with their life. The band provides a full-out frenzy of energy as Greg strikes his drums with vigour, Satomi dances around the stage singing and playing bass in what appears to be an amoeba costume, and guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez shred through uncanny songs that bring joy and a sense of earnest glee. This isn't my first time seeing Deerhoof and I hope to see them again in the future as a means of obtaining that smile on my face.


Flatbush Zombies

Boston Calling 2017

We're standing on the bleachers of a Harvard baseball diamond. The sky is grey and with the occasional gargantuan of a cloud. In front of me are the members of hip-hop group Flatbush Zombies; Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick Arc Elliott. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York the group poses stolidly with great equilibrium. Surprisingly so as the group tells us that they had pretty much just arrived at the festival and here we were taking the pictures about an hour or so before their set. We previously had met the group in their trailer, being offered wine, Hennessy, beer and snacks; the most hospitable act we met with thus far.

Flatbush Zombies are one of a handful of hip-hop acts at Boston Calling as they're joined by folks like Danny Brown and Run the Jewels. Though all of these groups are excellent performers there's a certain blend of composure and chaos to the group that makes them stand out from others. Flatbush Zombies have seen a growth in popularity since their debut studio album, 3001: A Laced Odyssey released in 2016. So much popularity that they seem to have frequented the festival circuit as Erick states that all of the festivals start to blend together with the same old drunk, smelly people. Despite the recent growth in popularity though Flatbush Zombies have remained humble; offering hospitality and discussing the elements of classic video games.

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