LIVE REVIEW: Foo Fighters and a bunch of your new favorites take on Day 1 of Boston Calling

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LIVE REVIEW: Foo Fighters and a bunch of your new favorites take on Day 1 of Boston Calling

And Day One is officially in the books of Boston Calling 2023! And what a stellar first day it was. Friday was, of course, capped off by the legendary and long-awaited Foo Fighters. Still, prior to the band taking the stage for an epic two-hour set, there were endless amounts of talent in the day ahead. As well tons of good bites and, of course, a copious amount of Sam Adams. But this wasn’t any typical Boston Calling day. Boston Calling hasn’t always been the best breeding ground for presenting a fair amount of female-fronted/queer-fronting acts, and all of that was blown away with this year’s lineup. So be it Alanis Morrisette taking the stage on Saturday in her festival debut to Paramore closing out the weekend, but also so many talented acts gracing everything from the local Tivoli stage. As well as solid set times on the festival’s main stages! Of course, we had some favorite mainstays on Friday, like The National, who never are an upset to their loyal crowds, and former One Directioner Niall Horan playing a flawlessly gorgeous version of his previous band’s hit, Story of My Life. But yesterday and indeed the next two days where were the queer-fronting/female-fronted acts are truly holding down the show. 

But before I get ahead of myself, let’s break it down from the first tunes I ran around to catch. If headed to the festival this year, comfy shoes are vital because running around the field can be quite the day’s marathon. Four stages are part of the festival compared to the early days when it was birthed at City Hall. With one band playing at a time and Tasty Burger being one of maybe two food options. Now at least thirty different restaurants are offering their finest eats, always at least two bands to choose from to see at a time, and tons of areas to take a shaded breather. So if you need a good starting point, I suggest checking out those early sets that tend to be locals for the first go around on stage. Yesterday was kicked off by Alisa Amador, who read like the perfect master of ceremonies for Boston Calling. After a massive applause for her first song, she simply quipped, “Alright, people, welcome to Boston Calling.” The crowd was enraptured by her sweet demeanor and self-love anthem with Alone, which she introduced with, “It is not a sad song, it is a self-love party song.” A perfect way to kick off a long three days, Amador set the tone for what would come that day. 


Followed up by a quick little run over to the Blue Stage; while Niall Horan fans lined the barricade, the crowd quickly filled in despite the 2:15 pm start time of Zolita’s set. We caught Zolita back in February on their first headlining run to the tune of a sold-out show at Sonia’s in Cambridge. And we knew that first Boston Calling debut was something we simply couldn’t miss. Lucky for us, the same two bandmates from the last show of Zolita’s were the ones to grace the stage first. Both of their energies bring Zolita’s show to a whole other level, and the crowd braced onto the trio quickly as they broke out into the first track of the set with I F*cking Love You. And from then on jumped into a hits parade with 20 Questions to Crazy Ex. Including the perfect introduction, the latter with Zolita going, “This song is dedicated to all our crazy exes. And you, if you’re a crazy ex.” A pivotal moment in the set came after this for the track Single In September which had the video background of Zolita and her co-star in videos like Somebody I F*cked Once, and of course, the former track. Post this moment, Zolita took her sweater off to show off a jeweled bra top, and the crowd cheered like crazy, which was seemingly appreciated by a smile a mile wide appearing on her guitarist’s face. A Horan supporting crowd and an opening slot on the Blue Stage was the perfect place for Zolita to have her debut at the festival. Halsey was also the debut performance on a stage at her first Boston Calling, deep in her “Colors” era, and I think we all know what happened after that. Zolita will be back in Boston in a matter of weeks opening for Bebe Rexha as main support (June 16th at House of Blues)! We strongly suggest catching her in these intimate shows before she indeed becomes a smash. 


Next, we continued the train and headed to catch the last few tracks from Brooklyn’s Razor Braids. I also walked up to a crowd that had clearly quickly fallen enamored with the quartet dressed in red for their first Boston Calling show as well. As I walked up, one of the vocalists, Hollye Bynum, said, “We’re gonna take it down to get it back up.” And that they did, with three of the four on vocals and an instrument in hand. It was a blur of insane guitar riffs, a taste of street punk, and some glimmery undertones. While seeing the band perform was on the briefer side, I sat down with the quartet post set for an interview that will be coming within the next few days. The band’s clear adoration of each other and big plans for the future is undoubtedly something you want to be a part of. 

As I said prior, comfy shoes are an absolute necessity for this festival. For those who come for maybe three bands, or just the last ones, especially on the Saturday or Sunday of the weekend, it’s not worth it. Especially regarding the breadth of local artists and bands who quickly become your new favorite artists. And one of those local darlings was Brandi Blaze on the Tivoli Stage, where twelve local artists will take the stage this weekend. Brandi was the perfect kickoff to a weekend of beauty on that stage. She gave massive Lizzo vibes purely in her wittiness on stage and excellent crowd interaction by introducing herself by saying, “My name’s Brandi. I’m from Dorchester! Anyone else from Dorchester? Yay, the two of you, ok.” Before introducing a friend of hers, spoken word artist Amanda Shea, “Do you mind if I slow it down a bit? Because I’m tired”. Blaze’s positivity seeped into the crowd, garnering thirty-second applauses and huge cheers after each track, clearly flooring the band and Blaze. In its second year of being a stage, the Tivoli stage is something that shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to Boston Calling, and Blaze is one great example of that.

I returned later in the day to the stage to catch Worcester’s own Blue Light Bandits, who easily packed the stage in the numbers of surely at least 400 in attendance. The band soared through some great numbers with a favorite of mine, How We Used to Love, led off by keyboardist and vocalist Dan DeCristofar, quickly followed by crowd pleaser in Patience. The band easily became a new local favorite and will find themselves at Brighton Music Hall later this summer (8/18 at Brighton Music Hall). I chatted with the band as well, and that interview, as with the Razor Braids interview, will be up in the next few days once we get past the craziness of the next two days. The local love wouldn’t end there, though, and will continue to be a theme throughout the rest of the weekend. 

But before I got into that, I made it over yet again to a familiar place in the Green Stage to see Toronto’s The Beaches. Again, one of many bands on the lineup that, despite this year’s run being their debut at the festival, is only the beginning of their careers. The Beaches recently headlined Brighton Music Hall and will be back October 18th at Crystal Ballroom, touring off their upcoming new album “Blame My Ex” (out 9/15). One would suggest scooping those tickets if you left their set leaving impressed and in love; it’s sure to be a sell-out. Speaking about the upcoming album, vocalist Emma Jordan said how both she and her bandmate/sister Kylie had been broken up with recently, and thanks to the ex’s, they wrote an album about it. Including smashes yesterday like Blame Brett,  which includes the album title in the lyrics. Also, asking if there were any “Harvard Hotties in the audience?”, to which a crowd member next to me went, “Fuck Harvard,” to the laughter of everyone around him. 

The band danced through the set with big moments, like Grow Up Tomorrow and Everything Is Boring. The latter is a track where the band just released a new collab with The Aces, who will take their turn on the stage today. The crowd was constantly moving, with plenty of people singing the words back to the band, including a little girl in braids truly vibing in VIP. Little moments in the crowd always personalize and humanize the festival energy for me. Highlights of the set continued with Jordan going, “This song goes out to all the sweaty girls in the audience,” before breaking into T-Shirt and ending off their set with Jordan quipping, “This has been the thrill of a lifetime for us.” 

Next up, it was a quick pivot of feet to catch New England favorite Chelsea Cutler, clad in a Red Sox jersey,  who quickly had the crowd in love. Cutler would be followed by The National on the Red Stage that evening, and it was a perfect duo of performances. Early moments included Cold Showers,  which after Cutler talked about how she didn’t know how the turnout would be considering her performance lay within the traditional workday hours. Speaking about how she was grateful for the crowd, “That’s good because my girlfriend’s family is all here, so I have to look good,” also encouraging those in VIP to get a little closer to each other and quickly going, “I’m getting some death stares and some laughs.” Walking Away, coming close after Cold Showers,  brought in a massive response from the crowd straight into Men on the Moon, but the song was quickly halted when Cutler announced to the crowd that her guitar was out of tune and took a few moments to get it straightened out. Without having to apologize for the delay, Cutler quipped, “I think this is my first time playing Men in the Moon in Boston. I have to do it right!” And once everything seemed sorted, went to the audience, “Re-insert yourselves into an emotional state of sadness.” Cutler set the tone of what was to come and gave an incredibly emotional and soul-searching performance that is sure to stay on everyone’s minds in attendance. 

Next up on the Red Stage was long-time loved Boston Calling veterans, The National. We were there for the last time the band found themselves on the Boston Calling stage when Natalie Portman introduced them, and the whole crowd audibly swooned. The swoon was still there this time around, as The National never fails to disappoint. As with last time, the band had a camera filming their final moments before they stepped on stage, and the first interaction with the crowd came swiftly. With frontman, Matt Berninger simply stating, “Hey, thank you, we’re The National.” This just before jumping into two tracks off their brand new LP, “First Two Pages of Frankenstein,” with Tropic Morning News  and the painfully gorgeous Eucalyptus. It’s no secret that Berninger’s lyrics scream about his battle with mental health, especially regarding this new release. For fans of the band and new fans alike, I recommend an excellent article that was put out by The New Yorker earlier this month, aptly titled “The Sad Dads of The National,” which can be found here. Before the band broke into their next track, Berninger asked the crowd to “Give me that beach ball!” and while it took running through the much-loved Don’t Swallow The Cap to get it to him, even being hit once by it while singing, Berninger quickly punctured it. Then, charmingly going, “Well, that was hard to pop!” As an avid The National stan, it was hard for me to leave, but it’s always a move of mine to at least see a little bit of each band at the end of the night. And after only making it about twenty steps, I heard those opening notes of I Need My Girl and quickly ran back to catch one of my favorite tracks. This all before prancing to the Blue Stage for Niall Horan. Seeing the band last in late 2022 at Roadrunner, The National is forever a band’s chokehold I’ll be in. 

Stopping for a bathroom break on the way,  it was clear Horan had walked on the stage with the uproar of a crowd who, for some, had been loyally waiting at the barricade since the gates opened. Some even lined up as early as five am, which should shock no one, considering Horan’s long line of success with his solo career and celebrated time with One Direction. A band that has sprouted huge solo careers for all involved with Grammy wins (Here’s looking at you, Harry) and arena tours, one being started by bandmate Louis Tomlinson this same day. Horan’s gig at Boston Calling was both his first live performance since 2018 and his first festival performance ever. Talking about the latter, Horan’s charm shined with saying, “This is actually my first festival. I’ve been drunk at a few, but this is the first one I’ve played. So, I’ve been shitting myself.” And that first festival show was a smash for Horan. Easily the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at the Blue Stage, Horan soared his way through both hits fans already love from him, like with his lead-off single from his upcoming album, Heaven, to This Town. But between, he treated his loyal fans in attendance to tracks off his just announced new album, including the title track, The Road,  to an incredible cover of One Direction’s, Story of My Life. Woven throughout was spot-on engagement with the crowd, including talking about how far fans had traveled. Including a sign he had read where someone said they had traveled 4,000 miles from Brazil. To which he quipped, “Makes you feel bad for just coming from down the road, doesn’t it?” I can relate, considering Boston Calling is literally down the street from my abode. It was an incredible festival debut, but it’s simply true. It did break me a little a bit to leave Horan’s set a little early but considering the second that Horan walked off stage, Foo Fighters would walk onto their stage, it was essential to go grab a spot. 

To close out the night was a very long anticipated Foo Fighters debut at Boston Calling. Their original appearance was scheduled for 2020, but of course, we all know what happened there, and then it was planned for 2022, but the devastating loss of longtime drummer Taylor Hawkins stopped that plan. So the 2023 return and only second show back for Foo Fighters was sure to be an emotional evening for all involved, be it the fans and the band. Throughout the set, frontman Dave Grohl would speak about how many of these songs were written over twenty years ago and, because of “recent events,” have taken on a whole new meaning. With emotional moments like My Hero, which had the crowd screaming through the tears, and playing “Taylor’s favorite song” as the second to last track with Aurora, Hawkins’ presence was found throughout the set. Be it every time one of the classics was played, like the show closer, Everlong, The Pretender,  All My Life, to the moment the crowd was possibly the loudest when Grohl introduced a special guest drummer, “Shane Hawkins everyone.” Taylor’s son’s insane talent has already been displayed to longtime fans when he jumped on the drums, a later award-winning performance, for “My Hero,” during the London tribute show to his late father. The second Shane jumped on drums, apparently telling Grohl, “Say something because I have to fix the spinner,” he destroyed longtime favorite I’ll Stick Around.  Even cutting off, Grohl who was in the midst of introducing the song by jumping right into the drums for the track to huge cheers from the crowd. As Hawkins jumped off the drums, the camera panned to Hawkins getting a massive hug from recently announced drummer Josh Freese. Even it seemed Hawkins was telling Freese what he fixed on the drums. And then being swooped into a hug by his mom, who had been waiting for him side-stage. This was just one of the moments missed by those who strangely left the set about halfway through, and it is one people will be talking about for a long time. It was also a true family affair that night when Grohl introduced his daughter Violet to the stage, joining her dad and the band for two tracks on vocals. 

The band rocked through their way to an electric, emotional two hours of radio hits, deep cuts, and of course, a whole lot of rock. Learn To Fly came in early on, hitting around the third track of the set, and it just continued to flow from there. It was only the band’s second show back since Taylor’s death, aside from the tribute shows. And it had only been about a week since the announcement came of who would be taking on the drums. The audience’s love and support was evident: whenever new drummer Freese would take one of Taylor’s drum parts or play a solo, the crowd screamed and chanted Josh’s name. And his grin shimmered in return throughout. The shoes he’s attempting to fill are clear, and while no one can ever replace Taylor, the loyalty of the Foo Fighters fan base isn’t going anywhere. The 30,000 people viewing the stage that night never stopped swooning; it read like group therapy. Grohl even touched on the group therapy just before the band jumped into their forever set closer with Everlong. Talking about how they always play it last instead of saying goodbye, Grohl went, “It’s really hard for us on this side of the stage to do this, and it’s thanks to you we’re able to do it.” 

Friday was an insane journey, a series of bands and acts topped off with one of the most loved rock acts in the world. Kicking off the three-day festival with this talented lineup sets a huge bar for what’s to come these next two days. Alanis and The Lumineers closed it out Saturday, and The Flaming Lips were surely pulling off an insane Blue Stage closing moment. With Paramore and Queens of the Stone Age on Sunday to finish it out. Being no strangers to the festival, this year’s incarnation will surely be remembered. It’s the 10th year of the festival, and this lineup couldn’t be more iconic in both the significant acts it brings in and its diversity. On that note, come back soon for our Saturday coverage and much more to come! 

About Author


Colleen has been writing about music since 2009. Interviewing bands since the glory days of Warped and has continued to do so for now over fourteen years. As well as doing freelance for other publications, the love for everything rock continues today.