CAMBRIDGE – Joseph David Keery, a 2010 Newburyport High grad, guitar in hand, stands center stage Sunday afternoon at the Boston Calling music festival. He and his four Djo bandmates are dressed in matching white jumpsuits and a sizable crowd is grooving to their atmospheric psychedelicized rock songs.
Keery, 30, is better known for playing Steve Harrington in the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” But his band’s set at Boston Calling was one of many happy moments at the three-day festival, which returned to the Harvard University athletic complex grounds after two years of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s likely that Keery’s parents David and Nina Keery and his sisters Caroline, Lizzy, Kate and Emma were among those cheering him on under a blazing sun on Sunday. Keery was born in Newburyport, attended River Valley Charter School and participated in Theater in the Open, a performing arts camp at Maudslay State Park. He began acting in high school, at his older sister Caroline’s insistence, and went on to study at The Theatre School at DePaul University and graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting.
Djo is an excellent band (guitars, synths, keyboards) and Keery is a fine singer. He certainly looks the frontman part with his sunglasses, longish ‘80s hairdo/bangs and chin stubble. “Keep Your Head Up” and “Chateau (Feel Alright)” were standouts in the 40-minute set.
Djo was one of some 50 acts that performed on four stages during Boston Calling’s return, and fans starved for live music were eager to celebrate.
COVID, however, is still throwing a monkey wrench into best-laid plans. Aussie rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard were a last-minute cancelation on Saturday when a band member tested positive. That day’s headliner, The Strokes, canceled a few days earlier for the same reason. Friday’s big name, Foo Fighters, had already bowed out after the death of its drummer, Taylor Hawkins. Nine Inch Nails came to the rescue, agreeing to replace both headliners, performing different intense sets the first two nights.
More bad news arrived mid-day Saturday, when severe weather forced the evacuation of the stadium grounds, with attendees directed to seek shelter in Harvard Square while workers and volunteers hunkered down in the adjacent hockey arena, track facility and the bowels of the football stadium. Nearly three hours later, the music resumed but several acts missed their chance to connect with a larger audience when time restraints necessitated cuts. I regretted not having the opportunity to hear from such performers as TikTok star Frances Forever (“Space Girl”) and locals Coral Moons and Ali McGuirk, whose music I love.
Still, the weekend was rich with great music. The big name acts – Cheap Trick, Avril Lavigne, Weezer, Modest Mouse, Glass Animals, Haim, Black Pumas, Run the Jewels and, especially Metallica – all delivered vibrant, rousing sets.
But, for me, the opportunity to discover new musical heroes and the communal experience of sharing these discoveries is the most exciting part of these festivals.
A great addition to Boston Calling was a new stage devoted entirely to local acts. Twenty of the fest’s performers have ties to Massachusetts or New England and many of the best performances occurred on that stage. Crooked Coast (sublime punk-ska), Aaron and the Lords (Aaron Perrino; driving ‘80s rock in the fashion of his The Sheila Divine), the soulful Miranda Rae and her band, Cliff Notez, and Brockton rap collective Van Buren Records, The Chelsea Curve, Avenue, Born Without Bones, Cam Meekins, Paper Tigers, and Dutch Tulips proved there’s a wealth of talent here that put the Boston in Boston Calling.
Boston’s blues powerhouse Julie Rhodes and her trio opened Saturday’s show on a bigger stage with a too-short set. Her cover of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” was sensational. Massachusetts native Charlotte Sands, sporting a Misfits tee-shirt and a strong expressive voice, wowed with a lively set of catchy, Halsey-like pop songs. Celisse, who impressed at last year’s Newport Folk Festival, is a killer guitar player who impressed all until Saturday’s impending storm shooed her off the stage. Country mystery man Orville Peck, who hides his identity with a fringed mask and possesses an expressive baritone, was another Saturday star. Black Pumas and its charismatic frontman Eric Burton were terrific too, setting a funky groove culminating with set-closer/hit “Colors.”
On Friday, The Struts, a Queen/Mott/Black Crowes-like rock band from Derby, England, were fun, as were Haim, the talented sister act that mixes terrific songs with offbeat show(wo)menship. The trio Rüfüs Du Sol and its pulsating electro dance music and eye-catching visuals set a furious beat just as the sun was setting on Friday. Great stuff.
A final observation: Metallica is still the reigning king of the universe. Nearly every attendee on Sunday wore the band’s tee-shirt and Metallica’s merch table line was longer than any of the food stalls at suppertime. They packed the place; there was no way late arrivals could get close to the stage during their performance. Most important: the rockers still kick some serious ass.
Nine Inch Nails