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Boston Calling Friday: The National Bring the House Down

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Along with Neutral Milk Hotel and Future Islands, Boston Calling got started right.

Boston Calling Friday: The National Bring the House Down

Boston Calling is quickly establishing itself as one of the premiere music festivals not just in the Northeast, but perhaps across the country. During the latest installments in May and now September, the festival has really impressed with a sort of understated excellence. It attracts a solid mix of well-known and up-and-coming performers. The set-up is as efficient as it gets with stages side by side and set times that don't overlap. The integration of local food and business around the festival (not to mention the local bands that usually fill the early slots) give the event a decidedly Boston feel. This is a festival that Boston can really be proud of, because it is really coming into its own as a big player.

Things couldn't have gotten off to a better start on the first evening, as a trio of fantastic acts opened things up in grand style. The National, Neutral Milk Hotel and Future Islands all put on wonderful, engaging shows that had the crowd desperate for more. Here's a brief rundown of each act:

• The National are cementing themselves as one of the best live bands out there. If you attend a National concert and aren't moved by frontman Matt Berninger's visceral emoting on stage, something is seriously wrong. Whether you're near the front of the stage or in the back, Berninger will find a way to reach you. Whether it's a growled vocal or a trip into the crowd itself, his shows involve everyone. The whole band, with a touring brass section, really bring their songs to life in a full way. From the blasting awesomeness of "Terrible Love", "Mr. November", "Bloodbuzz Ohio" to the vulnerability of tracks like "I Need My Girl" and an acoustic version "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks", the band spans all levels of intensity and emotion. The National displayed why they are a group everyone needs to see live at least once in their lives, especially when they perform like they did at Boston Calling.

• Neutral Milk Hotel played a festival-ready set that was full of crowd pleasers like "Two-Headed Boy", "Holland, 1945" and "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". And man, did they sound great. Jeff Mangum and the rest of the band brought plenty emotion to their performances, but they hopped about with seemingly boundless energy even on a muggy night. The band had a no photo/phone policy, but of course there were plenty trying to sneak pictures of the indie giants. When security guards were getting a bit feisty, Mangum addressed the men and crowd, saying everything was cool. While they would prefer to have a set where no photos were taken, they respected everyone else. Obviously, hundreds of cell phones came flying out immediately after, because nothing is sacred, but it did not detract from a terrific set.

• Sam Herring, frontman of Neutral Milk Hotel, is a one-man wrecking crew. It's amazing how energetic he is on stage, especially compared to his band mates. Herring and his guttural, intense vocals are impossibly captivating. He really holds your attention like no one I've seen before, especially when he starts dancing. Herring danced so hard he split his pants, but still kept trucking on through. That's commitment. When he left the stage absolutely drenched in sweat, we all applauded the amount of effort he put in. It was certainly worth it.

Check out photos of The National and Future Islands below and look for more Boston Calling dispatches soon! 

The National at Boston Calling

Future Islands at Boston Calling

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