Live Review: Boston Calling’s Arena finds a groove among humor, insight, and empowerment

Bright-Landry Hockey Center — or simply the “Arena,” as it’s dubbed this weekend — was nearly busting at the seams Saturday afternoon (May 26) at Boston Calling. Bleachers and tables were full almost an hour ahead of Natalie Portman taking the stage to introduce her next set of friends, with fans of St. Vincent and Pod Save America wanting to catch a glimpse of their respective favorites. And Portman must’ve felt the energy in the room, as she stayed around for a bit longer than her previous trip to the mic the day prior.

The Arena was nearly shaking with fervor as Portman brought St. Vincent to the stage to deliver her own original scoring for 1933’s Verdict Not Guilty, and while the visual still provoked a sense of “What the hell was that?” in the minds of onlookers, the vibe was noticeably lighter than it had been the previous night. And as Portman delivered a spoken word performance of her own, the building took on the comfort level of a planetarium before Brooklyn native Leikeli47 helped aid in bringing the rest of the day into the stratosphere.

With a mix of sick hip-hop beats and sensational soul, the masked diva dropped bars on bars as a number of short films played behind her and the dancers that accompanied her to the stage, including two 1906 Alice Guy originals, The Consequences of Feminism and A Sticky Woman, as well as field work footage from the collection of author Zora Neale Hurston.

With a shift from music to comedy set in motion, the arena remained packed with anticipation for Mass natives and podcast sensation Pod Save America, with Winchester native Jon Favreau and Dedham boy Tommy Vietor taking the stage to an unbridled standing O, with Jon Lovett returning to accompany his Tuesday-edition podmates. Sunny writer Erin Ryan reprised her role as an arena guest, as the quartet sat down to navigate a no-holds-barred thrashing of Donald Trump and his decision to separate kids from their parents at the border.

Amidst a variety of other topics, the former Obama staffers used observational humor to relay their frustration with the realty-TV-like vibe permeating from the White House, much like Lovett had done the previous day with Lovett or Leave It, but this time felt different. The jokes were met with more of a booming laughter, the political frustration reciprocated with boos and jeers at twice the volume, and the Harvard jabs coming three times more, as fans were reminded just how many controversial names belong to the Harvard tradition.

Hosting the stand-up portion of the weekend, Brooklyn-based yuckster Martin Urbano took his time in introducing fellow comics Jo Firestone, Tony Hinchcliffe and Bridget Everett, sharing his own material in between sets. As a he riffed on what it’s like to grow up as a Mexican (“My father is taco repair man, and my mother is a Virgin Mary candle…”), fans began to make their way to the exits and back into the humidity before Urbano began acting his written jokes out on stage as a member of the crowd read them aloud off a piece of paper.

Review continues below after the photo gallery.

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