Wilco fans arriving for the second Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA on Friday found that not much had changed from last year’s inaugural event. The often-photographed rooftop Wilco sign from last year (or a version of it) now sat perched against a fence at the main concert site, Joe’s Field. And the onsite record store was moved this year to a more prominent spot between two stages, all the better to move copies of Wilco’s new self-released 7-inch vinyl single, “I Might.”
Otherwise, much was the same. The small food company vendors were there again, including last year’s crowd favorite Samosaman from Barre, Vermont. The dunking booth promised another opportunity to soak Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, although the weekend’s many downpours could take care of that. And once again, DJs spinning classic soul were there; this time, the Rabbit Factory’s DJ John Ciba spun 45s as the crowd steadily filtered into the art museum grounds throughout Friday afternoon and evening.
“Stick with what works,” seemed to be the attitude of Solid Sound this year, after last year’s event drew plaudits from fans and reviewers for its laidback vibe, good amenities and eclectic musical billing. At a press conference prior to the festival start on Friday, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy handled many of the questions about the growth of the festival and Wilco’s launch of their new record label, dBpm Records, with that same attitude. “Let’s see how this goes first,” Tweedy said after being asked whether Solid Sound or the band’s label would expand to include acts outside “the Wilco family.”
Really only the weather this year was far, far worse. The sky started darkening as DJ John Ciba played his selection of romantically distressed vintage soul, but the rain held off as Purling Hiss, a trio from Philadelphia, bashed out a heady racket of burnout rock fueled by the gruff vocals and turbulent guitar solos of frontman Mike Polizee. “Guess how new we are? We’re so new I don’t have a new guitar,” Polizee quipped after being forced to stop mid-set to fix his shredded strings.
Ghostly white fabric lit by purple lights hung from the main stage as Neil Finn’s outfit the Pajama Club (originally called Pajama Party) played the night’s first set at Joe’s Field. It was a family affair for Finn, who’s used to them after playing in Crowded House and Split Enz with his brother Tim. Finn formed Pajama Club with his wife Sharon (while their son Liam, also a musician, played Solid Sound the next day). Given Finn’s stature as a songwriter, it made sense for Pajama Club to play next-to-last, but the band’s supremely mellow pop may have been better off on one of the festival’s smaller stages, as it required closer listening to appreciate.
Things turned ugly just in time for Wilco’s start, as a massive downpour delayed their set briefly before they decided to begin anyway, deluge be damned. As at the mud-filled Glastonbury festival in the U.K., the wise ones in attendance had both rain ponchos and knee-high Wellington boots. There was no protection from the lightning though, which briefly knocked out the power during “Radio Cure,” although the crowd carried the lyrics in a touching fashion.
A beautiful melancholy carried much of the set, from “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” to “One Wing” and “Via Chicago.” So when Tweedy said, “It’s actually kind of beautiful,” looking out at the rain, you almost wanted to punch him for his disconnect from the soggy discomfort, but you also knew what he meant. When Finn joined Wilco onstage at the very end of the night for an energetic run through the Split Enz ‘80s classic, “I Got You,” it was one of those rare musical moments that made all the mud and rain seem worth it.
Review by Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union
LIVE: Solid Sound Festival @ MASS MoCA, Day Two, 6/25/11
WILCO SET LIST
I Might (new song; live debut)
Bull Black Nova
Muzzle of Bees
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
Whole Love (live debut)
Shouldn’t Be Ashamed
Born Alone (new song; live debut)
I’m The Man Who Loves You
Red-Eyed and Blue
I Got You (At The End of the Century)
I Got You” (Split Enz) (with Neil Finn on electric guitar and vocals)