LIVE: Solid Sound Festival @ MASS MoCA, 6/21&22/13


The Solid Sound Festival

Reviews by Greg Haymes and Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Kirsten Ferguson

Here’s a batch of random observations from the first two days of Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA in North Adams:

BREAKOUT STARS: Lucius. Led by the charming and glamorous, look-alike vocalists-keyboardists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, the Brooklyn quintet offered up a set of very smart, accessible pop songs melded with enough edge and eccentricity to appeal to the alt crowd as well.

MOST RAMBUNCTIOUS: (Tie) Foxygen’s Sam France and Solid Sound Courtyard C stage crew. Overcome with a severe case of rock ‘n’ roll fever, the Foxygen frontman began climbing up the stage support/lighting trestle and was almost to the top before a member of the stage crew rushed onstage, pulled him down and threw him hard to the stage floor. The band simply kept playing through the incident, and afterward France declared, “It’s all part of the show. It’s theater.” But they followed with the song “No Destruction,” which features the lyric, “There’s no need to be an asshole…”

GETTIN’ BIGGER: MASS MoCA director Joe Thompson estimated that Saturday’s attendance was about 8,000 – approximately 2,000 more than attended the last Solid Sound fest in 2011. It was also the first Solid Sound fest to completely sell-out.


MOOD LIGHTING: The nearly full moon hung over the crowd on Friday night as Wilco performed Television’s seminal “Marque Moon,” while artist Marko Remec’s installation of safety mirrors on a fire control tank at the entrance to Joe’s Field gave off its own bright illumination. By Saturday night, the waxing supermoon was practically in full splendor, leading Jeff Tweedy to quip, “We’ll just keep playing the music and watching the moon get bigger.”

SIGN THAT DAFT PUNK’S LATEST HAS TRUE CROSSOVER APPEAL: The ubiquitous dance floor hit “Get Lucky” by the French electronic music duo made it into Wilco’s all-covers set on Friday night.

GOIN’ GLOBAL: According to Solid Sound organizers, festival attendees came from 43 states and 18 countries including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Denmark, Germany, Spain, UK, Canada and South Africa.

MOST UNEXPECTED COVER: Sure, it seemed as though Wilco’s Friday night rendition of ABBA’s gem “Waterloo” was a shoe-in winner for this category. (Or was it their treatment of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”?) But then in the middle of his Saturday set, Mark Mulcahy dropped the vintage children’s ditty, “Robin in the Rain,” (popularized by Raffi) and stole the honor out from under Wilco’s noses. Then again, there was also Sam Amidon’s poignant take on Tim McGraw’s “My Old Friend”…

Sean Rowe
Sean Rowe

GOIN’ IT ALONE: The only solo performer was Nippertown’s own Sean Rowe, who captivated the crowd all by himself, despite a guitar cord glitch that caused him to re-boot his closing cover of Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952.”

ADDING TO THE ATMOSPHERE: A mysterious rumbling sound emanating from the picnic table area turned out to be children thumping on “Earth Drums” – a hands-on exhibit created by Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche. And a freight train that flew past on elevated tracks above the field on both nights blew its long lonesome whistle, drawing cheers from the crowd.

UNANNOUNCED SPECIAL GUESTS: Hudson’s man-about-town Tommy Stinson joined Wilco for a romp through the Replacements’ “Color Me Impressed” on Friday. Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis popped onstage (along with Wilco’s Pat Sansone) to close out Mark Mulcahy’s Saturday opening set with “I Have Patience” and “Bill Jocko.” And the sublime Beth Orton slipped onstage to duet with her husband Sam Amidon for an old gospel tune.

Neko Case
Neko Case

BEST ONSTAGE PATTER: Neko Case, who was on an admitted Sweet Tarts sugar-high as she rambled on about an overly friendly woodchuck. Runner-up: Sam Amidon, who explained that the lineage of Kirsten Dunst’s facial expressions in her films could possibly be predicting the end of the world as we know it.

QUIETEST FESTIVAL CAMPGROUNDS EVER: At Solid Ground, the main camping spot for Solid Sound attendees, you could barely hear a pin drop after the concert ended on both nights – a reflection of the number of families with young children who pitched their tents on the grassy field of a nearby community college.

BIGGEST UNDERSTATEMENT: Following a particularly churning rendition of “Then She Remembers,” the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn told the crowd, “Thank you very much. Oh yeah. We haven’t done this in a while.” Their Solid Sound set was the band’s first North American performance in 25 years.

POP-UPS: I’m bummed that I missed the Lucius pop-up concert beneath Xu Bing’s “Phoenix” on Saturday afternoon, but it was a pleasant surprise to find a pair of roots-Americana bands – Pittsfield’s the Picky Bastards on Friday (who segued from the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” into Radiohead’s “Creep”) and Manchester, Vermont’s Gold Town – playing unamplified sets outdoors at the museum’s entrance to promote the FreshGrass festival, which takes place at MASS MoCA in September.

NEW PERCUSSIVE TREND: Stand-up drummers, who were featured in both Low and Lucius. Heck, at times Lucius featured two stand-up drummers.

BEST FOOD: The local charity that ran the concession booth at the Solid Ground campsite offered some decent drunk food in the form of burgers and French fries, while Vermont’s Samosaman Natural Foods continued to be a perennial favorite among festival-goers for its stuffed pastry filled with goodness. With so many more attendees this year, the lines for food — and just about everything — were definitely longer, though.

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING: Pausing to re-tune his guitar after “When You Smile,” the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn’s explained, “We didn’t used to tune back in the ’80s. Things change…”

BEST AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION: Crowd members swinging their arms in coordinated crawl-stroke movements on the lawn of Joe’s Field as the sharply dressed, slo-funk gospel band the Relatives exhorted them to “do the swim.”

OVERHEARD IN THE CROWD: “Wilco is our generation’s Steely Dan,” lamented a fan of the early Wilco years, taking issue with the band’s later turn toward a much more controlled, and at times predictable, virtuoso-musicality.


LAST LAUGH: After telling the crowd during Saturday night’s Wilco set that members of Foxygen hadn’t known who he was when he introduced himself, Jeff Tweedy joked that he got the last laugh when the band was kicked out of the festival. Foxygen’s tambourine player had indeed been hauled out of the VIP area by security during Neko Case’s set for some drunken offense, and Tweedy followed his slag by dedicating Wilco’s “Passenger Side” – a song about being too inebriated to drive – to the talented but self-destructo band.

COMIN’ SOON: Yes, they headlined with what could only be called lengthy (or perhaps sprawling) sets on both Friday and Saturday, but if you still just didn’t get enough Wilco during Solid Sound, the band is headed back to Nippertown for the AmericanaramA Festival at SPAC on Sunday, July 21, sharing the stage with Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket and Ryan Bingham.

WILCO SET LIST (6/22/13)
I Got You (At the End of the Century)
Dawned on Me
Box Full of Letters
At My Window Sad and Lonely
Forget the Flowers (with Julian Lage)
She’s a Jar
You Are My Face
One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)
Art of Almost
I Might
Summer Teeth
I’m Always in Love
Sunken Treasure
Far, Far Away
Via Chicago
Impossible Germany
Born Alone
Laminated Cat (Loose Fur)
Passenger Side
Whole Love
Can’t Stand It
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m the Man Who Loves You
A Shot in the Arm
California Stars (with Julian Lage)
Just a Kid
Dreamer in My Dreams

Sam Amidon
Sam Amidon
The Blisters
The Blisters

Mark Mulcahy
Mark Mulcahy
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.