Live: Day Three of the Solid Sound Festival @ MASS MoCA, 8/15/10

Deep Blue Organ Trio (photo by Andy Gregory)
Deep Blue Organ Trio (photo by Andy Gregory)

The third and final day of Wilco’s highly civilized and family-friendly music festival began with the soothing, Sunday-morning-coming-down sounds of Chicago’s jazzy Deep Blue Organ Trio wafting over the MASS MoCA courtyard (that is, if you skipped the opening yoga for the less healthy, but tasty Bloody Marys and Mimosas offered up by the Gramercy Bistro on museum grounds).

Most write-ups of the Wilco-curated fest are mentioning the event’s many logistical perks: onsite bar and restaurant, indoor bathrooms, free parking, punctual start times, good coffee, reasonably priced beer and varied ethnic food. That’s because they are a rarity at such things, unfortunately, and made the three-day experience of non-stop music more manageable—and enjoyable.

“Our whole city looks like this courtyard… if it wasn’t an art gallery,” Outrageous Cherry frontman/guitarist Matthew Smith said during the day’s first rock and roll set, as he looked out over the weathered brick walls of the former textile factory turned contemporary art museum.

Outrageous Cherry (photo by Andy Gregory)
Outrageous Cherry (photo by Andy Gregory)

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy is supposedly a big fan of the Detroit garage band, who write clever and melodic tunes. They’ve displayed a heavy psychedelic bent on past albums with lots of fuzzed-out guitar solos and trippy song titles, but OC played a straighter ’60s jangle-pop here, anchored by the primitive beats of drummer Samantha Linn on a scaled-down, cymbal-less kit.

Threat of rain moved the Autumn Defense and other bands scheduled to play on the uncovered stage of Courtyard C into the museum’s indoor Hunter Center. The theater wasn’t big enough to hold all of the festival-goers clamoring to see the six-piece side project of Wilco bassist John Stirratt and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, who joined Wilco in 2004 after pairing up with Stirratt on the Autumn Defense’s first album.

The lush tranquility of the Autumn Defense’s countrified chamber pop – true to their name, it does sound autumnal – had a soporific effect, in part due to the intense darkness of the theater at mid-day. But the band shook it off at the end for a rousing cover of Big Star’s “You Can’t Have Me.”

The Nels Cline Singers, who played outdoors next on the larger courtyard stage, struck a stark contrast to the pretty harmonies and lovelorn themes of Stirratt’s band. The all-instrumental group’s name is ironic: they have no singers, and no pretenses to entertaining with anything pretty or pop.

The project – a collaboration between Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, drummer Scott Amendola and bassist Devon Hoff – gives Cline room to exercise his formidable improvisational skills. The Singers’ set was often challenging, but a large crowd stuck to it as Cline and Co. freaked out on some fairly out-there, avant-jazz.

Avi Buffalo, an indie-pop band from Long Beach, California, got a big hand-up from Cline and Tweedy with their prominent festival slot. The trio’s 19-year-old singer-songwriter Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg is an avid Wilco fan, and he played like a young guitar prodigy influenced by Cline. Although Avi Buffalo had a number of catchy songs about the angst of teenage love and lust, Zahner-Isenberg’s high-pitched singing voice crackled and squeaked with a boyish lack of control that grew distracting.

After Saturday’s marathon session of beer, burning sun and nearly 12 hours of music, Sunday’s earlier end time was merciful. Shortly after 4pm, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy took the stage of Joe’s Field, a plot of land next to MASS MoCA used to house the festival headliners’ much larger stage. He had the task of not duplicating any of the tracks from Wilco’s epic 30-song set from the night before. It was self-imposed, no doubt. Who would have held a few repeats against him?

Jeff Tweedy (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Jeff Tweedy (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)

Then again, Wilco fans can be a demanding lot. “You guys aren’t going to let anything slide, are you?” Tweedy joked after hitting a wrong note during the delicate “Muzzle of Bees” four songs in. “A half fret off, and it’s like, hahaha,” he said, mimicking the crowd laughing at him.

A self-effacing nature, and camaraderie with his fans, has always been part of Tweedy’s charm. His solo acoustic set surely pleased the die-hards, as it reached back to early Wilco albums (“Sunken Treasure,” “Via Chicago”), revisited Tweedy’s previous band, the gone-but-not-forgotten Uncle Tupelo (“New Madrid”), and drew from previous lesser-known side projects (Loose Fur’s “The Ruling Class,” Golden Smog’s “Lost Love” and “Remember the Mountain Bed” from the “Mermaid Avenue” Woody Guthrie sessions with Billy Bragg).

He also covered Bob Dylan on the always poignant “Simple Twist of Fate” and dusted off a few obscurities, like “Alone” from the unreleased, bootlegged demos for Wilco-watershed-album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”

Wearing a straw hat and a bright pink shirt, Wilco bassist John Stirratt strolled across the grass of Joe’s Field carrying a lawn chair part-way through Tweedy’s set. If any one element of the Wilco-fest was most appealing, it was this breakdown in barriers between performers and fans. Throughout the weekend, members of performing bands walked the festival grounds largely unmolested, checking out their fellow bands. Maybe they had no green room, but still, the feeling of accessibility was nice.

The final portion of Tweedy’s set added solid closure to the weekend. As rain started to come down, he was joined onstage by various members of bands from earlier in the weekend to play songs of their choosing.

An in-over-their-heads Avi Buffalo joined Tweedy onstage for a cover of Neil Young’s “Look Out for My Love.” Scott McCaughey, in flaming purple shirt (and teased by Tweedy for missing sound-check), came onstage for a fun though botched rendition of the Minus 5’s “The Family Gardener.” Nels Cline, John Stirratt and Pat Sansone of Wilco and Greg Wieczorek from the Autumn Defense gave a full-band treatment to the night’s three closing songs, all early Wilco classics: “It’s Just that Simple,” “Passenger Side” and “Outtasite (Outta Mind).”

Review by Kirsten Ferguson

Photos by Andy Gregory and Andrzej Pilarczyk. See more of Andrzej’s photos from the Solid Sound Festival at the Nippertown photo archive.
Additional Photos: Matt Mac Haffie’s photos from Day Three

Sunken Treasure
Remember the Mountain Bed
Please Be Patient with Me
Muzzle of Bees
In a Future Age
Via Chicago
The Ruling Class
Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard
Simple Twist of Fate
Someday Soon
New Madrid
Lost Love
I’m Always in Love
Spiders (Kidsmoke)
Tennessee Porch Swing (with Sir Richard Bishop)
Ingrid Bergman (with Nick Zammuto of the Books)
Look Out for My Love (with Avi Buffalo)
Dash 7 (with Nels Cline)
The Family Gardener (with Scott McCaughey of the Baseball Project)
Someone Else’s Song
So Much Wine
It’s Just That Simple (with Nels Cline, the Autumn Defense)
Passenger Side (with Nels Cline, the Autumn Defense)
Outtasite (Outta Mind) (with Nels Cline, the Autumn Defense and Matthew Smith of Outrageous Cherry)

More Recaps:

Berkshire Living: My hometown is officially awesome by Abby Wood.

With Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s approval, North Adams has officially been dubbed totally cool…by me, anyway. Sure, I’ve always loved my hometown and have a deep affection for the Berkshire mountains and their fall foliage. Nonetheless, never before this past weekend could I honestly admit to thinking, “Wow, I feel really cool being from North Adams.”

The New York Times: Wilco Builds a Festival for Itself and slideshow

The Solid Sound Festival, which drew more than 5,000 people to Mass MoCA over the weekend, was conceived as a Wilco production, top to bottom. Mr. Tweedy and his band mates served as curators (their word), reserving space first for their own side projects and then for a handful of compatible acts. The programming, though uneven, had a strong center of gravity, a spirit of communion between the band and its fans. Wilco has created a festival in its own image, in other words, and by most measures it was a jubilant success.

Hartford Courant: Solid Sound: the wrap-up, or, why this festival worked

Much of Solid Sound wouldn’t have worked at a bigger festival. That was the point. In fact, that was its charm.

Curated by Chicago rock band Wilco, the three-day music and arts event last Friday-Sunday at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Mass., was in many ways an antidote to big-name destination festivals elsewhere in the country.

Those festivals, the Coachellas, Bonnaroos and Lollapaloozas, have grown into monolithic events, and by broadening their musical appeal in a quest to pack more and more bodies onto the festival grounds, they’ve lost the distinct musical identities that made them special in the first place.

Berkshire Living: Seth Rogovoy: THE BEAT GOES ON: Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival

Jeff Tweedy hates music festivals so much, he says, you’d have to pay him to be at one. And he doesn’t mean to perform. He means to attend. As the frontman for Wilco, Tweedy is used to being paid to play large festivals; that goes with the territory of leading one of America’s top indie-rock bands. But when it came time to envision a musical gathering that Tweedy himself would want to go to, he threw out the rulebook.

Boston Herald: Wilco Fest Built on Solid Ground:

Most new festivals need a couple years to work out logistical and aesthetic kinks, but Wilco and MassMoCA seem to have done their homework. Combining a diverse array of handpicked (by the band) musical artists with interactive art installations from members of Wilco, as well as a host of comedians, children’s storytellers and satiric puppet shows, Solid Sound had something for everyone. Of course it should be mentioned that being able to stroll around MassMoCA’s always-intriguing modern art exhibits is something that the Bonnaroos and Lollapaloozas of the festival circuit just don’t have.

A prepared drum from Glenn Kotche's Interactive Drumhead installation (photo by Andy Gregory)
A prepared drum from Glenn Kotche's Interactive Drumhead installation (photo by Andy Gregory)

1 Comment
  1. steve ward says

    I go to alot of shows and festivals, and I can honestly say that this was the best festival ever. Wilco put alot of thought into every aspect of this festival. The band gives off a vibe of total respect for their fans. It seemed to be the perfect storm of band, venue, community making all feel welcome. Got my fingers crossed for next year
    The comedy section of the festival was GREAT! I can’t get “The Taint Monolouges” out of my mind.

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