LIVE: Solid Sound @ MASS MoCA, 6/26/15 (Day One)
Review and photographs by Kirsten Ferguson
“I think this is about as perfect as it gets. This night and you guys,” said frontman Jeff Tweedy during Wilco’s headlining set on the opening night of Solid Sound, the three-day festival that he and his band curate every other summer at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams.
It was a perfect night. The Berkshire Mountains surrounding Joe’s Field, where the headlining acts played, looked lush and green. The reflective water tower on the field’s northern edge – now a familiar landmark for repeat Solid Sound attendees – shone like a beacon. And young kids were everywhere – making it seem like a place where the future of rock and roll could possibly be bright as well.
There was also a historical significance to the night. Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court issued their long-awaited ruling on marriage equality, making same-sex marriage legal across all 50 states.
“I was thinking, it’s so much nicer singing this song now that everyone can get married,” Tweedy said to great cheers midway through “Hesitating Beauty,” an old-fashioned ode to love and marriage from Wilco’s “Mermaid Avenue” collaboration with Billy Bragg set to words by Woody Guthrie.
“This is probably the worst song to play after that lovely feeling,” the eternally wry Tweedy joked when he followed with “She’s a Jar,” a gorgeous song that ends with a gut-punch line about domestic violence.
During the band’s unplugged 31-song set – their first-ever all-acoustic concert, which you can download for free online – Wilco traded in their usual electric instrumentation: guitarist Nels Cline, known for his searing electric guitar excursions, adopted a lap steel while multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone played his parts on a banjo, xylophone and other instruments.
The song choices ranged across several decades of material, from the sunny “I’m Always in Love” from Summerteeth to the sing-along “Hummingbird” from A Ghost Is Born. The acoustic instrumentation made it a bit harder for sound to carry across Joe’s Field, so to truly get the full effect of their set, it paid to be closer up.
Of all the songs, the experimental “Bull Black Nova” may have benefitted the most from the acoustic form – it was boosted by lots of unexpected experimentation and some genuine shredding by Tweedy on acoustic guitar.
Earlier in the day, as crowds were filtering in to the sprawling mill complex, Speedy Ortiz kicked off the festival in Courtyard C. An indie rock band from Northampton, they were relative locals; at one point, the drummer noted the recent addition of the word “Masshole” to the Oxford Dictionary. Although missing their regular bass player, it didn’t show, and the band played an enjoyably jagged pop-rock that harkened back to the 1990s – someone mentioned Bettie Serveert – while sounding fresh today.
On record, Real Estate are a fantastic band, but their dreamy, pastoral rock did get a bit lost on the main stage out at Joe’s Field, where they warmed up for Wilco as the sun started to set over the mountains. Later in the night, after Wilco was done, they played a trippy instrumental set in Courtyard D as psychedelic patterns flashed across the museum’s brick walls.
Wilco’s first-ever all-acoustic concert at WFUV-FM
WILCO SET LIST (ALL ACOUSTIC)
War on War
I’m Always in Love
Company in My Back
Bull Black Nova
Hesitating Beauty (Billy Bragg & Wilco)
She’s a Jar
New Madrid (Uncle Tupelo)
Forget the Flowers
It’s Just That Simple
Airline to Heaven (Billy Bragg & Wilco)
Dawned on Me
I Got You (At the End of the Century)
Outta Mind (Outta Sight)
The Thanks I Get
A Shot in the Arm
True Love Will Find You in the End (Daniel Johnston)
We’ve Been Had (Uncle Tupelo)
Hoodoo Voodoo (Billy Bragg & Wilco)
I’m a Wheel