Monday, July 01, 2013

the boys are back in town

Airlines! Am I right, people? That may have been my main thought upon arriving home from the 2013 edition of Solid Sound, almost two full days after originally scheduled, and of course the reality of going back to work set in, but a quick flick through various photos and Facebook messages reminded me of the weekend's brilliance. In my usual fashion, I'll recap non-Wilco events first, then wrap up with the band's portion of the fest. Skim and/or savor as you see fit.

Solid Sound Festival, June 21-23, 2013: Depending on your point of view, festivals are either about opportunity or compromise. As an avowed non-fest person, I'll take the latter tack. Odds are you can't see all the acts, and because of my obsessive priorities, I'm more than willing to sacrifice a performer here or there if it means the overall goal (that is, primo placement at the front of the stage) can be secured. Friday's limited schedule of activities meant we didn't have to make many choices, but unfortunately, I had to skip White Denim. No big loss, as I'd already seen them open several shows for Wilco back in early 2012.

Solid Sound 2013

Over in Joe's Field, the Relatives warmed up the crowd for the headliners, imploring us to to drop it low, then all the way to the ground. I did the best I could, but it's not so easy in a full field. Also, my knees began to hurt, but they were a ton of fun and an awesome inauguration.

On Saturday, the decisions weren't so straightforward, but I committed to the Comedy Cabaret. I had caught segments of the comedy performances at past festivals, but this time, I (along with Brianne and Evonne) firmly planted myself at the Hunter Center, lining up before doors opened and settling into pretty good seats. I'm an unabashed John Hodgman fan, and I hope we'll continue to see him at Solid Sound for, well, ever.

Solid Sound 2013

The first voice we heard in the Hunter Center actually belonged to Reggie Watts, as he introduced something called the John and Jen Show (or thereabouts), followed by the onstage appearance of the aforementioned John and Jen (Kirkman). Jen looked fairly LA in her black top, superskinny jeans, and wedge heels, whereas John bore a striking resemblance to the Unabomber, for reasons he never revealed to us (though he shared him with the crowd at the second show). They worked up the kind of banter typical of a morning TV talk show before easing into what sounded like a more earnest (and hilarious) exchange, touching on childhood bullying, fears, and other eccentricities, none of which I'll try to recap here.

In the midst of their conversation, Jen brought up the concept of an "indigo child," and they attempted to track down a definition of the term via crowdsourcing -- that is, by asking the audience. This went around the room for a while before a guy stepped up with an air of authority. Jen and John brought him up to discuss the topic, and in the midst of their talk, the audience member revealed, apropos of nothing, (1) he was an atheist, and (2) he didn't like kids, though his child was now 7 years old. Eventually, someone offered John an iPhone displaying the Wikipedia definition of the term. I do no justice to the exchange with my flat description, but the awkwardness of their banter suited the comedians' style beautifully.

John somewhat stuck to this model for each of the comedians, first teaming up for easy conversation, then ceding the stage to them for their routine. With Al Madrigal, John heaped a load of appreciation on the veteran comic for teaching him the ways of the road. Unfortunately, I can't really remember what John and Reggie talked about, though I enjoyed John's confusion over how to describe what Reggie does.

Solid Sound 2013

I'm a big podcast listener, and the comedians show up on my playlist all the time, but I haven't checked out their sets for myself. If John Hodgman was indeed in charge, he chose well (unsurprisingly). Jen was a little neurotic, but I loved her energy and her catwalk skills. Al Madigral was a true pro, and even with the constant profane asides to the 11-year-old in attendance, you could see how he's perfected the art of storytelling over the years. Reggie was, well, Reggie, with the songs and improv about large-scale installations, driving while high in Montana, elk burgers, and bringing your olds to a comedy show, among other topics.

As for the music, I totally confess to missing the boat on just about every act scheduled for the day, including pop-up performances. Therefore, no Dream Syndicate reunion, no Beth Orton cameo with Sam Amidon, no Foxygen meltdown, and no consummate excellence from Yo La Tengo or Low. It's my own damn fault, but at least I made it back to Joe's Field in time for Neko Case. Her backing band included familiar faces, such as Kelly Hogan and Jon Rauhouse, but Eric Bachmann from Crooked Fingers was a new addition on guitar and keyboards. Also in attendance: Her dog Liza!

I fell in love with Neko's music around the time of Blacklisted, which remains my favorite of her records, but her sound has changed a lot since then. She remains hard to pigeonhole; with her voice, you'll always want to place her among the great, classic singers, but her song structures and subject matter are anything but customary. Her records are slow burners for me these days, but I always want to listen.

Neko and her band tried out at least a couple of new songs, but don't ask me to describe them, though I think Kelly Hogan played a little contraption with a player-piano-like roll stuck inside. Additionally, they managed to squeeze in a bunch of old favorites, including, er, "Favorite," as well as "This Tornado Loves You," "Hold On, Hold On," and a song from The Hunger Games (what?). Overall, I noticed Neko's a more proficient guitar player than before, and of course, that voice is a treasure. For their final song, they went with the Shangri-Las' "Train from Kansas City," a lovely -- ahem -- vehicle for the lady singers. Too bad the the actual train passing right next to Joe's Field maybe 20 minutes before couldn't have been better coordinated with Neko's schedule.

Which leave us with with headliners: Wilco. You may have heard of them? This already lengthy account is about to go on for a bit longer, so settle in.

Solid Sound 2013

From the outset, Friday was touted as the all-request show, and our suggestions were encouraged. I guess all Wilco shows ostensibly take requests via the website, but I honestly don't know where people got the idea it would be anything other than a covers set. If you went to the website to place a vote, you saw open text fields that allowed you to type in your own ideas, unlike the drop-down menu for every other show. Then again, as the person who put together the Wilco/Tweedy covers compilation (Someone Else's Songs, if that rings a bell) a while ago, I'd hardly object to a whole set devoted to off-catalog tunes. Only a few songs into the show itself did it hit me that we might be in for more Wilco songs than I expected.

As it happened, my original instincts -- and the overall simpler explanation -- prevailed. The band opened with the deliciously appropriate "The Boys Are Back in Town," and the audience's backing vocals fell right in line (when we weren't busy cheering like fools).

The second song struck me like Cupid's arrow: "Cut Your Hair," by Pavement. You could've knocked over Judy and me with a feather right then, and I probably lost the majority of my voice on this song, thanks to shouting out the lyrics ("Korea! Korea!") and my overall appreciation. I remember casually asking Jeff for a Pavement song at one of our early basement shows, but he couldn't quite deliver. Still, my life had been incomplete without hearing Wilco do Pavement. Thank you, genius requester, whoever you are.

I could've gone home a happy girl at this point, but so many more delights awaited on the setlist. Jeff wryly thanked the person who requested "New Madrid," which turned out to be the only Wilco-related song this evening. A handful of other songs from the set have shown up at Wilco or solo Tweedy shows over the years ("In the Street," "Simple Twist of Fate," "Ripple," "James Alley Blues," "Don't Fear the Reaper," "Thank You Friends," "The Weight"), but they're still relatively rare on the band's setlist. I'm a huge fan of "James Alley Blues" and "Thank You Friends," and I always welcome their airing, and Jeff suggested we make a tradition of "The Weight" at Solid Sound. I doubt anyone would object to that motion.

Some tunes emerged completely out of the blue ("Dead Flowers," "Waterloo Sunset," "Waterloo," "Who Loves the Sun," "And Your Bird Can Sing," "Psychotic Reaction," "Marquee Moon," "Cinnamon Girl," "Surrender") and may have been the biggest gob-smackers. I fully support the band's decision to do "And Your Bird Can Sing" twice, even if the high notes sapped even more of my voice, and I probably don't need to rhapsodize about "Waterloo Sunset" more than I already have. Also, perhaps those two songs in particular will bring Wilco (Jeff) a little closer to making my Largo dreams come true. Don't worry, I'm not holding my breath for it. [Update: I can finally breathe!]

Just about every song was a highlight for me, but "Marquee Moon" hit me between the eyes, not least because I've been requesting it -- to no avail -- for years at Largo. Let's cut to the chase: Nels was transcendent on the track, and the band didn't back off from the song's sprawling glory. I'm not afraid to admit I didn't recognize "Dead Flowers," so by the same token, I hope "Marquee Moon" cast some light on, say, Television's influence on "Impossible Germany."

Solid Sound 2013Finally, the Friday set had a lovely bonus of special guests. John Hodgman served as emcee, and it quickly became apparent that he and the band were in on a joke. In one of his early misdirections, he said something about "the band," which we mistook to mean The Band. I guess he took the cue from there because he later tempted us with "the human league ... of musicians" and "Shonen Knife ... would love this song." John did get in a request of his own for "Kingpin," in case you were wondering what lurks in the mind of the Daily Show's evil genius. My takeaway: He's a Being There guy! Score!

Yo La Tengo dropped in for "Tom Courtenay," which meant the setlist included two songs namechecking Julie Christie -- has that been done before?? Lucius played Agnetha and Frida on "Waterloo," but the biggest get had to be "Color Me Impressed," which brought out TOMMY FUCKING STINSON. The Replacements nerds among our gang loved it, and I don't blame them. We were all caught up in the thrill, especially watching Tommy tell Jeff "fuck you," while sidling up to Nels for ax man action. (Don't worry, Tommy and Jeff had huge smiles and hugs for each other by the end of the song.) For those keeping score at home, the expense and hassle of traveling to Solid Sound had been paid about a thousand times over at this point.

Solid Sound 2013

I haven't even covered my absolute favorite part of the show! I had a small mental list of covers that would instantly render me comatose if the band chose to do them, but I had submitted my own idea when the Wilcoworld email went out. At the time, I wanted to listen to only song, to the point where I sought out the hour-long remixes on YouTube to serenade me through the workday. You guessed it -- I (and millions of others) was hooked on Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," the best summer hit I've heard in years. I voted my conscience and, once we arrived in North Adams, reported that request to anyone who'd listen (whether or not they asked).

Cut to the Stump the Band portion of Friday night, minus the first two requesters. The third time was the charm, as the *cough* middle-aged, WFMU-shirt-wearing music nerd (aka Not Tom Scharpling) asked the band to play the very same song I had hoped for. Get this -- the band knew it!

Who can blame them? The tune has real musical chops, including Nile Rodgers' sublime presence on bass. I think Glenn might've started off the song before the others eased in. Jeff isn't exactly Pharrell, but we chipped in with the singalong as soon as we got our whoops and hollers out of our system. Perhaps best of all, Mike got his vocoder moment. To no one's surprise, it has emerged as the major talking point of the whole festival. I doff my hat to the WFMU dude for sharing my excellent taste on at least one song and two bands.

Solid Sound 2013

Saturday's set was closer to what we expect from Wilco, but even there, they pulled out some surprises, including the high-energy opener of "I Got You," "Dawned on Me," and "Box Full of Letters." Paul sometimes talks about the band's pacing, and I noticed it here, especially around the lurching middle segment. But I liked the mix of songs, as well as the sheer number of tracks. Julian Lage did beautifully on "Forget the Flowers" and "California Stars," and for the latter, the band was also joined by Lucius and Georgia from Yo La Tengo. It's always good news when the audience sings along, and I can report they chimed in on "You Are My Face" and "Summerteeth," among others. At this point, I consider only a handful of songs to be true Wilco live rarities, but the band actually hit one of them in the encore: "Just a Kid," albeit without the Blisters.

Sunday turned out to be a lazy day that also happened to be hot and humid. Between air conditioning breaks, we saw the Radiolab/On Fillmore performance, which was a lot of fun, though I still feel for the actor surely melting away in the Shrewdinger outfit. Out on Joe's Field, we briefly listened in on Os Mutantes and hung out for Martin Medeski & Wood long enough to catch Nels and Jeff's guest spots. It was the kind of leisurely repast we needed after our epic Saturday.

Solid Sound 2013Over the course of the three-odd days, we also enjoyed the exhibits on display at Mass MOCA, including Xu Bing's Phoenix, the 1-minute movie film festival, and an exhibit on fan art whose title escapes me. Among the Wilco-derived installations, the Loft brought us up close with artifacts we've seen from afar, and a week away from the festivities, I'm able to laugh at the guys who gamely attempted to mete out some semblance of melody from Glenn Kotche's Earth Drums.

I'm skimming over huge swaths of memories from the festival, but I'd kick myself if I didn't mention one more aspect: the amazing camaraderie of old and new friends. I've run out of ways to describe the connection and bonhomie we all generate, except to know that I miss them as soon as the party ends, and I can't wait to see them again.

See also:
» Solid Sound 2011: you can tell that i'm not lying
» Solid Sound 2010: trees held us in on all four sides
» i am in paradise
» my mother's sister's husband's brother