On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the 50 states, the U.S. Women's National Team beat China in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, and Wilco played its first ever all-acoustic set at the fourth staging of the Solid Sound Festival. What a weekend it was!
Solid Sound Festival, June 26-28, 2015: Every other year: It's official now. Honestly, I'm glad for the schedule, and I'm sure the good people of North Adams don't mind not dealing with us on an annual basis. And it gives me something to look forward to when my local franchise doesn't win the World Series (though the NBA Finals were awfully fun this year). Anyway, you know the drill -- all the Wilco-related projects will come at the end.
For our gang, Solid Sound always starts on Thursday, not only with arrival and settling in, but a warm, welcoming dinner and a leisurely walkabout on the museum grounds before the crowds appear -- and the stages are set. The proceedings appeared slightly further behind schedule this time, but hey, Friday is kind of a soft launch anyway.
As such, Friday started with a jaunt around the museum, revisiting older installations and checking out newer exhibits. Not gonna lie -- we made a beeline for the Wilco stage setup, and it was fun to see the equipment up close, beating the view of even the most intimate shows. However, we could've used more consistency with the security detail. Early on, we were shooed off the rug, but later in the weekend, we saw various people donning instruments and even sitting on the drum kit. Hey, kudos to those who got through!
Also deserving of praise was Glenn Kotche's subtle bathroom installation. I didn't notice the chimes and gongs on first viewing, but they were impossible to miss once you knew where to look. You gotta love any project that lets you get your hands on the work, though germaphobes might feel differently. Conversely, a wag of the finger to the Wilco timeline project, which didn't open until Saturday. Why the lag?
Speaking of second takes, Francesco Clemente's paintings managed to raise eyebrows among our group, and it took a repeat trip to the loft to settle the debate. I can't even guess as to how we missed it the first time.
Mikael Jorgenson provided our first dose of music for the day with his solo set. Club B-10 indeed felt like a club, with a strict one-in-one-out policy when we arrived. After a short wait, we made our way in; it turned out the room was very small and simply couldn't accommodate a lot of people. Once inside, we watched as Mike spun a soundtrack to accompany a video playing in the foreground (a train journey during our segment), but alas, we didn't stay long, as the room was too hot and stuffy for our liking.
Back on the main stage, Real Estate opened the proceedings on Joe's Field, but IMHO, they weren't a great fit for the large expanse. Despite their lovely guitars, the songs tended to run into each other, and my mind wandered for much of their set. However, their all-instrumental after-hours show in the courtyard against the video display was fantastic. Funny what a change in venue, hour, and context can do for the music! If I weren't so tired, I could've stayed a lot longer.
Saturday is always the big day at the festival, and it required actual choices this year. After sprinting across the field to set down the hallowed tarp, many of us dispersed to our preferred acts. A few of us headed over to the comedy stage at the Hunter Center to take in Superego, which was high on my list of must-sees. Alas, it was the only comedy I caught for the day, but I got my HR Giger-Werner Herzog-Ayn Rand trifecta, so no complaints at all.
From there, I made my way to Bill Frisell and Sam Amidon in Courtyard C. I've wanted to see Sam Amidon for a while now, particularly since his appearance at the Watkins Family Hour last December, but their collaboration was surprising, to say the least. I guess I was expecting a more accessible set, but they were in their own world. At one point, Sam squawked like a bird of prey over the accompaniment of his violin and Bill's guitar. Still, their set was beautiful and haunting, and it didn't hurt that they closed with the Kinks "Tired of Waiting," albeit slowed and stripped down enough that it wasn't immediately recognizable. I'd be lying if I said I fully understood their set, but I appreciated the collaboration.
Back at Joe's Field, the acts had each been moved up an hour, due to reports of the coming storm. However, the order remained the same, so Richard Thompson took his slot to open the day. I first saw Richard Thompson about 20 years ago, opening for Crowded House, but I really have no memory of that performance, and I'm entirely the wrong person to talk to regarding his legacy, influence, and discography. My one takeaway from this gig: He's a tough, old rocker. Unlike, say, Real Estate, this three-man setup (occasionally joined by members of Tweedy) held our attention with a driving, immediate performance, and I imagine a sizable contingent of the audience were more than pleased to catch him and NRBQ, all on the same day. (Believe it or not, I'm a little too young and a little too female to qualify.)
In an abrupt change of pace, Mac DeMarco followed Richard Thompson. I didn't know a ton about Mac and his band before the gig, except that they were young, catchy, and prone to crowd surfing, but like many other attendees, I loved their set. Maybe in another album or two, they'll learn how to write a bridge, but the tunes were instantly enjoyable, and the band antics were mostly harmless. They lit up a gray Saturday and offered a silly, shambling, and altogether delightful appetizer for Wilco's show. Due to the rain, we couldn't stick around for Cibo Matto's set with Harmonium Mountain later in the night -- in fact, missing Cibo Matto was one of my main regrets from the weekend, but thus is the way of festivals.
Sunday is the relatively calm day, and Joe's Field was fairly empty in the opening hours, as the early birds flocked to the Wilco signing session (not to mention the fans who had to get back to their normal lives and couldn't linger for a third day). A few of us went to the Glenn Kotche and Jeffrey Zeigler session, though I didn't make it to the fan collaboration section. But in the segment I saw, Glenn's trademark playfulness and experimentation shone through, as he mixed everyday incidental sounds with his own cadences and innovations. It's a privilege to hear the world through his ears for a few minutes at a time.
The final trip to Joe's Field started with the Felice Brothers, who are regulars at Hardly Strictly, so I kinda feel like I've seen them a million times before. Up close, they reminded me a little of the Pogues and once again kept our toes tapping ahead of Tweedy. The gathered Felice Brothers fans seemed pleased by their set. Who am I to argue?
But what about Wilco, you ask? I'm getting there! The fest was broken up into three distinct headliner sets: Wilco acoustic on Friday, Wilco traditional on Saturday, and Tweedy and friends on Sunday. I hardly sweated the details; three nights of Wilco and/or Tweedy was all I needed to hear.
Get this: The blog tells me I haven't seen Wilco since Solid Sound in 2013, as if I weren't pumped enough over the occasion of the band's first ever all-acoustic show. It's kind of hard to believe so much time has passed on both counts -- not only since my last Wilco show, but that it took them so long to go the all-unplugged route. I know my reason; what's the band's excuse?
Anyway, Wilco has long opened up its setlist, so if you've seen the band enough or at least follow concert reports, rarities may not be rarities these days. I can only report on what jumped out at me, and right up there is "Bull Black Nova." As it turns out, I've heard it solo acoustic before, but it was still a huge treat to get the rest of the band on this killer track.
I suppose it's never surprising that any Jeff Tweedy-penned can be stripped to its acoustic roots, but certain songs are less expected than others. Take "Hoodoo Voodoo," which has become an all-out jamboree, but the band honored it nonetheless without sacrificing all the players' contributions.
At this point in my fandom, I live for old favorites, and the bluegrass version of "I Got You" is the fastest way to perk up my years. Add in the Sesame Street version of "Outta Mind" and the Daniel Johnston cover "True Love Will Find You in the End," and I'll leave an exceedingly happy camper.
Saturday was perhaps the most straightforward set, as the band delivered its usual electric output. The rain remained a light drizzle for most of the show, and only a few songs had to be sacrificed from the encore. The X factor for me could be summed up in three songs: "Secret of the Sea," which I hadn't heard in a long time; "Let's Not Get Carried Away," which may be too good to ever see an official release; and "Panthers" for sheer obscurity. Make that four -- "Either Way" popped up, and though it's not exactly an obscure tune, at least they finally played it at a show I attended. How do you like them deep cuts? By the way, the downpour delivered later in the night, but by then, we were full of pizza and other carbs.
Tweedy capped off the festival on Sunday with their typical set I've finally been able to see a number of times now. Their show didn't lose much on the larger stage, and the already stand-out tracks ("Diamond Light," "Love Like a Wire") shone even brighter. Then again, I first saw them at Hardly Strictly, so I shouldn't be surprised they could play to the bleachers.
Halfway through the proceedings, Jeff broke off into his solo acoustic segment, and the celebration really began. One by one, various friends and guests made their way to the stage for specially selected songs. The highlights are too numerous to name, but I'll cite a few anyway. I gotta start with "Into the Groove," which is a seminal track from my youth. I joked that Cibo Matto should plug in their groovy electronics for "Spiders," but they hit upon a much better choice on their own, even if Jeff pretended to have never heard of Madonna (even as he proceeded to John Prine with the Felice Brothers).
So many songs from this segment were simply beautiful, including "Harvest Moon" with Luluc; "Chinese Apple" with Glenn Kotche and Ryley Walker; and "Be Not So Fearful" with Wilco's own John and Pat. But if you're going to finish out a three-day festival, you gotta go with the singalongs. The one-two punch of "Give Back the Key to My Heart" and "California Stars" is hard to beat in this regard, with their numerous opportunities for solos, vamping, and all-out harmonies among a couple dozen(ish) musicians, not to mention the help of several thousand fans.
This weekend will be remembered for larger events, but I can't think of any place I'd rather be to celebrate history being made. See you in 2017!
» Solid Sound 2013: the boys are back in town
» Solid Sound 2011: you can tell that i'm not lying
» Solid Sound 2010: trees held us in on all four sides