Monday, July 10, 2017

when we came here today

We all felt something true.

Solid Sound Festival, June 23-25, 2017

I've been slow to post concert reports. Quite simply, I've seen many, many shows by the musicians who dominate this blog, and it's hard to come up with new thoughts and phrasings at times. I still like them a ton, but I don't always know what to say about them.

I faced a similar quandary with Wilco's Solid Sound festival. I'm now in the habit of not preparing a ton for trips -- I mean, I check the weather, I pack accordingly, and I know where I'm staying and how I'm getting there. But I no longer plan out activities to the minute, and I try to let the chips fall as they may. Also, Solid Sound made a new rule barring tarps and lawn chairs close to the stage, so we kinda had to get off our butts. For the first time, I felt like the days were wide open.

Solid Sound 2017

The only two non-Wilco events on my radar were the comedy show and the Mark Bittman talk. With the former, John Hodgman once again took over emcee duties, which he handled with aplomb, especially in light of all the cancellations. I hit the first installation, featuring Michelle Buteau and Nick Offerman. I know Michelle mostly through her @midnight appearances, where she's always good. As for Nick Offerman, I doubt he needs an introduction, but I admit I've seen exactly one episode of Parks and Recreation (the one with Jeff Tweedy).

All three were great, and I especially enjoyed John Hodgman's long-form storytelling/standup. Michelle Buteau was more classically standup, and I kind of gasped in recognition when she told of her European in-laws melting in the sun at the beach. Nick Offerman was the surprise and delight. I vaguely know of the Ron Swanson persona, but even I could tell how he plays off and satirizes that reputation. Like John Hodgman, he's not a traditional comic, but he's an expert raconteur. His fans are in for a treat.

Mark Bittman drew a good crowd, though not in the same numbers as the comedy show. I love Mark Bittman's recipes, and a half-dozen of them are in regular rotation in my kitchen. Alas, his talk didn't involve a cooking demonstration, and a lot of the discussion didn't exactly break new ground. However, I loved how he handled a question about food waste, framing it not as a matter of composting and eating our leftovers but instead the huge farming subsidies and resources devoted to soybeans and corn.

But what about the music? First, the non-Wilco acts: Friday featured Dave and Phil Alvin. Music nerds can tell you a lot more about their history than I can, but listening to them, I was immediately transported back to the pre-No Depression sound of early-'80s California indie rock (Evonne confirmed as much for me). I loved seeing Dave's classic split-legged rocker pose, and I was glad to be reminded that he co-wrote "4th of July" during his time with X. Downey, Calif., represent!

Of course I caught the rest of Wilco's openers too. Television was disappointing, and I'm glad I saw the band's first reunion tour all those years ago, but Kurt Vile was fantastic, and I finally understood the chatter about him (though in all honesty, I probably won't ever see him live again on my own accord).

I caught only one pop-up performance: Chikamorachi, aka Darin Gray and Chris Corsano, accompanied by Jeff Tweedy on guitar. It was loud, crowded, and abstract, but I loved it. I'd absolutely check them out again if they came to town.

Solid Sound 2017Among the other scheduled performances, I saw only Kevin Morby, who was breathtaking. Of course, I saw him last fall at the Fillmore, where he sounded great. The last nine months of touring have done him good because the whole band has notably improved further. I was impressed enough that I went out and bought the record when I got home.

OK, now for the Wilco portion of the weekend! I've been one of those jerks turning up my nose at bands performing classic albums in their entirety ... except when I don't. Wilco put on a contest to let the fans decide which record they would play from front to back, and as an obedient follower, I voted early and often for my favorite, Being There. It won, but that rascally Wilco had a surprise for us, as they played both Being There and the runner-up, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. In retrospect, did anyone think Wilco wouldn't do YHF? But we didn't know this until Friday night, when they finished up Being There, and we saw that the band had about an hour left before curfew. I thought maybe they'd do b-sides or covers, maybe favorite tunes, but after the first couple of tracks, we knew what was coming. Congrats to all my YHF-loving friends!

But back to Being There: I've already detailed my love for this record, but it's another matter altogether to hear it in sequence live. About halfway through the first side, I realized how front-loaded the album is and the early thrills coming our way. Of course, I love all the songs on the record, so I'm biased, but it's nice to be reminded of the power of the record.

Solid Sound 2017

Saturday's night set was more in line with what you'll hear if you see Wilco on the road right now, though Jeff admitted they were trying to trick us with the opener "At Least That's What You Said" -- no, the band wasn't doing A Ghost Is Born in its entirety. But they sprinkled in tracks from AM, Summerteeth, both editions of Mermaid Avenue, and I guess the records that didn't quite rank as highly among voters. Let me add the ladies in front of me were happy to see Josh do his thing on "Hoodoo Voodoo."

Sunday is typically the most relaxed day of the festival, and it was no different this year, as we eased to the front for the Tweedy set. Jeff himself told us right away that Tweedy had no new songs, and the band retained the same format as before, with a solo portion of the show, which kind of became a promotional platform for Jeff's new solo album. I loved being reminded of the beauty of "Love Like a Wire," and speaking of Sima, she sounded fantastic on lead vocals for "Friendship."

Solid Sound 2017Sunday's highlight, however, was the debut of Sammy Tweedy on lead vocals with Tweedy! He sang "Military Madness" by Graham Nash, which is entirely appropriate, based on everything I've heard about Sammy. He sounded confident and at ease, and I hope we see him again. Maybe we can get Susan up there next!

One side note for all the gawkers: On all three nights, the pit filled up with spectators from backstage. Typically, this area is vacant after the photographers finish up their shift, but the band's friends and family (including Nick Offerman) decided to catch the gig from the front row on all three nights. It was the first time I've seen this at Solid Sound, and it was awfully sweet.

Before I wrap up this post, I need to highlight the true MVP of this trip: The beautiful house we stayed in, booked by the genius Maudie. For the first time, we couldn't stay in North Adams, but it was worth the trade-off. For a short, 10-minute drive, we had our run of seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, several public spaces, and two luxurious porches. If we can get that house again, it might not matter who's playing at Solid Sound.

See also:
» always hated normal american kids
» Solid Sound 2015: the whole love
» 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

Saturday, July 08, 2017

you can't start a fire

This trip was made possible when, not entirely by surprise, I was let go by my company. To kick off my first ever funemployment tour, I headed straight to Largo at the Coronet for Jon Brion's monthly residency. (p.s. I'll be back behind a desk and earning a paycheck about a week from this writing.)

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, May 27, 2017Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, May 27, 2017: Looking back over my notes from the show, I'm trying to figure out what happened on May 27 because both Jon and Flanny slipped in several political comments during the gig. My best guess: This was when the public first learned that Jared Kushner was under investigation for discussions with Russian agents during the presidential campaign.

It began when Flanny opened the show with his customary introduction, and my notes say "leave screens for Jared." I can't tell you anything else about the screens -- that's all I wrote. But he also brought more than one Guinness for Jon, and that's what really counts.

On cue, Jon picked up the topic of the day, with comments about Kislyak, as well as versions of "Freebird" for Putin and "Hail to the Chief" for you know who.

The set started properly with "God Bless the Child" on piano, which I wouldn't have known if Jon hadn't started singing (because I'm so terrible at identifying the standards). He followed up with an old favorite I've always loved: "Someone Else's Problem," complete with thunderous piano. "Life on Mars" rounded out this opening trio.

Jon has been working with a spare setup for the last few years now, by my reckoning -- thus, no drums and a minimum of guitars. However, the video units have shown up at the last several shows I've attended, and Jon quickly fired them up this evening. The first clip to air was the FDR string band (I don't know how I know this, but that's what my notes say; I assume the clip was accompanied by a label), and somehow Jon turned it into "Strings That Tie to You," escalating and distorting the background noise. I don't always get Jon's video creations, and to be honest, this was such an occasion.

The first requests of the night went to Jon's originals: the forever welcome "Here We Go" and "Same Mistakes." Then he went into "Someone to Watch Over Me," all instrumental and ragtimey and soulful. Fortunately, I usually recognize this with or without words.

Jon switched on the video machines again, and I knew this one as soon as the first clip appeared and could barely sit still during the build. It soon became a matter of waiting for the tune to develop, as Jon brought up a Latin band, Leopold Stokowski, and Maria Callas. Of course, it was "More Than This." I suspect Jon does the tune a lot these days, but I'm not around to see it, so I can't say for sure. If it has become part of the regular rotation, I see why: Jon has perfected this performance. Every part is beautifully integrated, and for the first time, it hit me: Maria Callas is the artistic embodiment of the Amazons on Roxy Music's album covers.

The next video extravaganza involved the 1-2-3-4 drum guy, Andres Segovia, and Leon Theremin. For a while, I didn't know where he was going, but it eventually became the audience-requested "Funkytown," including vocoder treatment. I have to admit -- the Theremin was a nice touch, even if the overall production was a little corny.

Jon finally picked up an acoustic guitar for "Anything Goes" and "Love of My Life So Far," then it was back to the collective for a request. Earlier in the show, Jon had taken his time as we threw title after title at him, but on this outing, he quickly jumped on an idea from the guy sitting next to me. Even better, the guy helped with the lyrics when Jon forgot.

The song was "Dancing in the Dark," and I feel like I need to fill in the background info on why this was such an unusual pick. To start, Jon is often considered a Boston guy because that's where he first became known nationally, but he was actually born in New Jersey. To that end, he's joked in old interviews that he's a Jersey boy at heart, though he hasn't exactly embraced Bruuuuuuuuce as an influence. Also, I think most music fans know Springsteen has mixed feelings about that album. Anyway, Jon threw himself into it, embracing it in all earnestness -- and it was awesome. Unfortunately, my friend sitting next to me didn't act on my suggestion that she jump onstage and do the Courtney Cox dance. Still, the song wouldn't leave my brain for most of the following week. Maybe "Glory Days" next time?

For the encore, Jon went with another favorite to bring us all together in these trying times. Let it be known: "God Only Knows" cures all ills. You never need to doubt it.

-- Freebird
-- Hail to the Chief
-- God Bless the Child
-- Someone Else’s Problem Now
-- Life on Mars
-- Strings That Tie to You
-- Here We Go
-- Same Mistakes
-- Someone to Watch Over Me
-- More Than This
-- Funkytown
-- Anything Goes
-- Love of My Life So Far
-- Dancing in the Dark

-- God Only Knows