Wilco’s 2013 Solid Sound Festival at Mass MoCA (6/22/2013)

17 Jul

2013 Solid Sound Field Guide

I bought tickets for Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival this year on April 19th, exactly ten minutes after my paycheck cleared.  The Solid Sound Festival was a weekend-long event with concerts beginning on Friday June 21st.  Due to my pathetic budget (which has hamstrung numerous concert plans) and lack of personal time at work I decided, regrettably, to forego the weekend pass for Saturday only passes for myself and my girlfriend.  On Friday we missed White Denim, The Relatives and a reportedly awesome all-request cover show by Wilco where they covered acts as diverse as Television and Daft Punk, complete with a super moon.

On Saturday afternoon my girlfriend, an old friend, DD, and I packed a bag with sandwiches, water and a blanket and headed for North Adams, MA.  I had been to a handful of shows before at Mass MoCA but they all took place inside at the Hunter Center.  The Solid Sound Festival, but for some vendors and the Comedy Cabaret, was all outdoors in two courtyards and a sprawling grassland called Joe’s Field.  And it was a hot day.

Saturday evening’s lineup was stacked and we were lucky to get to Mass MoCA right at 4pm after parking and taking a shuttle from a satellite lot.  I was pouring sweat before I got my wristband.  The three of us hurried over to catch the beginning of Yo La Tengo’s set.  Luckily DD tucked his camera away in the bag because all I had was my piece of shit phone for pictures and so I have him to thank for the remainder of the photographs (with the exception of one noted).

Yo La Tengo

This was my first time seeing Yo La Tengo and it was nice to hear a mixture of old and new.  Early on they played I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One‘s “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Autumn Sweater” back to back.  Towards the end they played a noisy, extended “Ohm” off of the new record, Fade.  Their set was from 4-5pm but I could have easily watched them play for another hour considering the size of their catalog.  Before they left the stage we snapped a few photos and then headed to get some snacks while Foxygen was setting up in the smaller Courtyard C.

Craft Beer

By “snacks” I mean my girlfriend got ice cream and DD and I grabbed beers.  The beer selection was unsurprisingly crafty yet surprisingly affordable.  We both ordered Smuttynose’s Finest Kind, a re-branding of their classic IPA which is one of my all-time favorites.  I guzzled one before Foxygen was through with “In the Darkness” and ordered another before returning to the perimeter with my girlfriend.  DD was able to meander his way into the meat of the crowd.

Foxygen 2 - Sam France Climbing

Above: Sam France climbs the scaffolding at stage left.

I was admittedly very excited to see Foxygen as their We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors… this year was spun with regularity.  I also heard that their live shows bordered on embarrassing, not a function of their musical ability but rather their showmanship or lack thereof.  Lead singer, Sam France, was erratically funny but more often created an overall sense of social discomfort.  The result was a series of warranted, reserved or forced giggles from the audience.  He amiably thanked fans and then would utter something ridiculous like “I want your daughter’s womb in marriage” a sentence later.  He climbed the scaffolding before being scolded by security which was reminiscent to a lesser degree of Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford’s 2000 MTV Music Awards prop-scaling.  He playfully “knocked himself out” not once but twice with the microphone.

Perhaps the most terrifying was when France targeted a small child in the crowd atop his father’s shoulders.  France asked pointing, “What’s your name?”  “Holden,” replied the boy.  “Olden?” asked France.  “Holden!” the boy repeated louder.  “Holden.  Like Holden Caufield!  Never start smoking, Holden!” followed Sam France.  There seemed to be a collective gasp of relief.  France ended the next sentence with an F-bomb and clumsily apologized to the child.

Aside:  Jeff Tweedy mentioned later on that Foxygen may or may not have been kicked out of the venue because of their antics but dedicated a song to them anyway.

I was not so much concerned with the misguided histrionics of an early 20-something obviously unconcerned with his stage tact and more interested in how the band played live.  Though stunted by the awkward vibe surrounding their performance, the hour-long set that Foxygen played was enjoyable.  That being said, there were grumblings in the crowd because the band didn’t play “San Francisco.”

Low 1

Above:  Low’s humorously simple setup with an easel depicting the artist name at stage left.

From Foxygen we headed back to Courtyard D to see Low.  Low, now synonymous with slowcore after 20 years, seemed like an interesting choice for a music festival…then I remembered that Jeff Tweedy produced The Invisible Way this year.  I still had my reservations about a midday slow set but was pleasantly surprised with Low’s performance, another band that I was seeing for the first time.  Unfortunately they began their set with “On My Own” and its myriad happy birthdays.  My girlfriend grabbed the blanket out of our bag and told us that she was going to skip Low and get us a spot in Joe’s Field for Wilco which was already supposedly very crowded.  DD and I shrugged and headed into the indoor Euclid Records kiosk alongside the courtyard.

Euclid Records Spoils

Above: My spoils from Euclid Records (photo taken with my shitty phone).

No sooner did DD and I enter the Euclid Records kiosk did I hear the beginning of “Plastic Cup,” the opener off of their latest record.  I shrugged once more and began rifling through boxes of records across the way from DD.  Mistakes were made.  We both spent too much money that neither of us have.  I took home The Slits’ Cut, Hüsker Dü’s New Day Rising, The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, Magazine’s The Correct Use of Soap and X’s Wild Gift, all of which were in good shape.  DD ended up finding some rare, glow in the dark Beach House single that is likely worth more than all of what I purchased.  Go figure.

The other major mistake was listening to muffled versions of some of Low’s best tracks of the 2000’s when they were right outside.  In the middle of their set they played “Witches,” “Especially Me,” “Pissing” and “Dinosaur Act.”  DD and I did catch “Just Make it Stop,” the pinnacle of The Invisible Way before heading over to Joe’s Field to look for my girlfriend and get ready for Neko Case.

Aside:  DD, an absolute Neko Case shill, asked some of the merch folks whether or not she would be doing any signings.  He was told that she no longer does signings because she’s had problems in the past with stalkers.  DD was visibly upset but he’s the type of weirdo that she’s likely dodging…

Neko Case 1

Above:  Neko performing “Margaret vs. Pauline.”

Neko proved to be a perfect opener for Wilco.  I knew from her tweets that she is funny as hell and it definitely carried over into her act.  In between songs she quipped about having overdosed on candy before the show.  Her dog, Liza, wandered the stage before finding a comfortable spot and laying down.  My girlfriend and I did the same thing as DD ventured closer to the stage.  I am nowhere near as well-versed in Neko Case-ology as DD, but I was barely able to keep up from memories of hearing The Tigers Have Spoken and Fox Confessor Brings the Flood playing in an old apartment.

She played a couple of new songs which were immediately accessible and got me excited about the fact that DD accidentally pre-ordered two copies of her new record and promised one to me.  The highlights of the show were “Hold On, Hold On” and her cover of The Shangri-Las’ “Train From Kansas City.”  It is one of my favorite unrequited love songs.Crowd

Above:  The crowd began to grow.

In between songs DD got a photo of the crowd that had assembled during Neko Case’s set in preparation for Wilco.  Earlier in the day I spoke with an avid Solid Sounder while in line for ice cream and he told me that Wilco/Mass MoCA harbor the best, most respectful and laid back audience of any festival that he has ever attended.  I’ve never been to a granola crunching jam festival, but he did have a good point; the crowd was a happy collective with unwonted “please’s,” “thank you’s” and “excuse me’s” at most turns.

DD rejoined our recumbent party visibly tipsy after Neko left the stage saying that a nameless Solid Sound patron had been feeding him beers throughout the set.  We wolfed down our sandwiches while my girlfriend daintily picked at some grapes and talked about how much she used to listen to Summerteeth.  I had seen Wilco twice prior and explained my frustration in their aversion to playing songs off of their early albums.

Aside:  Like most hipsters the first Wilco album that I owned was Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  A.M., Being There and Summerteeth were all purchased shortly thereafter and played very often on the stereo in my 1995 Buick Regal Gran Sport.

Wilco 1

Above:  Wilco played “Dawned on Me” early in their set as dusk faded into night.

All three of us hoped for a healthy cross-section of Wilco’s oeuvre and we were to be rewarded.  The set began with “I Got You (At the End of the Century)” off of Wilco’s second and best album, Being There.  The set contained snippets of their late 2000’s output but was clearly weighted in fan-favorite nostalgia.  Jeff Tweedy couldn’t have been more humble.  Every band, who was personally invited by Wilco, was thanked in between songs along with countless thanks to the audience for being there and supporting the event.

At one point Tweedy invited a girl on stage who possessed the “Golden Ticket,” a Willy Wonka themed raffle winner to request a song.  She hugged Tweedy, grabbed the microphone and talked at some length about how Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of her favorite albums to which Tweedy replied, “Wow, you’re really owning this.”  She giggled and requested “‘Candyfloss’ from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”  Tweedy and most fans recognized her discographic blunder immediately as “Candyfloss” is the penultimate track on Summerteeth.  I imagined my Wilco super-fan friend Matt cringing and howling some ostentatious curse at her blasphemy.  Tweedy coolly pointed out her mistake and she shamefully admitted that she was told to request the song by her boyfriend.  He hushed the crowd with a raised hand and assured her that it was an honest mistake before accepting her request.

The concert played like an incomplete first disk to a Best of Wilco.  As “Passenger Side” played DD had ironically sobered up and Nicki and I watched a group of middle-aged women who must have graduated from the Middle-Aged Woman School of Dance: arrhythmic undulation, gratuitous finger-pointing and labored jogging in place.  “Can’t Stand It” was played a few songs later and the remaining crowd rejoiced, swaying/head-bobbing in time.

Wilco Arch

Above:  “Wilco” in tall red letters hung at the top of a scaffolding arch over the museum proper (photo taken by DD after an elongated bathroom break which had me worrying that we would never find him again).

Wilco 2

I myself had hoped for “Nothing’s Ever Gonna Stand in My Way,” “Jesus, Etc.” and “Say You Miss Me” among others but the setlist was one that nobody could complain about (complete setlist below).  Wilco definitely stole the thunder that night with almost two and a half hours of continuous gems, but the Solid Sound festival was a thunderous event overall (figuratively; the humidity peaked in the afternoon but never resulted in precipitation).  The three of us were privied to over seven hours of live entertainment…

The Setlist

Complete compliments of the wonderful setlist.fm patrons.

1)  “I Got You (At the End of the Century)”

2)  “Dawned on Me”

3)  “Box Full of Letters”

4)  “At My Window Sad and Lonely”

5)  “Forget the Flowers”

6)  “She’s a Jar”

7)  “You Are My Face”

8)  “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”

9)  “Art of Almost”

10)  “I Might”

11)  “Summer Teeth”

12)  “Candyfloss”

13)  “I’m Always in Love”

14)  “Sunken Treasure”

15)  “Far, Far Away”

16)  “Via Chicago”

17)  “Impossible Germany”

18)  “Born Alone”

19)  “Laminated Cat” (Loose Fur cover)

20)  “Passenger Side”

21)  “Whole Love”

22)  “Can’t Stand It”

23)  “Heavy Metal Drummer”

24)  “I’m the Man Who Loves You”


25)  “A Shot in the Arm”

26)  “California Stars”

27)  “Just a Kid”

28)  “Dreamer in My Dreams”

W in the Water

Leaving the concert in the midst of Wilco’s outro DD took a photograph of the lighted “M” which is projected on the channel that runs between two wings of the museum.  I, having a very keen and artful eye, flipped the image upside down upon returning home to make a “W” for Wilco.  I expected an exhausted car ride back to Albany but all three of us had gained a second wind and were in agreement that we were lucky to have seen such a terrific show.

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