Last weekend around 8,000 festival-goers gathered at Mass MoCA under the supermoon to participate in Wilco’s sold-out Solid Sound Festival in North Adams, Massachusetts. Attendees come from 43 states and 18 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Denmark, Germany, Spain, UK, Canada, and South Africa.
Most media coverage of Solid Sound focuses on the music, and rightly so. In addition to Wilco, this year’s festival included Yo La Tengo, Neko Case, Foxygen, Lucius, The Dream Syndicate, Low, Sam Amidon (with a surprise appearance by his wife, Beth Orton), Sean Rowe and more.
But Solid Sound is about much more than music. What makes it stand out from other festivals is the combination of contemporary art, film, comedy, acoustic pop-up concerts in the galleries, side projects by Wilco’s individual band members, plus the well-curated mix of established and emerging musicians.
And let’s not forget the setting. Nestled beside the Hoosic River in an old textile mill complex, Mass MoCA is a showpiece in and of itself and the mill-turned-art museum was humming with visitors, light installations, food and drink vendors, and a number of top-notch exhibitions.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that the average age of those attending Solid Sound hovered somewhere around 40. The festival was also very family friendly, and there were a number of events geared especially to children. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich of WNYC’s Radiolab were also on hand for a special live broadcast of the show.
Wilco kicked off the festival on Friday night with a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town.” The all-covers show ranged from classic songs by The Band, The Beatles, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones to unexpected tunes by Cheap Trick, The Velvet Underground, Television, and ABBA (yes, ABBA!). For the band’s cover of the Replacements “Color Me Impressed,” Wilco brought out a surprise guest, original Replacement bassist Tommy Stinson, who played guitar on the song. Yo La Tengo sat in on covers of their own “Tom Courtenay” and of the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner.”
But one of the most popular covers of the night was Wilco’s rendition of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” which has been buzzing around the internet this past week. NYC Taper was on hand to make a record of the event, and he’s offering the entire set as a free stream or download here (though he’s predictably getting slammed with traffic, so keep clicking refresh if you have trouble downloading). You can listen to three songs from the set right here, including the covers of Daft Punk, Pavement, and Television:
(Can’t see the below songs in your email? Click here to listen on the Gwarlingo website.)
Comedians Jen Kirkman, John Hodgman, and Al Madrigal kept the crowd laughing on Saturday. Comedian and musician Reggie Watts gave a memorable performance and was a fan favorite (though a note to the guy in the front row who kept high-fiving Watts and interrupting him with hoots and hollers: cool isn’t contagious, my friend). Watts’ improvised musical sets are created on-the-spot using only his voice and a looping machine. No two songs are the same. The end result is a highly original mix of beatbox, satire, a cappella jamming, and stream-of-conscious stand-up.
There were a few new discoveries as well. Lucius wowed the crowd with their harmonies and lively stage presence (unfortunately, we have to wait until October for their debut record).
The young band Foxygen left a lasting impression on everyone, including Wilco front-man Jeff Tweedy, who referenced “an incident” with the band during his Saturday night set. Lead singer Sam France seemed to be channeling Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison, as he jumped, danced, and climbed the stage rigging France was halfway up a metal stage support before a member of the crew rushed onstage and pulled him down. The band kept playing through the incident. Afterward France declared, “It’s all part of the show. It’s theater.” Later Saturday night, Jeff Tweedy cracked a joke on stage about Foxygen “having too much fun.” According to Nippertown, Foxygen’s tambourine player was removed from the VIP area by security during Neko Case’s set for “some drunken offense.” Tweedy dedicated Wilco’s “Passenger Side” — a song about being too inebriated to drive — to the band.
Xu Bing’s Phoenix, which is comprised of two 100-foot, 20-ton sculptures made of demolition and building debris from Beijing, was also a hit with festival-goers. This is the first time the work has been seen in the U.S., and according to Xu, the use of waste materials from construction sites captures the poor working conditions and primitive living situations in China. While Phoenix is impressive, Xu’s installation, 1st Class, a faux tiger-skin made of half a million cigarettes was the stronger of the two works. Most impressive was the way the texture of the work changed as you moved around it. The smell of tobacco hung in the air as we watched Lucius perform a pop-up concert in the main gallery beneath the giant Phoenix.
Tom Phillips’ A Humument was another memorable exhibit at the museum. In 1966 Phillips bought the 1892 Victorian novel A Human Document for 30 pence in a South London junk shop and used it to create an entirely new series of works by altering every single page of the 367-page book through painting and collage. A Humument is now one of the best known and most highly regarded of all 20th-century artists books and has inspired many other postmodern works like it. The first version was published in 1973 and Phillips has since created four revised editions. (I encourage you to buy a copy of this gorgeous work from Thames & Hudson at your local bookstore or online). But to see these works in their original form and displayed so beautifully at Mass MoCA is a rare opportunity. The museum has over 1,100 individual prints from Phillips’ A Humument, including the original untouched book alongside the first and fifth editions on display.
Johnny Carrera is best known for his 400-page alteration of the 1898 edition of The International Dictionary, a work that is very much in the tradition of Tom Phillips. Carrera’s art is also featured in this Mass MoCA exhibit, Life’s Work (on view through January 20th). Carrera’s work was particularly popular with young museum-goers.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. If you couldn’t be in North Adams last weekend, don’t worry. You can take a virtual tour of the 2013 Solid Sound Festival right here…
Explore the Artists of Solid Sound
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