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Wilco Solid Sound Festival

by Josh Potter on June 26, 2013 · 4 comments

MASS MOCA, JUNE 21-22

Jeff Tweedy, I hold you personally responsible.

See, I wanted to cut you guys some slack this year, forgive the dad-rock stereotype of stroller-pushing festival crowds, kombucha bars and gruppy nostalgia for ’80s and ’90s alt culture. I was going to look past the fact that you booked one of the festival’s best acts, White Denim, for the very first slot, before most of the audience and I even arrived, held Yo La Tengo’s live-soundtracked documentary The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller in a room too small to accommodate the agitated line, and nixed cool interactive elements from prior years, like the Moog synthesizer room and Nels Cline pedal-board improv circle.

I wanted to say nice things about your all-request set on the first night, wherein comedian John Hodgeman selected songs from a bingo tumbler and you played righteous versions of “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” I wanted to gush about how Sam Amidon’s Saturday set was a perfect antidote to the blazing sun, full of haunting harmonies and angular fiddle solos. I wanted to herald the genius of beatboxing comedian Reggie Watts, who at one point in his set improvised an entire rock ballad to the din of another band playing on the other side of the theater wall.  

This aggression will not stand, man: Foxygen at Solid Sound. Photo by Sara McFadden (instagram.com/sssssssara_/#)

But most of all, I wanted to rave about Foxygen, a young band whose critically vaunted debut We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic left me underwhelmed on first listen and has served as a straw man for my music criticism these past six months. I wanted to admit I’ve been wrong and give you guys credit for booking one of the most charismatic rock acts around and for changing my mind. I wanted to spend a gratuitous number of words dissecting the band’s strange mixture of paisley San Francisco psychedelia, propulsive MC5 proto-punk, and fractured lounge choruses. And I wanted to illustrate frontman Sam France: his flamboyant Jaggerisms, his banter with an 8-year-old audience member about the ills of cigarette smoking, his ability to steer the whole operation so close to the brink sonic cataclysm without losing control.

But then one of your stage hands lost his cool. Sure, it was probably ill-advised for France to climb the stage truss during one of his manic flights but it was absolutely out of line for that dude in the blue shirt to charge France, throw him to the ground and publicly shame him in the middle of his set. Indeed, “an overreaction,” France suggested while his band classed their way to the end of the song.

So, Jeff, it’s not your fault that this thing happened. And it’s not your fault that Foxygen’s tambourine player, Joseph Hein, was later expelled from the fest for being drunk and disorderly. But you had the opportunity to apologize for your abusive staff during Wilco’s headlining set that night and instead you chose to poke fun at Foxygen, toasting them with “Passenger Side,” a song about drunk driving. This sort of thing shouldn’t dominate a review of the festival, nor should it be the only real news item to emerge from three days of rock. But it does and is because the environment you’ve created with Solid Sound is the music festival equivalent of that room in your grandparents’ house where you can’t actually sit for fear of damaging the furniture. It’s a good time if you’re content to appreciate the meticulous way in which everything has been arranged but god forbid you actually rock out a little bit. Solid Sound’s single-band-curated formula is still a great antidote to the country’s behemoth fests but frankly I’ll take Bisco with its bath salts and biker gangs anyday.

{ 3 comments }

Max June 28, 2013 at 9:34 pm

I had an amazing time. For me, the highlight was Lucius: first, their electrifying mainstage set, and then their incredible acoustic appearance in the museum, which I was lucky enough to catch. Wonderful.

Jack Nance June 29, 2013 at 12:07 am

Josh,

I’ve read your review twice now, and I still can’t decide if this is serious or not.

At the very least your should change the dates in the review to June 21-22, as you did not make a single mention of Sunday’s fantastic performances from Nels Cline & Julian Lage, Os Mutantes, Marc Ribot & David Hidalgo, or MMW.

You clearly don’t care for Tweedy or his band, so why stick around for their entire Friday night set, when you could have left early and secured a spot in the Hunter Center for the Buckminster Fuller documentary? Those of us who had the foresight to do so were treated to another unique performance that you can’t find at other festivals out there. Also, the schedule was out weeks in advance. You knew White Denim was playing at 5:30, plan accordingly.

In my opinion, your review is either intentionally contrarian or completely misguided.

The Staff June 29, 2013 at 11:20 am

Jack, I’ve changed the range of dates per your suggestion. I am genuinely disappointed to have missed Ribot, Cline and MMW on Sunday, acts that did promise to inject the much-needed volatility I call for here. But I doubt my experience on Sunday would have changed my core impressions. This review is an indictment of the spirit of the event far more than of any one performer. Solid Sound is indeed unique but it can feel hermetically sealed (camping is literally off-site and costs extra), with the gallery environment requiring safety, modesty and control, values that strike me as antithetical to rock’s spirit of abandon, adventure, participation and unpredictability. The Foxygen episode threw this tension into stark relief and I hardly think my reaction was unique or “intentionally contrarian.” Watch the YouTube vid and listen to the crowd groan and boo. My opinion of Wilco’s music has nothing to do with the fact that Tweedy regrettably enforced this narrative when he had an opportunity to dispel it.
-Josh

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