Walking into MASS MoCA on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon were people of all ages and types. From teenagers and twenty-somethings to baby boomers and adults in their 30s and 40s with little kids, they all came in droves. The Wilco produced Solid Sound Festival is unlike any other festival in the country. MASS MoCA almost every other weekend of the year is just a place to go check out gigantic art installations and see special screenings of movies. For Solid Sound, you get this plus a concert curated by one of the best bands of the last 20 years.
Walking around to see all of the art was great, as there are massive installations throughout the site. One of the installations was Xu Bing’s “Phoenix,” two gigantic birds built out of scrap metal. Pop-up performances took place underneath them by some of the acts and every attendee at the festival had the same awe-struck reaction to the birds when first seeing them. There was also a record shop on site with artist signings and many albums on sale for those who felt the need to not only see music, but purchase some as well. Another great hidden gem inside of MASS MoCA was the interactive kid area for parents that wanted to see their kids create art at the festival as well as see art. All of this added to the uniqueness of the festival.
Mark Mulcahy started the day of music off with some smooth rock and roll incorporating a small horn section beautifully. However, many people were getting ready inside the buildings for John Hodgman’s Comedy Cabaret. Jen Kirkman and Hodgman started the cabaret off by riffing back and forth on various news topics and then Jen took over for a 40 minute set that went every which way and had the audience rolling in the aisles. Later on, Reggie Watts took the stage to a standing room only crowd that saw him mix music and comedy to perfection like only he can. At the end of his 45 minute set ,Reggie drew one of the biggest ovations of the day and well deserved at that.
Lucius took to the Courtyard D stage where a large crowd saw the group destroy their 45 minute set in the midday heat. Dressed as though they were twins, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig blended their voices beautifully into soaring harmonies while being accompanied by a great band behind them. The audience wanted more as the band ended their set, but would have to wait until later in the day for what I was told was a great pop-up performance underneath the two phoenixes.
Near the entrance of the festival, Gold Town from Manchester, VT, was playing an acoustic set of rocking bluegrass music to a tiny crowd. As people came and left the area, they were constantly stopping for a bit to see where this great music was coming from. The four piece band was clearly enjoying themselves and even taking requests from the crowd. Yo La Tengo hit Courtyard D next with the biggest crowd of the day to that point. Having performed for quite some time, it was great to see how easily all of the music came to them. Constantly switching instruments, all three members showed that they are in-tune with one another. “Ohm” and “Deeper Into Movies” were two of the better songs, but they really killed their entire hour long set.
What came next was the most exciting set of the day: Foxygen took to Courtyard C and drew a crowd that was much bigger than that area of MASS MoCA could handle, and the band delivered. What you notice right away from Foxygen is the amount of energy every member of the band has. Lead singer Sam France had so much energy that he climbed part of the scaffolding of the stage, much to the dismay of the Solid Sound staff. Their mixture of rock and psychedelia was impressive. This is definitely a band that likes to have fun on stage and makes sure their audience is having just as much fun. Do not miss them if they come to Upstate New York in the near future.
Low took the stage next and was the exact opposite of Foxygen. Their hour long set seemed to drag a bit, but that is just because their style of rock is much slower. Although the music was great, especially “Dinosaur Act” and “Last Snowstorm of the Year,” it was a bit of a letdown after the raucous set Foxygen had just thrown down. Neko Case, who was the first performer to grace Joe’s Field on Saturday, was next and played a beautiful set of music mixing bluegrass, country, and rock. She also was very talkative to the crowd between each song, telling jokes and stories about each song. “That Teenage Feeling,” “I’m An Animal,” and “Train From Kansas City” stood out among her set.
The curators of the festival, Wilco, took to the stage next and played an amazing 28-song set. The previous night they had played an all request covers set and people I spoke with throughout the day remarked how amazing that set was. This set saw Wilco play a full set of original music and showed why they are so good at what they do. “I Got You At the End of the Century” kicked the set off in a rocking fashion and it seemed they never stopped from there. Jeff Tweedy joked with the crowd throughout the set and even brought a fan on stage to request a song, although the band really told her which song to pick, which turned into a small comedy routine on stage, before they jumped into a great version of “Candyfloss.” Kids could be seen on parent’s shoulders with headphones on enjoying the set, while the adults in their 20s and 30s were twirling and dancing around. With a four song encore that had Jeff continually saying how happy they were to be back at MASS MoCA after taking a year off, they capped the night with a triple shot of “California Stars,” “Just a Kid,” and “Dreamer in My Dreams.”
Setlist: I Got You (At the End of the Century), Dawned on Me, Box Full of Letters, At My Window Sad and Lonely, Forget the Flowers, She’s a Jar, You Are My Face, One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend), Art of Almost, I Might, Summer Teeth, Candyfloss, I’m Always in Love, Sunken Treasure, Far Far Away, Via Chicago, Impossible Germany, Born Alone, Laminated Cat, Passenger Side, Whole Love, Can’t Stand It, Heavy Metal Drummer, I’m the Man Who Loves You
Encore: A Shot in the Arm, California Stars, Just a Kid, Dreamer in My Dreams
Solid Sound is one of the best festivals on this side of the country. Being only 45 minutes east of Albany in North Adams, MA, this is a festival you should be attending every year. The art that could be seen is worth the price of admission alone. There is camping in North Adams, MA, with bus services to and from the festival daily. There is also a great beer and food selection throughout the complex. The Solid Sound Festival is not to be missed for music lovers in the Capitol Region next year.