Wilco's Second Annual Solid Sound Festival
Although Wilco’s second annual Solid Sound Festival took place just over two weeks ago in North Adams, MA, I’m still reminded of the event daily. Crumpled festival ground maps and Solid Sound brochures lay scattered on the floor of my car. The dBpm stickers, bearing the symbol of Wilco’s new self-run label, that I bought are stuck tightly to the case of my laptop. The individually numbered Solid Sound key ring that I got at the festival, which is designed to resemble a key ring that one might find at a hotel that rents by the hour, is clipped to my apartment keys. And, of course, the new Wilco single, “I Might,” that was exclusively released at the festival, has been on steady rotation on my iPod. Needless to say, for an avid Wilco fan like myself, the event was more than memorable.
On the first day of the festival, long before any music was played, Wilco held a press conference, giving the public some information about their new projects, which included planning a festival for the second year in a row, starting a record label, and releasing a new studio album, the eighth in the band’s nearly 15-year-long career. Each member of the band was in good spirits, handling the crowd with humor and enthusiasm as they answer many good questions as well as some that weren’t so good (as I recall, one young woman asked if the street venders associated with the festival would be serving falafels). The conference was informative, as Jeff Tweedy and the band fielded questions concerning Wilco’s various side projects, including John Stirratt and Pat Sansone’s Autumn Defense and Nels Cline’s collaboration with Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, as well as future plans for their label and the Solid Sound Festival. The band held a brief photo op for all those in attendance, in which Tri State Indie’s own Doug Hynes was able to snap some great shots of the six men that make up Wilco.
Wilco’s first set of the festival was outstanding. Although it was delayed by nearly an hour due to a torrential downpour of rain, when the band finally did hit the stage, drenched fans cheered and paid no mind to the weather. They opened with their new single, “I Might,” one of TSI’s favorite tracks of the year so far. Wilco was in top form for these festival performances, playing with an insurmountable energy and heart. Nels Cline’s guitar work has been an asset to the band’s live show since his induction into Wilco in 2004, and he really shined on guitar heavy cuts like “Shouldn’t Be Ashamed,” and “Hotel Arizona.” The band tookthese festival sets as opportunities to duet some unreleased material, playing new songs, “Born Alone,” and, “Whole Love,” in their friday night set. These two were clear standouts of these festival shows. “Born Alone,” features some of Tweedy’s best lyrics since the band’s fifth record, A Ghost is Born, and “Whole Love” sees him skillfully stretching his vocal chords into the highest points in his upper register. Perhaps the most memorable moment of their first set was a unique and moving performance of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot‘s “Radio Cure.” Besides the fact that this is one of, if not the best song that Jeff Tweedy has written for Wilco, the band’s execution of the song was perfectly layered and intricate. As the band played, halfway through the second chorus all power to the stage was lost. All the lights went down and no instruments could be heard except for Glen Kothe’s steady drums and the faint sound of Jeff Tweedy strumming a guitar. At this point in the concert, the crowd of devoted Wilco fans began to sing in unison “Our distance has no way / of making love / understandable.” With the audience continuing to chant as the band’s technical issues were sorted out, power was quickly restored to the stage and Wilco finished the song without any further interruptions. The feeling of unity between the crowd and the band was palpable, with Jeff Tweedy stating, “One thing you can say about this audience … they have our backs.”
The second night of Solid Sound was more pleasant outside. Though it rained throughout the day and some minor adjustments were made to set times, most of the bad weather had passed by the time Wilco was scheduled to come out. The band again looked happy and enthusiastic, debuting two more new songs, “Dawned On Me,” and, “Standing O,” as well as playing a set made up of their more well known material. Standouts from the second set included “At Least That’s What You Said,” from 2004′s A Ghost isBorn, as well as an encore that included Being There cuts, “Monday,” and “Outtasite (Outta Mind).” The band closed the night with, “Hoodoo Voodoo,” a track from Wilco’s collaborative work with Billy Bragg. The set was more than enjoyable, contained songs from every one of Wilco’s releases and displaying the band’s ease and versatility on stage, but, compared to their setthe night before, it seemed a little too safe. Unlike the night before, there were no songs that stood out as unique to the festival setting. On Friday, Wilco played songs that rarely show up on set lists, but Saturday was filled with standards that the band frequently pulls out . The show was more relaxed and, because of this, slightly less exciting. But, honestly, to ask for anything more would’ve been selfish. Again, Wilco has proven themselves to be one of the hardest working and most generous rock bands around today. They played two sets of almost three hours in length on back to back nights, and repeated only two songs on each night. They gave two energetic performances, connecting with the crowd and bringing new life to old songs, while sharing several new ones. Solid Sound in its second year was an entirely enjoyable experience. It is big enough and engaging enough to feel like a proper festival setting, but also small enough to retain its intimate charm. As Wilco continues to grow its fan base and solidify its place in the music industry, it’ll be interesting to see just how much larger the Solid Sound Festival can grow.
See some wonderful pictures from Wilco’s two sets at Solid Sound below from our contributing photographer Kate Farrar: