Saturday, June 29

The Incredible Solid Sound Fest

A friend won passes to Wilco's Solid Sound Festival!  What the heck is Solid Sound?
     I had never gotten to go to Solid Sound, which is the art/comedy/film/music fest 'curated' by Wilco.  I also was a festival newbie and this was a lovely introduction.  It's small (and in fact, this year was the first year they fully sold out), contained, and has opportunities to get away from the hustle and bustle.  It's in lovely, New Englandy blah blah blah North Adams, Massachusetts and is housed at the Mass MoCA.  Which is a freaking great place to have a music festival, good on you, Wilco.  Luckily, the weather was hot, but perfectly clear and pleasant.  What follows below is a detailed description of the festival.  You should know that it's a great festival.  Surprisingly family friendly, which didn't even ruin it for those of us who aren't wild about children.  Typical, expensive food situation.  The venue couldn't be better; enveloped in art at the bottom of the mountains.  I also want to give a special shout out to the wristbands which were the nice woven kind, included the hashtag right on the ribbon, and generally were an illustration of good design.  My grandmother would call them 'smart'.
     We showed up a little late on Friday night and got to hear most of Wilco playing a set which was nothing but covers and my tiny black heart (I need a tag for all my posts about my tiny black heart) leapt with joy when they did ABBA and Daft Punk.  A lot of people don't like covers, but tell you what, I love to hear a song I love by a band I love and so I enjoy it two fold, who doesn't want double enjoyment!?  (I'm real sorry about that sentence structure.)  So a set of nothing but covers (which Wilco selected with some fan assistance) was emceed by John Hodgman which was pretty novel.  Lucius and Neko Case joined them on stage and they sprinkled in their own work, too.  If you head over to Wilco's site you can actually download their sets from the festival.  I loved it.  Plus, kudos to the stage designer who had rigged up some truly beautiful lights and gossamer clouds, positively dreamlike, in the best way.  Just out back of the art museum.  Can you dig this Marko Remec piece?  At was stunning by night and in fact could be seen from a distance while we drove in, smitten.
     After Wilco's set, which was long, we headed to a midnight screening of a 'live documentary' about R. Buckminster Fuller: The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller.  This meant that it was basically a presentation of film snipets and still images narrated by the director, Sam Green.  Oh, and, you know, Yo La Tengo was there to play the soundtrack live.  I sat in that room having no clue what the hell to expect and it was fantastic.  The director was engaging and at times made me actually forget that 30 feet away, sat YO LA FREAKING TANGO.  I had no idea who Buckminster Fuller was and I was fascinated.  Truly captivated.  May have even been moved to tears at one point.  Ok, more than one point.  A good director can take something you know nothing about it and make you care.  Achievement unlocked, Sam Green.
     Saturday, while I tried to wipe the enchantment out of my eyes, we missed Mark Mulcahy but began the day with Lucius who were, meh (but wait, there's more!).  I also, happily got my hands on a wicked good beer that my beloved Smuttynose had brought, as well as something called Wilco Tango Foxtrot which was great, but sadly not named for Wilco, Yo La Tengo, and Foxygen (all at Solid Sound), but I took it that way because, romance.  We then heard Sean Rowe who could really pull a crowd!  His voice is marvelous and deep, his stage presence a little demur and a little funny.  Delightful.
     Because our lovely wristbands also get us into the museum, we hit the MoCA.  Some beautiful art right off the bat from Jason Middlebrook which spoke to my personality disorder and to my love of stark color.  As we walked around, a small bunch gathered.  Mark Mulcahy was doing a set right in the gallery.  Which sounded magnificent in the acoustics of the gallery and there was like 15 people.  And then 30 people by the end.  It was completely novel, this 'pop-up performance' as they were called.  It was so genial.  The experience of hearing a wonderfully talented performer in the midst of a damn fine gallery with the space adorned by vibrant art can't be understated.

      We continued on through the galleries and good lord, do I love art.  I was high as a kite from the music, but then to have the opportunity to voraciously feed my vision, too, it was sublime.  There was a large Sol Le Witt exhibit.  I have never liked Le Witt.  Ever.  I get it, I can respect it as important to the discourse of art, but . . . ugly.  This exhibit, was very, very different than any other Le Witt work I have seen.  It was brightIt was narrative.  I liked it very much.  My favorite thing though, was Tom Phillips and Johnny Carrera.  Phillips deconstructed a book 3 times.

Every damn page of that book, three times.  First line, the book and its original text.  Second frame, a print.  Third frame, a print.  But they are epic compositions.  Each one is surprisingly unique, given the sheer volume, and many of them edit the copy on the page so that they make poems or sayings.  As a purveyor of small work, this installation is divine.  The prints themselves are beautiful, colorful, fluidly composed, tightly confined.  I wish I had a full day to just browse this piece.  You can buy it, but I'm going to be honest and tell you that the effect is lost.  You have to go see it.

As for Johnny Carrerra, I was equally taken.  You can buy it.  It's a pictorial webster's dictionary.  But it's hilarious.  It's also, partially by default, incredibly intelligent, diligent.  The books he produced are interactive and you can make your own creatures, the tapestries suggest a theater of science, and the work required to make every damn thing by handset letterpress . . . Swoon.  I wanted to press my lips onto the paper so that I could feel every dent and bend left by the metal.

     Then you go through the Xu Bing.  You see a recreation of the studio space, busy.  A monstrously in depth exploration of iconography and a book written entirely in symbols.  A bizarre, cute animation project.  Then into a dark room where you see a delicate plastic model, vibrating from footsteps, of a bird.  It's intricate and in and of itself, a captivating specimen, but you walk through a dark, tight hallway and emerge into a bright, open warehouse.  Here's the tiny, delicate model made gargantuan.  Those are LED lights.  And peoples' heads at the bottom for scale.

Epic.  There are two of these Phoenix in the warehouse.  They are brilliant.  As we admired that work, a crowd gathered.  We happened to be up in the loft and so we got a fantastic view of another pop up performance, this time by Lucius.  I had not had any exposure to them except that they ended up on a best of the year so far list by my beloved npr music.  They were meh on stage earlier in the day, but in that gallery, they fucking killed it.  They lit the place up, the beats were clear in my heart, the visual of their fashion was striking, the harmonies harmonized.  It was a fetching performance and they played Turn it Around, Go Home, and Don't Just Sit There, so I was a happy lady.  They sounded 100x better than they did on the big stage, which, I suspect, was actually due to some weird acoustics of that stage.

       We were still in the museum for Sam Amidon who was joined partly by wife Beth Orton, but caught him later in a pop up performance under the phoenix, adorable.  Adorable isn't meant to detract from the fact that he's clearly a highly intelligent musician who showcases his skill appropriately when performing.  We saw a real, regular performance by Yo La Tengo, who were on the same stage as Lucius and also sounded a little lackluster.  They were pros, though.  Weren't bad, just not spectacular.  They played Autumn Sweater, so I melted.  Heard but didn't see Foxygen-- They sounded great.  They also made it on to that npr best of the year so far list and rightfully so, On Blue Mountain strums the place in my hippocampus to evoke the early Rolling Stones, it's nice.
     By the end of the night we were happy to sit for Neko Case and Wilco, so we fought some old bitches for a spot on the bleachers.  Point of etiquette, not that I'm old, but you can't hold an entire row of seating (for the duration of Neko Case) for your flock of middle schoolers who only came back  to ask you for money and step on my chips.  That is not acceptable in the land of two sets of bleachers and several hundred people, you bitch.  But, sit we did.  Neko Case, turns out, pretty freaking crazy.  She was an excellent performer and her voice was just as big as I wanted it to be, but she was nuts.  Not like, 'oh, she's so crazy and weird and quirky!'  It was more like, 'Uh, why is this happening? Why is your dog here? You said what now?'  It didn't really detract from her performance except that I had to catch myself and go to my place of separating art and artist.  It's worth recording this moment: Nearly full moon rising over the trees, sunset fading out behind the dreamy stage, warm and nonbuggy night air descending, and Neko Case strumming that chord and then those words, 'Chimney falls and lovers blaze . . ."  I wish I was the moon tonight.
     Wilco did their thing, having never seen them before (except for the previous night), I can't compare . . . However, they were fun.  They seemed to really be enjoying playing for the crowd as much as the crowd was enjoying listening to them.  It was an excellent capstone to the day.  A long capstone to the day, they played a wicked long set on the fanciful stage and I was sold.  A palatial festival I hope to attend again.  I can't believe my friend won tickets, I owe her big time.  We didn't get to stick around for the folks on Sunday, but I hope that when I get to go again I will be able to stick around for the whole weekend.