Last weekend I travelled down to North Adams, MA for one of the most unique musical weekends of my life. The destination was Solid Sound, a festival hosted by Wilco, one of my all-time favourite bands. With a lineup that featured a wide variety of artists that were unfamiliar to me and side-projects from the various members of Wilco, I had no real idea what to expect. I was presented with a perfect opportunity to discover new music and satisfy an unrelenting craving for live Wilco.
Solid Sound is a festival unlike any other, regardless of who ends up on the bill. MASS MoCA, a disused textile factory turned contemporary art museum, is a location that simply cannot be matched. This massive ancient complex is a seemingly unending maze of incredible exhibits that make use of every dark corner and hallway. Two courtyards and a field on the museum grounds form the primary location for artists to play, and are complimented by a few auditoriums inside the museum that form a perfect venue for musicians to explore the audio-visual side of performance. These musicians made it their mission to adjust their performances to match the spirit of MASS MoCA. Unannounced “pop-up” acoustic performances within the halls of the museum meant that no one ever knew quite what they would find while wandering through the old factory. Solid Sound is a scene of constant discovery.
All of these elements that made Solid Sound a fascinating festival ignore the actual music, but the music is our reason for being. Our mission was to hear something wonderful, and there wasn’t a single show that disappointed me. Every show was new, every band had something special to share. The only unfortunate consequence of a tight schedule and a beautiful space to investigate was that I could not possibly have seen everything, and I undoubtedly missed out on some fantastic shows, but I have put together a list of my top five indie acts of Solid Sound 2015. Here goes!
Playing in a tiny room within MASS MoCA, Mikael Jorgensen and James Merle Thomas delivered a surreal live mix created from the NASA Audio Archive. The uplifting electronic tones were supported by video clips from NASA projects cut and looped to synch with the music. The final element to push Quindar into the top 5: their rig was set up to be in full view of the audience. I sat two feet away from Mikael Jorgensen and was able to watch the whole music-making process.
- Cibo Matto
The recently reunited Japanese band joined forces with Nels Cline to bring down the MASS MoCA courtyard. They hit every genre from electronic to hip hop to punk, metal, pop, and indie rock into an intense and infectiously fun show. This band caught me completely by surprise and quickly converted me into a huge fan.
- Mac Demarco
The first time I saw Mac Demarco I was rather disappointed. When he played Ottawa Folkfest his band spent the majority of the set trying to be funny and played their music like a group that simply did not care about the show. This was not true at Solid Sound. Mac Demarco and co came to Solid Sound ready to throw down, and they tore right through their set. This time around, the humour which is characteristic of Mac Demarco found the perfect balance with true musicianship.
- Tweedy & Friends
This performance was a perfect way to finish a phenomenal weekend. Tweedy, the band formed by Jeff Tweedy and his drumming son Spencer, played a large selection of songs from their debut record. Then Jeff Tweedy treated us to some of the best solo acoustic songs I have had the pleasure of hearing. Finally, Tweedy called up guest after guest to play an almost endless stream of covers. They were joined by every member of Wilco, Cibo Matto, Riley Walker, Bill Frisell, The Felice Brothers, and Luluc. It was the perfect summary of everything that occurred over the weekend.
Wilco was the main attraction, and Wilco delivered. With an all-acoustic set on night 1 and an electric set on night 2, Wilco delighted every member of that crowd. The acoustic night opened the festival with a performance designed to soothe and to ease us into the coming events. A 2.5-hour acoustic set is a daunting challenge for just about any band, and Wilco stepped up and gave us one for the ages. The electric show was the adrenaline rush of the festival. It was hard-hitting, captivating, and a wild ride from beginning to end. Needless to say, my mind was thoroughly blown.
Solid Sound 2015 was everything I hoped a music festival could be. If you’re looking for a summer festival next time Solid Sound rolls around, don’t overlook it. Solid Sound is as good as it gets. Thanks Wilco!