Saturday at Solid Sound
The Solid Sound Festival at Mass MoCA is the sort of event that just keeps topping itself. 2011’s festival was very good; this was even better. Granted, I only attended day two of the three-day festival. But day two featured an incredible line-up of up-and-coming bands and singer-songwriters, groups and musicians currently in their primes and alternative rock legends and cult favorites. If you like music, Solid Sound will not let you down.
I attended Solid Sound with my friend Monica, and we got there fairly early to see the band Lucius, a five-piece, female-fronted folk/rock/pop band. I’d never heard of Lucius before, but I trust Monica’s judgment, and I think it’s safe to say that Lucius was the discovery of the festival, at least for me. From the pure and vibrant vocal stylings of lead singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe, to the unusual rhythms and crisp musicianship, this is a young band with a rich, full sound that makes you sit up and pay attention. Lucius’ songs run the emotional gamut, from light to dark and back again, and the band’s stage presence is both mysterious and welcoming, while their sound swings seamlessly from complex and catchy to spare and simple. They were so good that Monica and I decided to catch their acoustic set inside Mass MoCA’s large Building 5 gallery, where two enormous phoenixes constructed by Chinese artist Xu Bing currently hang.
The Xu Bing exhibit is worth checking out, and Monica and I got there a little early to do so. The phoenixes were built entirely from materials found on construction sites in urban China, such as steel beams and tools, and they are an impressive sight — as industrial as they are mythical. Some of Bing’s other work is also on display, such as a tiger skin carpet made from more than half a million cigarettes, and an experimental animated film in which Chinese characters, pictures and other symbols continuously transform into new shapes and pictures. Around 3:30, Lucius entered Building 5 with their instruments, and set up against the wall; a crowd gathered and sat on the floor so that everybody could see. (“Smart people,” one onlooker remarked.) For the next half hour, Lucius performed an achingly beautiful set that showcased their lovely harmonies and strong instrumentation. Around 4, the mini-show ended, and we headed outside to catch the rest of Yo La Tengo’s set.
Yo La Tengo is one of those bands I admire more than enjoy, but I might have to reassess my opinion of them after catching their tremendous set, in which they balanced quieter, prettier songs with noise and experimentation. They played for about an hour, and packed a lot in — it’s rare for a band to move so easily from hushed, soft songs to loud, feedback-drenched rockers, but Yo La Tengo seems to specialize in such shifts. The indie-rock group Low was similarly impressive, moving from droning, swirling, minimalist songs to something more anthemic heart-wrenching.
Predictably, the highlight of the evening was Wilco. I’ve seen these guys six times now, and they’ve been awesome every time. On Saturday, they mixed beloved old songs such as “Sunken Treasure” and “Via Chicago” with newer material off their most recent album, 2011’s “The Whole Love.” At this stage in their career, they’ve figured out how to meld their experimental instincts with sharp songwriting, a flair for craftsmanship and an old-school roots-rock sensibility, and their live show is about as satisfying as you can get. Like the bands that came before them, Wilco also moved between sadder, melancholy songs and more up-tempo rockers. As always, they played some of my favorite songs — “A Shot in the Arm,” “Impossible Germany” and “She’s a Jar” — while also blowing me away with a song I’d never heard before called “Just a Kid.” As soon as I got home, I googled this song, which is how I learned that it’s included on the soundtrack to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, and that Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy wrote it with his son Spencer.
Wilco played for over two hours, but I can’t get enough: On Sunday, I listened to “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” a couple times, and made plans to go see them in July, when they play at SPAC with Bob Dylan. They really are one of the best live bands touring right now, and if you have the chance to see them, you should really consider checking them out.
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