My wife and I decided to check out the Wilco curated Solid Sound festival at Mass Moca this weekend. True their own aesthetic, the common thread unifying all the acts is that each band found different ways to combine American musical tradition and present it in an innovative way.
The festival had a vague feeling of being the East Coast anti-Coachella. In contrast to the image conscious, overpriced West Coast glam of Coachella, Solid Sound was all about reconciling the urbane with the rural. The abstract and adventurous with the gritty and immediate. It was a family oriented festival too, so it wasn’t monopolized by skinny jeans wearing millennials. It managed to be that festival where you were just as likely to find kids playing games on Joe’s Field as you were to find someone who could tell you what their favorite Derek Bailey record was.
Ryley Walker played a pleasant conjunction of Americana, Krautrock and jazz. It was occasionally reminiscent of Popul Vuh. At other times, it devolved into a bland melange which felt facile and uninspired. Enjoyable enough, but it certainly didn’t set my world on fire.
Luluc were a male/female folk duo who played a low key and melancholy sounding brand of music that seems to lend itself to rainy days and nights of solitude. The female singer had a voice which vaguely resembled Nico. Accomplished but meh.
Bill Frisell teamed up with a folk singer/multi-instrumentalist named Sam Amidon. This was perhaps the biggest letdown. Even the brilliance of someone like Frisell could not elevate Amidon’s anemic mewling. He’s talented enough and has a decent voice, but the end result felt detached and academic. Even their excursions into atonal free improvisation were so carefully modulated that they felt more precious than truly exuberant, playful or jarring.
NRBQ injected some much needed life into an afternoon which was a little too heavily weighted towards the soporific. Their skewed take on R&B was playful and irreverent. British Invasion style vocal harmonies were mixed with skronk sax solos and swampy New Orleans style funk. These guys find the common ground between Professor Longhair, Thelonious Monk, and The Beach Boys and make it soar. It manages to be joyous and fun and arty all at once. Though people often compare Phish with the Dead, it’s apparent to me that they’ve copped a few moves from these guys.
The biggest flop award goes to the insufferably pretentious Jessica Pratt. Once again, it’s evident that there’s a decent voice and perhaps some songwriting skill that could ripen in time, but the vibe was so fragile and the emotions were too muted. I was reminded of acts like Sharon Van Etten, Waxahatchee, and Marissa Nadler but not as good as any of them. It had a “I’m so consumed by these emotions that I can barely whisper them into this microphone” feeling. And she left the stage without even a “thank you” or an acknowledgement of the audience. Fuck you too, Jessica.
The hands down winner of the afternoon was Cibo Matto. Though I believe that Cibo Matto belong to a tradition of NYC punk-funk that traces back to bands like Talking Heads, ESG, and Bush Tetras, their sound incorporates a bedrock of R&B/hip hop and panoply of transcontinental influences which are synthesized so effortlessly, it comes across as its own unique polyglot hybrid. Their albums have a polished sheen of electronic beats and sounds, but they were backed up by a live rhythm section which brought some welcome brawn to their live sound. “Blue Train” was one of the most successful marriages of Neu! and Black Sabbath I’ve ever heard. “Moonchild” revealed them at their R&B sweetest. In “Sunday Part 1” Ms. Hattori and Ms. Honda laid down a flow that stood up against any hip-hop crew you can name. “Bbq” was a blistering punk-funk rave up that gave Primetime a run for their money. They were joyful, innovative and funky; surely the embodiment of everything for which Solid Sound stands. A+.
Shabazz Palaces delivered a set of futuristic hip-hop that defied easy comparisons. I was simply at a loss in identifying their antecedents. Their flow was angular but also had harmonized vocals and looped phrases and words. Without a doubt, one of the most original sounds in the contemporary landscape. Their choreography was cool too.
I’m just going to admit my loserdom and confess my utter ignorance of Richard Thompson. Yes, I know. What kind of a musician am I to be oblivious to this guy? His set was indeed very good and it’s imminently clear that he’s a prodigious talent. I gave myself a facepalm when I looked up his discography and saw multitude of connections and collaborations with acts I admire. He laid down a raucous set of his unique brand of blues.
Parquet Courts seemed cut from the art punk template that gave rise to the likes of Gang of Four, Pere Ubu and Wire but with a contemporary flair. It was decent but not original enough to warrant the fanfare. But then again, Spin is apparently in the business of glorifying the mediocre and hackneyed.
And the WTF Award of the day goes to Mac DeMarco. I’ve read the hype. I watched a video once. I kind of get it, but it’s just not my bag. He can write a song. He can perform. The program indicates that he’s been compared to John Lennon and Ray Davies, but I’ll be damned if I hear even a fraction of either in him. There’s a quirky funk/R&B quality to it, but it’s just not something that speaks to me.
Unfortunately, this guy preceded Wilco and since he eroded my patience, we left before their set started. Sorry, guys.
Day 3 review coming soon.