Wilco Inaugurate Solid Sound Fest With Mavis Staples

Band mixes rock and art at their North Massachusetts Festival

August 16, 2010 6:07 PM ET

After announcing their split from the label Nonesuch in July, Wilco took another step in celebrating their newfound independence: organizing a three-day festival, Solid Sound, at the Massachusetts art gallery Mass MOCA. Wilco recruited a diverse lineup of more than a dozen acts (Mavis Staples, Autumn Defense, Vetiver) for what turned out to be one of the season's most intimate festivals, even with the 5,000 or so people who attended. Intimate and a little eccentric: The group also planned fare like movie screenings, art displays, comedy and DJ sets, children's storytellers and political puppet shows.

Saturday night belonged to Wilco, though, with the band delivering a blazing two-and-a-half hour, 30-track set featuring songs from their latest disc, Wilco (The Album), plus plenty of rarities. Old favorites got striking new arrangements: "I'm the Man Who Loves You," for instance, started as a massive drone while "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" turned into a mellow sing-a-long. For "Bull Black Nova," drummer Glenn Kotche added textured industrial clangs and plonks to the precise, lock-step groove. Overall, Wilco played a jubilant, no-frills rock show: frontman Jeff Tweedy didn't indulge in any stage banter until 40 minutes into the set, and the band brought straight-forward headbanging rock to their four song encore, which included "Walken" and "Heavy Metal Drummer."

Jeff Tweedy then performed solo Sunday, with guests from the Solid Sound lineup, including Sir Richard Bishop, members of the Books, Autumn Defense and Avi Buffalo. Fresh, inventive takes on the musicians' sets — and close interaction with fans — distinguished the fest. The Books turned the cavelike Hunter Center into a screening room, showing clips of bears and bungee jumpers. Immediately following his afternoon set, Bishop ran off to lead a pop-up performance near Inigo Manglano-Ovalle's installation of an upside-down house. At one point over the weekend, Jeff Tweedy even got in the Dunk Tank.

Tweedy certainly seemed pleased by the gathering. During his solo set, he promised Solid Sound would return. "See you next year!" he said, grinning.

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