The torrential rains of the previous festival was replaced by persistent heat, but that didn’t stop the thousands of faithful to stream back to the grounds of Mass MoCA for the remainder of Solid Sound. After the one-off fun of the covers evening, Wilco fans were ready for a large helping of just Tweedy-penned songs, but before that got going there were plenty of other musical offerings. The biggest buzz had to be the only US-based reunion show of The Dream Syndicate, a critical piece of American guitar rock that never quite got its proper due, despite early recognition from R.E.M. who hand-picked them as a tour opener in the early 80s. Guitars blazed and “That’s What You Always Say” still had the spine-tingling crackle as always. Original members Wynn and drummer Dennis Duck were joined later-era bass player Mark Walton and Wynn’s guitar foil in his Miracle 3 band, Jason Victor.
On the big field, Neko Case pulled warmup duties and her particular brand of clarion-call singing and lush lyrical imagery just keeps getting better and better. Middle Cyclone is her last record but a new one is due in the Fall, and she dropped a few numbers into her set list that stood shoulder to shoulder with “Hold On, Hold On” or “This Tornado Loves You.”
Wilco’s set was focused squarely on their bread and butter and nailed a show that spanned from their earliest days (“Box Full Of Letters”) to their most recent record; a perfect segue into the lazy, around the river bend ramble of “One Sunday Morning” to the Krautrock attack of “Art Of Almost.” It also sounded like the band worked up a few changes to some of the songs; don’t apply the jam band tag yet, but it sounded like some well-rehearsed twists and turns snuck into the arrangements.
Sunday was noticeably thinner, but that still didn’t keep a large contingent (including myself) from being able to see the Nels Cline and Julian Lage performance at the indoors Hunter Center, as fire marshalls were checking on room capacity. The pace on stage slowed too, with the frenetic activies of Foxygen or the serrated guitar work of The Dream Syndicate giving way to the kid’s theater of The Story Pirates or the upbeat garage rock of The Blisters, featuring Spencer Tweedy on drums; I wonder how they got on the bill? The performance of Radiolab with On Fillmore (Glenn Kotche and Darin Gray, who operate in the free improvisation realm with guide wires or nets) really fell flat, as the principals in Radiolab played recorded podcasts of their show as Kotche and Gray filled in with some touches of percussion, sawed bass, and general sound fill.
The dreamy, pastoral SoCal sounds of The Autumn Defense (John and Pat from Wilco) matched the sun-drenched environs of Courtyard D well, but the real spark on that stage came from the next act, Marc Ribot and David Hidalgo. Calling their project Border Music, they played country music (“just not from this country” joked Ribot) that belied their roots and interests (Hidalgo of course from Los Lobos, and Ribot’s Cubanos Postizos project leading the way here).
Joe’s Field was noticeably thinner, allowing for a leisurely viewing of the upbeat psych/tropicalia/soul sound of Brazil’s legendary Os Mutantes, and followed by the closing jazz throb of Medeski, Martin & Wood. Hidalgo, Ribot and Nels Cline sat in on different songs,and the weekend came to a close with Tweedy also joining Cline for the send off Wilco cover of “Hate It Here.” Tweedy was very clear that the upcoming song’s chorus had nothing to do with their true feelings, and it would be silly to think that Wilco wouldn’t get this big ball of fun rolling again in the next summer or two.