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FUV Live at Solid Sound: 2015

Scenes from Solid Sound 2015

Scenes from Solid Sound 2015 (photo by Laura Fedele/WFUV)

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Another incredible weekend with Wilco at their biennial Solid Sound Festival came to a close with an all-star Tweedy and Friends performance on the main stage last night. Watching a smiling and gracious Jeff Tweedy lead a cast of performers was both heartwarming and deeply gratifying, as we were treated to both a fantastic set from Tweedy (the band) and Tweedy (the man), followed by a collaborative parade of the weekend’s artists.

Highlights range from Cibo Matto's mashup of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” and Madonna’s “Get Into The Groove” to Luluc's heavenly version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”, The Felice Brothers sweetly covering John Prine’s “Grandpa Was a Carpenter” to Tweedy's incredible version of John Lennon’s “God” with the tireless Bill Frisell on guitar, and the closing song with all the members of Wilco joining in for a rousing version of “California Stars.” We savored every last note under a light rain, with spirits undampened. But we begin at the end.

As we did in 2013, Team FUV broadcasted live from Solid Sound's opening night. Before Wilco history was made with their first-ever, all-acoustic show, the New Jersey/Brooklyn band Real Estate delivered a flawless, dreamy set of songs and mellow instrumentals which drew heavily from their last two albums: 2011’s Days and last year’s superb Atlas (which they recorded at Wilco’s Chicago studio, The Loft). Their set opened with the single “Had To Hear” and closed with the nearly 8-minute long “All The Same.” Like the best food and wine pairing, it was an absolutely perfect and satisfying companion to the intoxicating all-acoustic show that was to follow.

What made the “unplugged” Wilco experience so remarkable was not just hearing these beloved 31 songs as we’d never heard them before, but the fact that the sound was still so... Wilco. The “acoustic versions” of songs can sometimes feel watered down or softened, draining certain songs of their punch, or there can be a tendency to shy away from songs that might seem odd in an acoustic arrangement and stick to quieter material instead. But Wilco delivered some of their most killer moments of the night with tunes we are definitely accustomed to hearing loud (“Bull Black Nova,” “I Got You (At The End of the Century,” “A Shot In The Arm,” “Outta Mind (Outta Sight)” and a fantastic “Walken") plus songs you might expect to be part of an acoustic Wilco set (“Misunderstood,” “Hummingbird,” “Jesus, Etc.,” “Forget The Flowers” and the Uncle Tupelo favorite, “New Madrid.” Other highlights were rare performances of “Company In My Back” and “She’s A Jar.”

The artistry and virtuosic playing from each band member was just as impressive as ever, with guitarist Nels Cline adding in occasional experimental flourishes, Pat Sansone showing us his impressive banjo skills and drummer/percussionist Glenn Kotche trading in sticks for brushes. Previously teasing an electric encore, the band was so pleased with the acoustic results and not wanting to disturb the vibe they'd created, that they ended their five-song encore with “I’m A Wheel” — a triumphant conclusion to an unprecedented Wilco experience. Saturday night’s 26-song electric show was amazing too, and seemed to be custom-tailored for the hardcore fan, going deep into the catalog, even throwing in a Loose Fur song (not the only one of the weekend) and a couple songs that overlapped Friday’s acoustic set (“Kamera” and the twin “Outta Sight (Outta Mind)”).

This was the fourth Solid Sound Festival the Chicago band has hosted and curated on the visually stunning grounds of MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Massachusetts. The creatively inspired and family-friendly stew of contemporary art, music, comedy and nature is a perfect fit to both Wilco and its fans, with little separation between the two. Members of the band can be seen throughout the weekend, enjoying the festival, wandering with their families, watching other bands play and easily interacting with festival-goers, as well as playing in their various side projects and doing pop-up performances in museum galleries.

We filmed guitarist Pat Sansone and bassist John Stirratt’s band, The Autumn Defense, in one of those pop-up performances, as well as a fellow Chicagoan, the young guitar prodigy Ryley Walker, who had one of the most talked about performances of the weekend with his band on one of the smaller, courtyard stages. (Videos coming soon).

Every year of Solid Sound has been different, but it's always diverse and interesting, with the many connections the band members have made paving the way for much of the programming — especially in recent years, as Jeff Tweedy has taken on more projects as a producer. Case in point, the line-up this year included Richard Thompson (and his trio), who just recorded his most recent album, Still, at The Loft in Chicago with Jeff Tweedy. This year was especially rich in guitar virtuosos: elder statesmen Bill Frisell and Richard Thompson, and newcomers like Nashville artist William Tyler and the previously mentioned Ryley Walker.

Other highlights of the weekend included Luluc, Cibo Matto, Shabazz Palaces, Mac DeMarco and NRBQ, as well as our friends from the Catskill Mountains, The Felice Brothers and New York City’s new punk darlings, Parquet Courts. With our hearts and minds full to the brim of this year's visual and musical feast, we can’t wait for Solid Sound 2017!