Solid Sound Festival, Aug 13-15, Mass MoCA

Music Seen
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  August 20, 2010

Even if you don't love Wilco (anymore), it's hard to imagine a festival being much more pleasant and casually engaging than their inaugural event in North Adams. Apart from everything I wrote in "From solid to standout", other highlights I caught Friday and Saturday:

• Walking by comedians Eugene Merman (not even performing here) and Kristen Schaal (so cute!) every 45 minutes.

• The Books played in the museum's nearly 1000-capacity Hunter Center, to a packed and rapt crowd. Though Casco Bay Books, circa 2006, ruined the sound collagists for eternity for me by playing them to death, their exacting sonic clarity and bizarre archival/homemade videos make a unique, engaging presentation.

• The "Solid Sound Stompbox Station," an interactive guitar pedal exhibit set up by Wilco's Nels Cline, packed with kids and audio geeks kneeling on pillows and twiddling with knobs in a room at least 100 yards long.

• During Brenda's set, D.J. Moore's feline charisma and ever-moving limbs, Josh Loring's simultaneously esoteric and breezy guitar riffs, Peet Chamberlain's hard-won rock-star stances and particularly his set-closing stint on lead vocals, a piece of borderline-performance art everyone from Maine was gleefully terrified to witness out of state (his lion roars went off without a hitch).

• The Baseball Project — with garage heroes Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, and Mike Mills on the front line — having as much fun as you'd expect a band who write about Major League athletes to have.

• The unkempt, captivating, all-female, nearly all a capella trio Mountain Man, from Bennington, Vermont: singing traditionals and songs classically witty enough to sound like traditionals with wide-open mouths and hearts.

• Sitting next to a Mountain Man's mom as they got a standing ovation.

• Mavis Staples literally walked off stage the moment I caught sight of her, but she sure sounded brassy and delightful from a distance.

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