Wilco Performs at Mass MoCA

Singing in the Rain

By: - Jun 25, 2011

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There was a light drizzle last night about a half hour before Wilco was scheduled to appear on stage in the vast Joe Thompson Field at the edge of the sprawling North Adams campus of Mass MoCA. By show time it was a downpour.

With a year of planning since the launch of the now annual Solid Sound Festival the only thing you can’t control is the weather.

A pair of comics tried their best to encourage and console the thousands who showed up for the first night of a dense weekend of concerts and special exhibitions in the landmark contemporary art museum. There is  a lot to see and do including a demonstration of falconry.

The gift shop of the museum was briskly selling, for two bucks a shot, plastic ponchos. I almost suffocated trying to get it on. But, to some extent it helped. Astrid declined the offer to buy her one saying that she had proper rain gear. It proved not to be the case as we were both pretty soaked by the end of an adventurous evening of rock ‘n’ roll.

The band was late getting on stage by about twenty minutes. By then there was a driving downpour.

A lot of the kids were so tanked that they were fairly oblivious to the elements. There was the sweet smell of ganga wafting through the evening air.  A trio of lads staggering by us pumped fists in the air while yelling  “Wilco, Wilco, we’re psyched.”


It evoked a bit of that special magic and the survival skills necessary to endure outdoor festivals. That conjured memories of sitting in the mud, with a half million other fans, during Woodstock. It was long ago and we were younger then.

Looking at Astrid’s smiling face poking out of a tight hood I asked what the heck we were doing there. We are, after all, adults. Senior citizens in fact. But we were having a blast. We will return today for more soggy fun.

When Jeff Tweedy and Wilco finally started their first of two nights of performing there was a huge response from die hard fans. More than just a festival it was really a love in.

Which is more than fitting as the band plays particularly soulful, poignant and heart wrenching songs. They are full of love, loss, and earthy, bluesy humanity.

One feature of the weekend is the introduction of a new song “I Might” from their yet to be named eighth album. The first with their own label.

Acknowledging the harsh weather Tweedy said “Here’s the part of the show where as the front man for a rock and roll band I’m supposed to say ‘We’re not going to let a little rain stop us, are we?’ ” then added “I wish I hadn’t said that.”

It was actually the only regret expressed as the band played a wonderful set that thrilled the hunkered down, hardcore audience.

There were lots of special effects that punctuated the ebb and flow of the music from intimate ballads to rockers and even dissonant experimental passages.

The heart and soul of the music emanates from Tweedy’s own poetic responses to the adversities of his personal life from tough romances to epic disputes with former colleagues. After numerous changes the band has been consistent for the past five years with, in addition to Tweedy as leader, John Stirratt, bass, Glenn Kotche, drums, Nels Cline, guitar, Pat Sansone on multiple instruments, and keyboard by Mikael Jorgensen.

In a tender mood Tweedy sang “Via Chicago” evoking the home base of the band which is now extending its reach to the Berkshires.

There is a bit of vindictive pay back to a failed lover in “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” It is the kind of emotional insight and honesty that anyone might deeply identify with. The song is also emblematic of the resonant depth of Tweedy’s poignant lyrics. They rocked through “Shouldn’t Be Ashamed” from 1995. Neil Finn, of the opening act Pajama Club, joined Wilco on stage for his 1980 Split Enz hit “I Got You.”

The Solid Sound Festival continues today through Sunday.

Last year Wilco performed on Saturday night and Tweedy performed solo with guest artists on Sunday afternoon. In a soft drizzle but nothing like last night’s monsoon. This year the band plays for two nights. They headline tonight. Then Levon Helm and his band are featured on Sunday in an afternoon concert from 4:30 to 6 PM which will end this year’s festival.

We will be back today under a big umbrella. With continuing coverage from your jolly, soggy, intrepid reporters and superannuated rock fans. Yeah.