June 24--This review should not just be about Foxygen.
It should be about the whole slate of artists that played on Saturday at the Solid Sound Festival at Mass MOCA. It should be about festival hosts, Wilco, one of our great American musical exports. For almost two decades, Wilco has put out a string of consistently great albums with an ever-developing sound that draws on classic country, free jazz, as much Carter Family as it is Ornette Coleman.
Foxygen has just a single album to offer, and its performance on Saturday was just a shuffling of their limited repertoire. Musically, they didn't offer the versatility or range of the forebears who graced the other two larger stages.
But this is about Foxygen. This is about the type of musical performance that leaves your mouth hanging open, that makes your heart race, that makes you excited to dissect over and over with your friends what you just witnessed. It was actually painful to endure their sheer volume so close to the stage, and yet we were planted firmly in place the entire time. They play relentless sonic riffs that feel like you're racing a highway in a muscle car and then there is a pause as the whole group shifts into a Broadway-style interlude before slipping again into gearhead mode.
Wilco's performance was the best in an impressive slate of artists that also included Yo La Tengo, Neko Case, Low and the first American performance of The Dream Syndicate since 1988. To see any one of those artists would be worth enduring the relentless summer heat and a plague of mosquitoes that descended upon the crowd on Saturday.
Wilco dove deep in their considerable oeuvre, including new takes on classics such as "She's a Jar" and "Via Chicago" which showcased just how much the band has grown from its roots in The Beatles and Flying Burrito Brothers. Jeff Tweedy picked a few country melodies on his acoustic guitar for "One Sunday Morning" as Nels Cline wailed abstract leads next to him for great effect. They left with a few rarities, "Just a Kid" and "Dreamer in my Dreams", that left even the Wilco nerds with dozens of shows under their belt happy.
Neko Case unveiled a few new songs, including "Man," that show her next album will be just as critically praised and as enjoyable as 2009's "Middle Cyclone." The crowd, by then numbering in the thousands, pushed in when Case took the stage and hung there as she touched on classics like "This Tornado Loves You" and "Maybe Sparrow." Yo La Tengo has been as it longer than just about all the other artists on stage Saturday, some 25 years, and has yet to put out a bad album. Their lush set included highlights like "Autumn Sweater" and new song "Ohm."
A large part of the Foxygen experience centers around lead singer Sam France. At first, it seemed sheer theatrics, the way he possessed the stage. He dramatically waved his body at us, clad in a 1970s frock, and leaped off the monitors. Then it got darker.
France climbed the corner of the stage, making it sway, until a security guard ripped him off and they stood nose to nose on stage as the guitars swirled raucously in the background. He wrapped the microphone cord around his neck like a noose and never missed a beat as he sang into it. He flailed and thrashed on his back.
Improbably, every song sounded great, with hints of The Stooges, Devendra Banhardt, even a touch of Queen.
In the crowd, people wondered if he was on acid. They wanted to give him a hug, to calm him down.
"The whole thing is scripted; we know what we're doing," he offered at one point with a sly grin. Liar.
Surely, such a performance is not sustainable. The center cannot hold. Just ask Jim Morrison. One cannot survive such an onslaught. Foxygen has already canceled a ton of dates after France melted down onstage earlier this year.
If you like rock 'n' roll circa 2013, you must see Foxygen now. Their performance transcends the onstage theatrics. It is a sonic mess, it is gorgeous, it is simultaneously a clear lineage to rock's past and unlike anything you've heard. Their album "We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic" is one of 2013's best.
(c)2013 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)
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