SoundTown: Solid Gold, Slick Rick, and dueling side stages

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Photos by Ben Clark
It's hard to believe there are only a matter of hours left in this weekend's SoundTown festival; with a large portion of the concertgoers camping overnight, we've hit a stride as a mini-community of music fans taking part in a great experiment: Can SoundTown turn into not only a viable, but sustainable long-term option for Twin Cities music fans in search of a large-scale summer music festival?

There are no clear answers at this point (unless you happen to have a crystal ball that predicts the success of new concert ventures), but one thing's for sure: even with more renovations planned, there is already an infrastructure in place for gigantic, venue-defying acts -- think U2, Radiohead, Bjork -- to perform comfortably for tens of thousands of fans. The new permanent stage is essentially an enormous five-foot-tall concrete slab that could comfortably host the Polyphonic Spree, a stage that immediately dwarfs the smaller four- and five-piece rock acts that have graced it this weekend. The only act that has come closest to taking advantage of that wide open space so far has been Slick Rick, but even his sprawling backing band had room to spare. And with a massive PA that pumps the sound to the back of the 40,000-capacity bowl in front of the main stage and out into the neighboring campground, there's no question that a packed house could be happy in these environs. The question at this point seems to be whether the amphitheater's management can book acts big enough to fill the space, not whether the space can accommodate what could potentially be massive crowds.

"It's the first year, let's hope this goes on for a long time," Zach Coulter of Solid Gold said toward the beginning of their mid-afternoon set, which ended up being one of the best sets of the day so far. That sentiment seems to be shared by nearly all of us here, as we choose to politely overlook what seems to be pretty paltry attendance in order to focus on the potential of such an ambitious event. Solid Gold's set also ushered in some of the first technical problems of the weekend, as Coulter's vocals cut out in during the second song and weren't fully restored until the end of the third. That mishap only seemed to energize the crowd, though, who emphatically yelled at the soundboard until the issue was fixed. "Turn it up, he has such a pretty voice!" a man next to me yelled, and the whole congregation broke out in cheers as soon as his singing was audible again.

As for the set itself, Solid Gold evenly split their performance between tracks off of their 2008 debut, Bodies of Water, and their forthcoming record, with the new songs sounding booming and victorious coming through the powerful sound system. So far, my favorite new Solid Gold song is "Eat Your Young" (at least, I think that's what it's called), which is propelled by a funky hip-hop-influenced beat crafted by relatively new drummer Drew Christopherson. They also upped the cute-factor by roughly 100% by inviting Coulter's daughter, Birdie, on stage to dance during their last song, and she smiled ear-to-ear like she was having the time of her life.

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Photos by Ben Clark
Things changed gears considerably for Slick Rick's set, which started with a short DJ mix of classic hip-hop tracks and built into a full-band performance. The crowd grew considerably when Slick Rick made his entrance, but people seemed to get more excited when he sampled old-school tracks than when he played his own material. Slick Rick was only scheduled to perform for a half-hour today, but he stretched out his set at the last minute to make up for a cancellation by one of the only other hip-hop acts on the bill, Doug E. Fresh. By the end of his set, which started out being quite engaging and triumphant, Slick Rick himself didn't even seem to invested in what was happening on stage, losing track of which song they were performing at one point and apologizing repeatedly for not playing "more old-school songs." By the end of his time on stage a large slice of the crowd had dissipated.

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Photo by Ben Clark
Earlier in the day, the Goondas kicked things off with a rousing set that drew a considerable crowd for how early it was (and at one of these festivals, yes noon is considered "early"). It turns out that watching people mosh is a great way to start the day. Other local acts on the bill got a little too same-y for my taste, with many expounding on the early-'60s Beatles vibe, and it also got to be quite distracting trying to focus on the acts at the smaller side stage who were being drowned out by the neighboring tented stage, which cranks the sound to maximum volume. Folk group the Ericksons were particularly hard to hear today, as the Arms Akimbo wailed away on the stage right behind them and mostly drowned out the last part of their set. With all of the open space on the grounds, it's a bit curious why the organizers chose to position the two side stages directly next to each other.

Today's lineup of national acts is significantly stronger than yesterday's, so I'm interested to see what the final attendance will be by the time the Flaming Lips take the stage. By the afternoon today, the size of the crowd was already rivaling what it was during yesterday evening's headlining set, so I have a feeling it might fill out quite nicely by the time Wayne Coyne inflates his giant hamster ball.

I'll have one more update from SoundTown tomorrow once the festival is over, so stay tuned for more on tonight's closing sets by the Lips, DeVotchKa, Okkervil River, and Pink Mink.



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