Solid Sounds: Dawn of Midi Amps Up & The Shaggs Reunite at East Coast Fest


Keyboardist Amino Belyamani of Dawn of Midi performs at Solid Sound in North Adams, Massachusetts, on June 23.

(Photo: Rick Levinson Photo)

Wilco and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art curated and hosted their fifth Solid Sound Festival June 23–25, showcasing a diverse lineup of rock, jazz, outsider music, art and more. Among the more obscure artists were acoustic trio Dawn of Midi and cult rock group The Shaggs, playing music from their respective albums. Both recreated their studio recordings live in their own unique ways, providing two contrasting but enjoyable experiences for diehard fans and curious listeners alike.

Dawn of Midi, a piano trio based in New York, has garnered a good deal of publicity for the sophomore album, Dysomnia (Erased Tapes). In concerts, the trio usually plays the entirety of the record note for note.

The environment and audience worked to transform the album’s recitation into a compelling live experience. As “Reservations,” the final song from Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot set, faded out, the bass crept in with its pulsating rhythms and Dawn of Midi began their 45-minute journey of non-stop music.

The power behind their notes was immediately clear, and their expansive festival setup breathed a new form of energy into their music. As the bass drum and upright bass vibrated, the tarps protecting the speakers from the rain began to slowly slip off.

One of the goals with the album was to create music that sounded electronic yet acoustic, and with the sound system at their show, this balance was emphasized. The lower end had punch, and the mids and highs were clear and consistent, emitting overtones that could have been lost without the proper mix and amplification. While whoops and hollers from the audience punctuated the music, the trio stayed on track, calm as the eye of a hurricane as members of the audience danced, trance-like, around the stage.

The following day, The Shaggs played their first show since 1999, and only their second since the group disbanded in 1975. They have a peculiar origin story: As teens, their father pulled them out of school, bought them instruments and had them practice constantly, believing they would be a famous band due to a palm-reading his mother gave him when he was younger.

1969’s Philosophy Of The World—the band’s only record—was incredibly rough around the edges. Its music can be described as distressing, but strangely enough, the group did become famous several years after the album’s release, appreciated for their distinct approach to music. The huge crowd to see them at Solid Sound made it evident that The Shaggs’ popularity had not died out. Rather, it seemed to have grown, with fans spanning across several generations.

This incarnation of The Shaggs—consisting of original members Dorothy “Dot” Wiggin, her sister Betty on vocals (they both played guitar on the record), a third vocalist and a backing band—took to the stage with an excitement to share their music, which held a timeless outsider appeal. The band played purposefully out of tune and time, trying to capture the naiveté of the originally recording.

The show was an alluring cocktail of lighthearted, haunting, silly, surreal and too many other adjectives to list, but it was interesting to think about it in context of Dawn of Midi’s performance the night before.

Both groups had clearly set out to replicate studio recordings live, and both groups succeeded. What caused tension is how much of the album was recreated. While the music sounded the same, the essence of the music was altered. For Dawn of Midi, it was slight—just more of an electrifying energy due to the sound system and audience—but for The Shaggs it was much more drastic.

No longer were the two sisters forced to play music they had little interest in, because now they enjoyed it and sang on their terms. The band was clearly excited too, but they still sounded like their recordings—amateur and unsettling—giving the performance another level of magnetism, one that was a bit more meta.

In addition to these concerts, Wilco also played through two of their albums—Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. To read a review of that performance as well as a recap of other sets from the festival, click here. DB

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