Thank you Shaky Knees 2017 for an amazing experience at the festival in Atlanta last weekend! Our correspondent Taylor Maddox recounts the entire event in his review below. Our full photo gallery is coming soon.
As I made my way through the scorching Georgia sun to the Peachtree stage, English psych-rockers Temples took the stage, channeling the spirit of a myriad of 60s and 70s rock bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. The bright synthesizer lines of opener “Colours to Life” brought out an epic sense of wonder, as the wash of guitars and melodies elevated the music to a grand scale. The bassline of “Certainty” built a solid foundation of groove, with singer James Bagshaw’s vocals soaring high. The vocal trade-offs of “Shelter Song” and the mighty guitar riffs of closer “Mesmerise” also left a nice impression. Temples may wear their influences on their sleeves, but they bring enough strong songwriting to the table to stand out among many of their contemporaries.
Car Seat Headrest
Sticking around at the Peachtree stage, Car Seat Headrest followed soon after Temples. Frontman Will Toledo warmed up with the band to the extended jam that begins “Vincent.” At the age of 24, Will’s Car Seat Headrest project already has ten albums under its belt, though most of their Shaky Knees set consisted of songs from last year’s breakout “Teens of Denial.” “You have no right to be depressed/You haven’t tried hard enough to like it,” Will sings passionately on “Fill in the Blank,” rocking out with huge power chords and an energetic performance from drummer Andrew Katz. A cover of Devo’s “Sloppy” transitioned into the indie rock anthem “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.” It’s a lengthy, multi-faceted tune that transformed into a powerful singalong at the end, bringing the large crowd together in the blazing heat to belt along to the coda of “It doesn’t have to be like this.”
After Car Seat Headrest, I headed over to the Ponce De Leon stage, managing to catch the second half of New Jersey band Pinegrove‘s set. The crowd was enormous. It left little space for movement, or even a decent view of the band, with the stage being considerably smaller than the other two. However, there was plenty of energy and passion to be found from frontman Evan Stephens Hall, and their poetic, country-tinged take on emo was felt in full-force. As they performed older cut “Recycling,” it was easy to get a good sense of Pinegrove’s appeal, and their ability to bring together such a sizable audience with their emotionally resonant catalog of music was something special. It was a joyful experience seeing Evan start a wave through the cramped crowd, and the three-song streak of “Size of the Moon,” “The Metronome,” and “New Friends” was a fantastic way to close the show.
I managed to catch a bit of Wolf Parade at the Peachtree stage, as the ominous storm clouds rolled in and blotted out the sunshine. Being one of the first bands to get me into “indie” music, it was a real nostalgic treat watching them open with 2005’s “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son.” There’s a sort of eccentricity to be found in the style of dual lead vocalists Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug’s voices. The keyboards meshed well with the offbeat guitar riffs, as they played a handful of new songs, presumably slated to appear on an upcoming record. The anthemic “Shine a Light” was a big highlight, shining a light (pun intended) on the gloomy weather with buzzing synths, strong guitar riffs, and an impressive vocal performance from Dave.
Catching a brief moment of Highly Suspect‘s bluesy punk rock on the way to the Ponce De Leon stage, I caught a few more brief moments of Chicago band Twin Peaks. They’re certainly an energetic bunch, riling up the crowd with their entertaining brand of snotty, raucous rock tunes. There were crowd surfers a plenty, as the rain made its way down on Shaky Knees. The rain was brief though, and I headed back over to the Peachtree stage where Alaskan rock band Portugal. The Man began their set. Being another one of the first bands to shape my music taste into what it is today, I was slightly disappointed that their setlist was mostly the same as the last time they were at Shaky Knees in 2014. Consisting heavily of songs from their 2013 album Evil Friends, they managed to sneak in their latest single “Feel It Still,” from upcoming album Woodstock. It’s a brief, funky number, with a catchy chorus that already had the crowd singing along, despite only just recently being released. After a few more songs from Evil Friends, I left early to catch another Shaky Knees alum, Preoccupations.
Performing an exceptional set at Shaky Knees 2015 under the name Viet Cong, they returned in 2017 under the new name Preoccupations. Their dark and heavy style of post-punk went well with the cloudy skies, with opener “Select Your Drone” being a particularly haunting moment. The bright guitar textures of “Continental Shelf” juxtaposed the sinister synthesizers, and the 12-minute “Memory” morphed into a twisted dancefloor take on Interpol’s own brand of post-punk revival. The call and response of guitar and bass during “Bunker Buster” created an infectious groove, with singer/bassist Matt Flegel’s coarse vocals bringing a chill down the spine of everyone in attendance.
I was a little hesitant heading over to the Piedmont stage where the Pixies were set to play. They’re one of my favorite bands ever, but their two recent reunion albums left a weak impression on me, and I was worried their set would be comprised of too many of those songs. Luckily I was wrong, with their classic album Doolittle taking up much of the setlist. The opening streak of “Gouge Away,” “Wave of Mutilation,” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven” was an absolute treat. Singer Black Francis, drummer David Lovering, and guitarist Joey Santiago all still got it. Trompe Le Monde cut U-Mass was a blast, and the crowd singalong during “Hey” and “Where Is My Mind?” was a wonderful experience. After another excellent string of Doolittle songs with “Here Comes Your Man,” “La La Love You,” and “Mr. Grieves,” I headed over to the main Peachtree stage to get a good view of LCD Soundsystem.
Really though, anywhere you were standing during their set would have been a good view. Opening with “Us v. Them” and a giant glowing disco ball above the stage, James Murphy and company transformed Centennial Park into a two-hour long dance floor. There really wasn’t a weak moment to be found, with the band’s amalgamation of dance-punk, indie, and art rock emitting a feeling of euphoria among the thousands in attendance. Rhythmic repetition is the name of the game here, with the 7-minute “Get Innocuous!” going on and on in an almost hypnotic trance, as drummer Pat Mahoney impressed the audience with what seemed like a never-ending amount of stamina. Keyboardist Nancy Whang’s backing vocals were also an impressive highlight.
LCD brought the melancholy, too, with the three-song gut punch of “Someone Great,” “Home,” and “New York, I Love You” strongly resonating with the crowd. New song “Call the Police” sounded great, with atmospheric guitar lines that were reminiscent of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Their other new song “American Dream” was less impressive. It’s just too slow and repetitive for my tastes, even by LCD’s standards, and the audience didn’t seem too wowed by it, but hopefully it will grow on me by the time the band’s new album releases later this year. Everything got back on track though with This Is Happening highlight “Dance Yrself Clean.” It’s a completely epic dance rock tune, with a lengthy build-up in the first half that culminated into an absolute banger of bass and groovy drumbeats. “So go and dance yourself clean,” James sings, and the audience did just that, with the stage glowing in a flash of red and blue lights.
The night ended with their performance of classic LCD staple “All My Friends.” James’ observational wit was felt in lines like “It comes apart/The way it does in bad films/Except the part/Where the moral kicks in,” as the repetitive piano riff built and built along with the band into a mighty finish. It’s so great to have LCD Soundsystem back, and their headlining set was the perfect end to the excellent first day of Shaky Knees.
It was a very bright and sunny day out on Saturday when Nashville-based soul singer Anderson East took the Peachtree stage. Backed by a six-man band including a horn section, Anderson had a lot of charisma, his entertaining stage presence being at the forefront of every song. His powerful and bluesy voice shines, yet doesn’t detract from his fantastic backing band. His piano player was on fire, dishing out some seriously impressive solos, as well as the drummer rolling out awesome drum fills one after another. It was a blast watching Anderson and his band rock out for a half-hour, as they capped their set off with a fiery, jammed-out finish.
Charleston, South Carolina-based husband and wife duo Shovels & Rope took the stage soon after. At first armed with only a simple drum setup of bass, cymbal, and snare, and a beautiful black hollowed-bodied guitar, they took full advantage of their limited equipment. A powerful country-tinged vocal performance from Cary Ann Hearst meshed well with Michael Trent’s bluesy howling during “Gasoline,” and they switched off roles between drumming and guitar in a naturally talented way. Their onstage chemistry is palpable, and it was a real treat seeing two insanely talented musicians light up the stage as the rain came down.
Welsh band Catfish and the Bottlemen followed soon after, as the sun came back out and the humidity rolled in. Catfish seem to have tapped a certain demographic of fans, attracting an immense crowd that appeared to consist mostly of teenage girls. The band’s style of poppy indie rock felt somewhat out of place at a festival like Shaky Knees, but there was enough energy from frontman Van McCann to keep me interested. The chorus of “Cocoon” soared, and the enthusiasm of the crowd never let up. About a dozen inflatable beach balls were flying around during the entire show, and despite the muggy weather as well as my general lack of knowledge of their music, it was still a pleasantly entertaining experience. Van really knows how to get the crowd going.
I returned to the Peachtree stage from a late lunch break where Sylvan Esso were getting the crowd pumped up. As a duo, with Nick Sanborn equipped only with a laptop and sampler and Amelia Meath on vocals, they may have seemed even more out of place at Shaky Knees than Catfish and the Bottlemen. That wasn’t the case though, with Amelia’s dynamic vocal talents keeping the audience engaged. Her ability to switch between a calm, whispered voice to a powerfully soulful vibe was extraordinary. The off-kilter love song “Die Young” glided along Nick’s flourishing downbeats, and the understated first half of “Coffee” evolved into an explosion of bright synthesizers, with the Atlanta skyline looking beautiful as the sun was beginning its slow descent. Consisting heavily of songs from their new album “What Now?,” the set closed with their single “Radio.” A peppy and energetic performance from Amelia breathed life into the sunburnt crowd, getting everyone to move along to Sylvan Esso’s infectious brand of electronic indie pop.
New York rock band X Ambassadors took the Piedmont stage around 8:00. I wasn’t big on the music itself, but they put certainly put on an impressively flashy show. Songs like “Naked” and “Jungle” were huge in their rock and roll bombast. Their hit song “Unsteady” garnered a massive singalong from the audience, and their other hit “Renegades” capped the set off in an admirable fashion. If nothing else, it was certainly an entertaining spectacle of joy and crowd participation.
I’m admittedly not a huge fan of The xx’s music, but their headlining set on Saturday was surprisingly impressive. The bright and minimal guitar riffs from Romy Madley Croft on “Islands” seemed to float on top of Jamie xx’s beats, and bassist Oliver Smith’s vocals were emotionally resonant throughout, especially on Coexist cut “Fiction.” A solo performance by Romy from their new album I See You on “Performance” showcased her tenderly soft voice, and a full-band cover of Jamie’s fantastic 2015 solo single “Loud Places” elevated the show to enormous heights. The penultimate one-two punch of “On Hold” and “Intro” brought the moody crowd into a dancing craze, and it became evident that Jamie’s DJ influences on the band’s music brought The xx into some fantastic new territory. Ending the show with the somber 2012 ballad “Angels,” The xx proved their worth as a solid headliner, and brought Shaky Knees to a triumphant finish on Saturday
Unfortunately I arrived at Shaky Knees too late on Sunday to be able to see Cloud Nothings for the second time, but the day still managed to start off right with Chicago band Whitney. Drummer Julien Ehrlich also provided lead vocal duties with blue-eyed soul, as the band flew through songs from their 2016 debut album Light Upon the Lake. The lack of reverb gave the guitars a nice pop, and the use of instruments such as piano and trumpets offered a pleasant, vintage style to the band’s brand of psychedelic pop. The slow acoustic ballad “No Woman” evolved into a crescendo of guitars, as the mighty trumpets ended Whitney’s brief set with a nice flair.
At the Piedmont stage, former Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser geared up with his band, 12-string acoustic in hand, as the Georgia heat hit its all-day high. They seemed unphased by this, however, rocking out to Hamilton’s earnest collection of Americana folk rock from last year’s I Had a Dream That You Were Mine. “I watched the sparks fly off the fire” Hamilton sings on the infectiously catchy anthem “A 1000 Times,” an ode to unrequited love. Hamilton paints a colorful picture in his lyrics of old towns and past lovers with “In a Black Out.” “Now you’re sleeping in the back/Of a speeding yellow cab” he sings, finger picking away at his acoustic guitar at lightning speeds. His powerful howl of a voice reigns triumphant on “Alexandra,” and an interesting story of a wedding he attended in the past was a thoughtful footnote leading into “The Bride’s Dad.” Hamilton proved himself to be a worthy solo artist with this magnificent set.
Warpaint lit up the Piedmont stage, with their sensual blend of dreamy pop and dance rock. Songs like “Love Is to Die” and “New Song” kept the crowd on their feet, dancing along in the blazing sun. Over at the Peachtree stage, Third Eye Blind kept the large crowd’s attention, delivering a crowd-pleasingly nostalgic set of greatest hits. Songs like “Jumper” and Motorcycle Drive-By” elicited strong reactions from the crowd, singing along to nearly every one of their tunes. Singer Stephan Jenkins mentions repeatedly that he wants everyone to put down their phones and live in the moment, and they did just that. He says something along the lines of “I want everyone to be brave and turn around. Tell the person behind you that you love them.” The band’s combination of memorable hits and crowd interactions left good vibes to everyone standing in the southern heat.
Heading over to the Piedmont stage where New York band Bleachers was set to play, there was about a 20-minute delay due to sound problems. Once they got situated, Bleachers wasted no time plowing into their delightfully catchy brand of pop rock. A cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” sounded great, and the Bruce Springsteen-esque “Rollercoaster” initiated a wave of singing through the audience. New song “Don’t Take the Money” went over well with the crowd, and frontman Jack Antonoff went wild during the guitar solo of “I Wanna Get Better.” Despite the unfortunately short time they were allotted, Bleachers managed to deliver an exceptional set.
I’m not sure what was going on with the sound mixing over at the Peachtree stage, but The Shins sounded awfully quiet. The sound of people talking around us more often than not seemed to drown out the band’s music, and we weren’t even standing that far back. Opening with a three-song streak of “Caring Is Creepy,” “Name for You,” and “Australia,” the nigh-inaudible mix became too much to bear, so I left early to head over to the Piedmont stage. A shame, too, because I was really looking forward to The Shins’ set.
At the Piedmont stage, singer-songwriter Ryan Adams came out clad in aviators and a black and silver Gibson Flying V. The spirit of 70s radio rock was channeled with the heartfelt “Do You Still Love Me” and “Gimme Something Good,” and early hits like “To Be Young” and “Two” resonated with the crowd. I left early to go to the Ponce De Leon stage to catch Australian psychedelic rock band Pond. With a lineup that includes former and current members of Tame Impala, opener “30,000 Megatons” was a barrage of tripped-out synthesizers and booming drums. The crowd interaction was supremely entertaining, with nonstop crowd surfers and singer Nick Allbrook crowd surfing as well. Colorful synth and guitar textures dominated in songs like “You Broke My Cool” and The Weather,” and it was a pleasant penultimate end to the night.
French headlining dance-rock band Phoenix were about a half-hour late at the Peachtree stage, certainly due to the amount of time it took to set up the tour debut of a massive mirror that hovered over the stage. It was well worth the wait, though, with the pounding toms of “Lasso” being accented by the tight, exquisitely played guitar leads. Insanely catchy, earwormy hooks were going all-night, with the dance vibes of “Long Distance Call” and new song “J-Boy” getting the crowd moving. The mirror effect was insanely cool, with the band performing on a lit-up stage that transmitted colorful images that were reflected back at the audience. The smooth and sophisticated disco quality of “Trying to Be Cool” went well combined with the bright Phoenix logo being transmitted in huge letters to the crowd.
The lengthy and transformative “Love Like a Sunset” evolved into a slew of bass-heavy disco beats, and “Lisztomania” brought the large crowd into a frenzy of dancing and singing. Frontman Thomas Mars oozes style on “If I Ever Feel Better,” and the glistening piano of new song “Fior Di Latte” sounds delightful. Ending with their 2009 hit “1901,” the crowd was brought into hysterical passion, with the singalongs reaching their all-day high. A long and crazy goodbye ensued, with Mars rushing through the crowd to the sound board, only a few feet away from me, climbing up the rafters before coming back down, saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you” the entire time. It was a fittingly entertaining end to the weekend, and helped to cement yet another unforgettable year of the Shaky Knees festival.
Photos courtesy of Shaky Knees & C3Presents