From April to June, I am embarking on an 11-week, 11-music festival trip across the United States, beginning with Coachella and ending in Pasadena at Arroyo Seco. The sixth festival of the trip was Atlanta’s rock fest Shaky Knees. Here is how my trip went.
SHAKY KNEES (ATLANTA, GA.)
FRIDAY, MAY 12
I got into Atlanta on Wednesday and was staying at my friend Chandler’s place for the weekend. I stayed with him the previous year for Shaky Knees — I met him through the Reddit Coachella page at Coachella in 2015 and we stayed friends and hit some festivals together.
Shaky Knees was one of the few fests I didn’t get a media pass to cover — I ended up winning a wristband for local pickup in Atlanta on eBay…for just $71. The face value of the wristband was $150.
Thursday, we went to the Rick & Morty pop-up store (the Rickmobile) and I bought this dope Rick & Morty hat that I’m going to be rocking at festivals from now on. We then went across the street to Variety Playhouse to see Slowdive, who I caught half their set two weeks ago at Fortress Fest. Their new album rocks and it was awesome seeing their full show in support of it. Afterwards, we grabbed some fast food at Checkers, a place I had never been in my life until then. Holy shit, their menu is pretty dope, and I got a slush drink and some chicken nuggets.
Friday, Chandler had to work and was getting to the fest in time for LCD Soundsystem. I went in early and got there in time to see part of Zipper Club at 1 PM on the main stage. I was really impressed by their set at Coachella and they have a lot of potential. Afterwards, I caught some of Lo Moon — their singer reminds me a bit of Bryan Adams, and they have a pretty dope electro-pop sound.
The main reason I got there early was to see Temples — a band I fell in love with due to their most recent album and also one of the few bands on the lineup I had never seen and was really looking forward to checking out. They are definitely riding the Tame Impala Vibe Train pretty heavily, and their psych-rock sound was pretty killer live. I saw a girl pass out during this set and dragged out of the crowd and sat up, a really scary sight until she finally started acting coherently.
Afterwards, I caught some of Car Seat Headrest, they weren’t as good as the last few times I saw them. Then I caught Pinegrove with my friends Sara and James, who did Shaky Knees a few years ago and are concert pals of mine in Los Angeles. They were mostly there for LCD Soundsystem that night but Pinegrove is a band Sara was selling me on. They packed out the small Ponce de Leon stage heavier than I ever saw the previous two years at the fest. They have a really wide-ranging sound — some elements of emo, rock, and folk music. They were dope, but the banter between songs was pretty meek and low-key.
I had also never seen Wolf Parade and they fucking killed their main stage set. They kind of reminded me of Modest Mouse, at least the lead vocalist’s singing style did. Then I moved up closer into the crowd, as I was staying at the main stage the rest of the night for Portugal. The Man, Cage the Elephant, and LCD.
Portugal. The Man has delivered killer live shows everywhere I’ve seen them. They jammed out their set, and with 15 minutes left announced they had one song left. I was a bit bummed they were leaving 10 minutes at the end of their set, but they made me feel dumb when they played a 13 minute banger that fucking slayed. I am super excited to hear this group’s next full length — “Feel It Still” is one of my favorite songs of the moment.
Cage the Elephant will be headlining festivals in a few years. Lead singer Matt Shultz is doing the best Mick Jagger these days — from his charisma to his moves. The lead guitarist also has a ton of energy on stage and would sing along to the crowd every word even though he didn’t have a mic. Like Portugal. The Man, they have many anthems and the young crowd connected greatly with their set.
The best part was that not everyone left after Cage the Elephant when LCD Soundsystem was getting their stage ready. I think the younger crowd was clued into LCD’s reputation as live performers, and though a lot of people weren’t familiar with them, they stuck around to check it out. LCD did what they do and delivered a memorable set. The new material from their upcoming long-awaited album was fantastic live. By then, I met up with Chandler, and we were all the way at the front of the crowd for the whole set. People were really into it, singing along to every word. There might not be a better 1-2 in live music closing a show than “Dance Yrself Clean” into “All My Friends.” I will never tire of seeing that combo live.
Afterwards, it was more garbage fast food (this time I got McDs). Shaky Knees is always a chill and relaxed time and it was no different this time.
SATURDAY, MAY 13
On Saturday, my plan was to be at the main stage for most of the day just like Friday. I got there in time to see some of Anderson East before finally catching Bishop Briggs live. I had missed her a few times earlier in the year. She has a really soulful voice despite the alt pop genre she sits in. She reminds me a lot of a more mainstream-sounding Meg Mac (you should check her out).
Afterwards I went to the main stage for Shovels and Rope with the plan on getting a spot up front for Catfish and the Bottlemen and Sylvan Esso. Shovels and Rope are a great Americana duo, I first saw them at Sasquatch a few years ago and was really impressed.
Afterwards I moved up into the crowd and realized I was the only person born in the ’80s anywhere near me. My ears are still ringing from when Catfish came on stage and the piercing screams of girls ruined my hearing. One girl even threw her bra on stage at the band. They played even better than when I saw them most recently at GovBall last year — lead singer Van McCann has cut down on having the crowd sing so many of their lyrics instead of doing it himself. The band is going to be massive, and probably headline fests pretty soon.
I saw Sylvan Esso so many times on the festival circuit in 2015, and a few more times at the tail-end of their tour supporting their first album. I was super stoked to see one of the early shows supporting their awesome new album What Now. Even though their sound isn’t crazy loud, they really had command of the main stage, with a really big crowd to see them. New songs “The Glow” and “Die Young” were the most memorable of the set. Amelia Meath’s dance moves in her platform tennis shoes always make me smile.
One set I wasn’t particularly high in expectations for was Nick Murphy (aka Chet Faker). The last few times I saw him outdoor at festivals, I was really underwhelmed. He underwent this name change and I didn’t realize it, but it reflects how different his live show is. I swear, there were a couple times I thought I was watching the band Jungle on stage — his stuff was mostly upbeat and funky outside of a few Chet Faker songs he played. My interest in him has renewed.
The xx were giving their first festival-headlining set in the United States. I saw them a few days earlier in Houston and was impressed by how much more upbeat their set was than I was expecting. They brought their full production to Shaky Knees, with the mirrors and lights they used on their tour. Again, the most hyped part of their set was when Jamie XX was doing “Loud Places” and a mini DJ set, though a lot of people oohed and aahed at various songs from The XX’s back catalog. I’m not quite sure they’re legit headliners of fests in this country yet, but they are moving that way.
SUNDAY, MAY 14
Sunday was going to be the day I bounced around the most, though I wanted a rail spot to see Warpaint for the 10th time. I caught Whitney and Hamilton Leithauser at the same stage up front beforehand. Whitney is good, the between-song banter was meek as hell like with Pinegrove. Leithauser really gave me Elvis Costello vibes during his set, he’s got a great set of pipes.
I had a rail spot for Warpaint and was stoked on how many people were there to see them specifically. When Theresa from Warpaint came out to check on her gear she looked right at me and waved — I dunno if she recognized me from when we chatted at Music Tastes Good last year or if I was especially fucked up at their Coachella sets this year and I stood out.
Afterwards, Chandler and I ran and caught Third Eye Blind. I had mixed experiences seeing them before, with their hometown set at Outside Lands the banner performance. I guess it’s better to see a band you’re nostalgic for when you’re with friends you grew up with listening to their tunes. Also, Stephan Jenkins really did not shut the fuck up, and it was all super positive stuff, but when you know from reading stuff that he’s not the nicest dude, it kind of comes off as inauthentic. Still, hearing “Semi-Charmed Life” was a treat — it’s just he could have fit at least two more songs in if he was at all reasonable with the between-song talk.
We caught the end of Bleachers, who had some technical difficulties early in their set so they ran late. They did their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way”, I remember seeing them do that song with Elle King when I saw them at SXSW a few years ago. We left at the end to catch The Shins, who were already halfway through “Caring is Creepy,” a bummer. We stayed for like 20 minutes before getting a good spot for Ryan Adams. I was a little disappointed by The Shins — they’re not a band I recommend seeing from super far away if you’re that much into them.
Ryan fucking Adams, what can you say? The dude is hilarious and in my opinion is writing the best material of his career with his last two albums. I had been playing his latest record Prisoner a lot since it came out. It was awesome to hear “Doomsday” live especially. He kept making jokes about The Shins because there was soundbleed from their set nearby. He joked that he was playing a secret Shins set with all new material when they ended, as a joke to get people to come over.
Closing out the festival was Phoenix. There was a looong delay of at least 40 minutes as they struggled to figure out how to make the stage work. They had an intricate setup with a screen as the floor, which was reflected off a mirror hanging above. Once they figured it out, the show got moving pretty quickly. I was distracted by some insanely sloppy making out in front of me for the first 20 minutes. Like, this girl was eating this dude’s face, it was gross. But once Phoenix got into material from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, I snapped out of it. The new tracks sounded pretty dope too. They’ll be at Hangout this weekend, taking over for Frank Ocean, who pulled out again. They’ll also be at GovBall, but I’m choosing Childish Gambino over them.
Overall, Shaky Knees came at the right time — it’s a laid-back, relaxed festival. And after doing the marathon Middlelands, it was nice to spend a weekend seeing people play real instruments in a chilled out environment.
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