It takes a music festival like Shaky Knees to really put into perspective what makes bigger festivals like Coachella sometimes annoying to deal with.
The much smaller rock-driven Atlanta music festival brought a laid-back vibe from the outset and didn’t lose that momentum when The Strokes took the stage at 9:45 PM to play 70 really strong minutes.
Missing from Shaky Knees were the masses of flower crowns, the crowd that is there for the Instagram and not for the music. It wasn’t “sceney,” there were even people throwing around a frisbee on a softball field across from the main stage into the early evening.
The Strokes were the big draw to Shaky Knees for me personally. While it was a bit disappointing they played only 70 minutes or so (equal to the main undercard acts Pixies, Brand New, and James Blake), they made the most out of that time. It was their first gig since last August’s FYF Fest.
They played the favorites, coming out of the gate with “Reptilia” to get the crowd to level 10 right away. The performance was with its surprises. They played the live debut of “All the Time” early in the set. “You Talk Way too Much” got played for the first time in more than a decade.
Julian Casablancas shouted out Mac DeMarco before jumping into “Last Nite,” and he joined them on stage during the song. Casablancas was on top of his game, as was guitarist Nick Valensi and the rest of the band.
Their encore began with “Vision of Division,” the first time it has been played since 2010. People near me lost their sh*t when they began to play it. “Is This It” followed, and during the night-closing “New York City Cops,” Casablancas jumped onto the floor and went through the crowd thanking everyone, even signing a few things.
The sets were strong right out of the gate in leading up to The Strokes’ epic finale. Florida indie rockers Surfer Blood brought what sounded like a blend of Weezer and Best Coast, with vocalist John Paul Pitts sounded eerily similar to Saves the Day frontman Chris Conley. “Demon Dance” has a rhythm that sounds eerily similar to Weezer’s “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here.”
HAERTS was one of my favorite discoveries at Coachella this year, and the Brooklyn band didn’t disappoint in Atlanta. They’ve got two things in common with CHVRCHES — naming their band something SEO-friendly so it’s easy to find on Google, and being drenched in synthesizers. Vocalist Nini Fabi has stylings similar to Gwen Stefani from her No Doubt days. “Giving Up” and “Be the One” were highlights, and the set-closing “All the Days” had Fabi sounding quite like Stevie Nicks. Their set was one of the best of the first day.
Jukbox The Ghost
Jukebox the Ghost continued the synthy-flavored pop with a fun set on the main stage. A bit Ben Fold-like, they had a high-energy set that was highlighted by “Sound of a Broken Heart” and their set-closing cover of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” which had a lot of people singing along.
Denver indie band Tennis had a solid set at the Buford Hwy Stage tent despite some technical snafus. The tent was pretty well filled and the crowd was particularly excited to hear older songs like “Marathon,” and a lot of songs from their 2012 album Young & Old. Wife and hubby duo Alaina Moore (vocals) and Patrick Riley (guitar) have great on-stage chemistry and it was on display.
Los Angeles’ Wavves brought a pop-punk vibe to the Boulevard Stage and the front of the crowd got rowdy as hell. Beers were being sprayed all over by people in the crowd — something you wouldn’t see at Coachella but happens here due to the cheaper prices. Vocalist Nathan Williams had the crowd whipped into a frenzy from the outset ’til the final track.
Canadian indie man Mac DeMarco had the chill vibes going during his late afternoon set at Ponce de Leon stage. He even threw in an odd cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow,” and the crowd sang along to the ever-popular love song “Together,” which has some elements of the Lion King song to it.
The Kaiser Chiefs from the UK are Rise Against meets The Wombats and they had a well-attended set at the Boulevard Stage.”Everything is Average Nowadays” was a song that stood out as a favorite of the set, as well as their cover of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard.” Vocalist Ricky Wilson was all over the stage and great at getting the crowd involved, from clapping to singing along.
Death from Above 1979 had a high-octane set with some great comedic moments in between from vocalist/drummer Sebastien Grainger. “I’d like to thank all the TV On the Radio fans for being the fuck over there right now,” he said a few songs into his set, talking about how that band was playing on the other side of the festival at the same time. “I’m just kidding, that’s a joke,” but was it really? “You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine” got the crowd going the most.
Halfway through DFA 1979 I went and checked out a bit of The Mountain Goats. Their folk-driven set was an interesting contrast to most of the harder rock stuff that was going on at the first day of the fest. John Darnielle did a bit of a solo set in the midst of it,, rocking out “Chicago Cubs in Five” among others.
The one downside was how long it took to get food at dinner time. It was at least a 45-minute wait to get fries from a food truck and I missed the beginning of Mastodon.
Mastodon’s set is a major reason I LOVE music festivals. I’m not a metal guy by any means. The chances of me seeking out Mastodon at their own gig are minimal. But at Shaky Knees, they were one of the unique bookings that I really looked forward to. They are FROM Atlanta so there was a local connection there. They rocked hard and the way they shredded on guitar was awesome to see.
The toughest conflict of the day was the Pixies vs. Brand New vs. James Blake. I saw Brand New at Coachella and made sure to see James Blake at a show in Atlanta the day before Shaky Knees just so I could check out the Pixies and not be mad about missing out. They delivered an insanely-gratifying set, playing upwards of 20 songs including favorites like “Wave of Mutilation,” a cover of Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Head On,” and of course the Fight Club-ending “Where is My Mind?” It was one of the better festival sets I’ve seen in awhile.
Overall, the experience at Shaky Knees on the first day was really enjoyable. I hear that things get crazier on Saturday as a lot of people have all day rather than coming in from their 9-to-5 jobs on Friday. We shall see how it plays out.
Words: Mark E. Ortega
Photography: Tom Dellinger
Death From Above 1979
Death From Above 1979
Jukebox The Ghost
Want more photos from Shaky Knees Fest? Check out the photo gallery below!