The final day of Shaky Knees Music Festival in Atlanta was a departure from the punk and angst of the previous two days. The music seemed to fit the mood of people winding down their weekend, mellowing out in the shade of the many trees that occupied the park.
Most of the angst of the day came in the form of SoCal band The Mowgli’s in the Buford Highway tent. They’re a bit GROUPLOVE meets Dashboard Confessional — and they knew how to get the crowd into their show. Singer Colin Dieden found himself in the crowd for the set-closing “San Francisco,” and though the sound was rough at times (as it was all weekend in the tent), they overcame it with unbridled charisma.
Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, aka The Both, delivered a fun set on the main stage. Mann made a couple mistakes and had to restart a few songs, and Leo’s keyboards showed a warning that it was getting too hot, prompting Mann to crack some jokes.
SoCal’s finest indie-surf-pop band, Best Coast played a number of tracks from their recently-released album Calilfornia Nights, the first album with a full band arrangement. They’ve grown quite nicely since their days of writing mostly two-minute songs. The new tracks had a full sound that stretched to the back of the field at the Piedmont Stage. The crowd wished Bobb a happy birthday and Bethany looked like Wonder Woman in her outfit — with matching confidence to boot.
Dr. Dog was another perfect fit for the mellowed Sunday vibes of Shaky Knees on the main stage. I destroyed two pulled pork sandwiches while sitting far back but really enjoyed “That Old Black Hole” and “Be the Void” while waiting to head over to Spiritualized.
I’d been a big fan of Spiritualized since hearing “Ladies and Gentlemen We’re Floating in Space” in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky. I had caught them the night before at Terminal West, and though they didn’t play that track during either performance, they were both the kind of sets that makes you feel like you’re not in your own body. Lead man Jason Pierce may not have looked out at the crowd even one time, always looking straight ahead as he faced side-stage. The bass line in “Lord Let It Rain On Me” was bone-chilling. “Shine a Light” and “Come Together” were two highlights of the entire festival — plus when a streaker was unceremoniously tackled by security.
If any one artist fit Shaky Knees the best, it was Ryan Adams. You could tell he really loved the setup and felt at home and appreciated the support. He may have turned in the weirdest Mother’s Day tribute of all-time with a cover of Danzig’s “Mother,” and the transition to “Oh My Sweet Carolina” was interesting, but it worked nonetheless. There were enough rocking jams to balance out the songs that felt right for those couples that were there. At times during his guitar solos, Adams sounded like a psych-rock John Frusciante. The harmonica work on “Come Pick Me Up” was the right way to end the set and carry into the final stretch of the weekend.
I never expected shoegaze giants Ride to sound as hard as they did, but damn if they didn’t deliver a rocking performance. “Vapour Trail” was the hit everyone knew, but the rest of their set was well received. Other than The Pixies, they were the best legacy act booked by Shaky Knees in my opinion.
Anyone who waited until Sunday to take their psychedelics were rewarded by a mesmerizing set from Australia’s Tame Impala. Their sound is suitable to have been put together in the ’70s, and the older crowd who were here for acts like Ryan Adams, Spiritualized, and Ride were pleasantly surprised by the chops of these guys. “We love this, there’s a lot of landscape,” lead man Kevin Parker said near the end of the set, also mentioning it was their first time playing Atlanta (which is incorrect, but hey, memory can be hazy). This group was on the second line for Coachella, and while they’re not quite headliner material for the biggest music festivals in the States, their Shaky Knees performance solidified the idea they can carry mid-level festivals on their backs.
Shaky Knees Festival Wrap-up:
Overall, Shaky Knees Fest was more than I could have hoped for. There were occasional lulls in the lineup where nothing jumped at me as must-see, but I got to check out a bunch of stuff I wasn’t too familiar with and more often than not I was a fan. The setup of the park was easy to navigate, though I’d complain the food situation around dinner time was difficult and that they weren’t selling water in enough places.
The vibe of the festival was so laid-back that it took me by surprise. I’m so used to festivals being all “go, go, go” where people’s manners are left at home. Not the case in Atlanta as everyone was really nice and engaging, nobody was pushing you or being rude. There were people throwing frisbees and lying in hammocks, something I’d never expect to see at a festival.
My hope is that Shaky Knees stays more or less what it is and doesn’t try and get much larger than that. The capacity was perfect, it was easy to get close to the front of almost any set, and the level of bookings was enough to make it worth traveling across the States for, for me. A lot of people came from nearby states and there were quite a number of people who went on their own, which is something you don’t see much at festivals. I’d like to see how things progress in the coming years.
Best sets of the weekend
1. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel was at the top of his game, mixing in Oasis classics like “Champagne Supernova” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” with killer tracks from his two solo endeavors.
2. The Strokes – Julian Casablancas and his band played for the first time since July’s FYF Fest and they made it special, dusting off songs like “Vision of Division” and “You Talk Way Too Much” for the first time in years. There was no rust in their performance.
3. Ryan Adams – The laid-back rock vibe of Shaky Knees was perfectly suited for Adams’ Don Henley-like jams. He fit better here than at Coachella and you could tell he appreciated the setup.
4. Tame Impala – These Aussies paired their psychedelic rock and visuals quite nicely with the surrounding trees. There were a lot of people tripping specifically for this set and I’m sure it paid off nicely for them.
5. Pixies – It was a tough conflict with them going against Brand New and James Blake, but there was no questioning my choice as they tore through a marathon set.
The early bird gets the worm
There was a lot of good quality stuff early in the afternoon on all three days of Shaky Knees. If you got through the gates early on Friday and caught HAERTS’ emotional synthpop, you caught one of the best sets of the whole weekend. Palma Violets, Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band, and The Mowgli’s were some of the other early afternoon standouts.
Words: Mark E. Ortega
Photography: Tom Dellinger
Aimee Mann of The Both
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