Shaky Knees Festival | 05.12-14.17

While some festivals have become watered down by trying to offer a little bit of each genre for every possible taste, Shaky Knees has succeeded by nailing its niche year after year.

LCD Soundsystem on the big screen

Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta

“Shaky Knees is our favorite festival,” said Portugal. The Man’s Zachary Carothers during their main stage show on Friday. He’s not alone. The same sentiment was heard from fans and bands all throughout the festival’s fifth anniversary weekend. While some festivals have become watered down by trying to offer a little bit of each genre for every possible taste, Shaky Knees has succeeded by nailing its niche year after year. They know what they are, and they’re great at it.

Lo Moon

But it’s not just the lineup that makes this festival one of our favorites. Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta is the perfect place for a city festival. Parking and food are plentiful, the walk between stages is just right, and the Atlanta skyline serves as the perfect backdrop. Staying in the same location for a second year also helped things run smoother and feel more familiar. It was nice not having to figure out the festival’s layout all over again.

Music started early and loud on Friday morning with sets from Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes and Cymbals Eat Guitars. Both bands were loud and ensured that the weekend would be jumpstarted instead of eased into. Additional highlights included Lo Moon (a band who only have one song on Spotify, but had an eager crowd for an early timeslot), psychedelic throwback Temples (who deserved at least twice as much time), and Car Seat Headrest (who incited the day’s first mosh pit).

Temples

I got to Pinegrove’s set about one song late, which was too late to get anywhere near the front of the stage. If their crowd was any indication, they’ll be moving up festival posters and into larger venues soon. (They also sold out their late night show the next night.) One of the main reasons is lyricist and lead singer Evan Stephens Hall’s ability to connect with people. Men and women of different races and ages yelled back every word of each song as he emotionally and sincerely sang them. Their crowd and their set was a highlight of the weekend.

Sets by Portugal. The Man and The Pixies that were great, but felt too short. The bands had time to play their hits, but not enough time to explore their rich catalogue and deeper cuts.

When LCD Soundsytem first reformed to play Coachella in 2016, Shaky Knee’s founder Tim Swetwood hinted at their eventual appearance by saying people didn’t have to go to California because “you will get another chance to see them.” True to his word, they headlined Friday night. Their show was as beautiful as everyone hoped it would be, and it was worth the wait. Aside from performances of two new songs, their setlist was almost identical to last year’s shows. That familiarity may be why, to my amazement, almost everyone in the crowd was dancing and singing every word.

The familiarity also allowed James Murphy the opportunity to be whimsical and relaxed. He joked that the crowd applauded everything he said before pretending they would cover Extreme and giving “a shout out to dachshunds, the dog.” He walked around the stage like he was at home, joked with band members, and even announced when new songs and old songs would be played. Their set ended on an impressive run, with a beautiful version of “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down,” new songs “Call the Police” and “American Dream,” and favorites “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends.”

Saturday’s early highlights included sets by Public Access TV, Mariachi El Bronx, and Anderson East. The middle of the day provided the perfect opportunity to take a short break (lots of hotels are in walking distance, a huge food court is next door at the CNN Center, and food trucks were everywhere inside the festival). Our group took advantage of the nearby conveniences and then enjoyed shows by Catfish and the Bottlemen and Dr. Dog on the outskirts of the crowd.

The rest of the night followed a theme for us: electronic indie rock. We enjoyed Sylvan Esso and Nick Murphy on the main stage as we waited for the xx. Saturday night at Shaky Knees was their first U.S. festival headlining spot, and their first show in Atlanta in four years. Like they did with Tame Impala a few years before, some people wondered if the xx was ready to headline a festival. It was immediately clear that they had the pull to headline as their crowd, probably the largest of the weekend, poured in. Their set list was a combination of older songs like “VCR” and “Shelter,” and newer songs like “Lips” and “Say Something Loving.” The peak of their performance came when “Shelter” gave way to Jamie Smith’s solo song “Loud Places,” which was fittingly loud, huge, and lit up the whole park.

Sunday started late for us, but started with a powerful show from The Arkells. A small crowd made their way to the stage with us, and it would have been easy for the band to be discouraged or to just go through the motions, but they took it as a challenge and really shined. Lead singer Max Kerman ran through the crowd and around its borders, pulling in every member of the audience for a singalong, ensuring that the crowd wouldn’t be just going through the motions, either. Their energy spread and eventually they ended their set to a much larger crowd.

Things move fast. Last year’s nostalgia act was Huey Lewis and the News; this year’s version was Third Eye Blind. Lead singer Stephan Jenkins made sure they fit in, saying, “We can do whatever we want up here. There’s no DJ. This is a guitar rock band.” Along with Bleachers, who played next, they provided some perfect pop-rock for the afternoon.

A set by the The Shins (songs most people know, but pretty boring live) juxtaposed POND (relatively unknown, but psychedelic and enthralling). As POND’s set ended, Ryan Adams tried to pull in the crowd, saying, “Hey, we’re a Shins secret show. Everybody come over here!”

The weekend’s last headliner, Phoenix, had the festival’s best production. A huge mirror hung atop the stage, giving the crowd a view from above and reflecting different lights and colors throughout the show that made it look like they were on a light up dance floor. Older songs like “Long Distance Call” and “If I Ever Feel Better” were revived to go along with staples like “Lisztomania” and “1901.” Lead singer Thomas Mars ended the visually stunning set by running through the crowd, climbing scaffolding, and crowd surfing amongst the fans.

Shaky Knees plans to be back next year, and so do we. | Matt Wallin

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