Day 1 – Friday
The first day of Shaky Knees began like most festivals do, I overslept. The worst part about the extended slumber is that my friend and I were forced to miss Songs for Kids, who were the first act each day of the festival. The first act we were able to make it to was Lo Moon (Read our review of their show with Temples in Jacksonville) at the Ponce de Leon stage, the smallest stage, sponsored by Criminal Records. The band played an incredible set that prompted my friend to announce on twitter that the LA-based rockers had gained a new fan. After Lo Moon left the stage, we set out to explore the festival grounds a bit.
Exploration is often the most fun you’ll have at a festival, making friends, finding free goodies, and scarfing down glorious festival food truck delicacies like Mac the Cheese, Fry Guy, and Nectar. During this time we briefly dropped into Temples’ and The London Souls’ sets before making our way deep into the crowd for Rainbow Kitten Surprise. I had never seen or really listened to RKS before, but I knew that they were a hipster staple so I had to check them out. A few of our other friends met up with us here, and we all jammed out to hipster hits like “Cocaine Jesus.” About halfway through their hour-long set, I ventured out on my own to check out an intriguing artist, Margaret Glaspy. Guitar is in this girl’s veins and it showed. Unfortunately, I only saw the second half of her set, but what I saw was an entrancing style of guitar rock that heavily featured blues tones and phrases.
Continuing my solo adventure, I was able to easily slide into a place fairly close to the stage for Car Seat Headrest, who occupied the 3:30 slot on the main “Peachtree” stage. I’m not sure why, but going in, I assumed that Car Seat Headrest’s set would consist of acoustic guitars and whiny vocals. I have never been so glad to be so wrong. The Virginia-based quartet blew me away. Car Seat Headrest kept the entire main stage area locked in and put on a quintessential indie rock show.
After their set concluded, I met up with a friend and we made our way to the Pinegrove set already in progress. Upon arriving at the Ponce de Leon stage, we found that there was virtually no empty space at the festival’s only semi-enclosed stage. Fans were packed in like sardines and for good reason. Pinegrove set the Ponce stage ablaze with masterful jams and left us all in awe. Following this set, I dipped into the press lounge to refuel on the daily, 5 o’clock beer and pizza (Shoutout to the Shaky Knees team for taking care of us!) and made my way back over to the Peachtree stage where my friends and I reunited.
Once we settled into a good spot for Portugal. The Man, we didn’t move until it was time to go home. The succession of artists on the main stage was simply sublime and too star-studded to stray from. First was Portugal. The Man, who I had previously seen at Hangout Festival last year. Since I had seen them before I thought I knew what to expect, but I was absolutely floored by something way beyond my expectations. A powerfully energetic set accented by fan favorites like “Modern Jesus,” “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” and new single “Feel It Still” had thousands on their feet.
Cage the Elephant was the next act up, and to sum up their performance: It killed us all. Frontman Matthew Shultz channeled Mick Jagger as he contorted and convulsed across the stage belting songs from throughout the band’s 11-year existence. The crowd went absolutely ballistic during Cage the Elephant’s biggest hits “In One Ear,” “Cold Cold Cold,” “Ain’t No rest for the Wicked,” “Come a Little Closer,” and the finale, “Teeth.” The highlight of the set came when Matthew Shultz and one of the guitarists (I was honestly jamming too hard to see which) simultaneously crowd-surfed while the guitar player played a blistering solo while being hoisted high above the crowd.
To quote Bullet photographer Sidney Spear, “Cage the Elephant just murdered me. LCD Soundsystem needs to revive me and then kill me again to top that.” I bet you can guess what LCD Soundsystem did. They resurrected thousands of people in a way that would make Jesus jealous then proceeded to slay us all again with a funky two-hour set that tapped into energy reserves that I didn’t know I had. Extended jams, breathtaking visuals, and some of the best live, video editing I’ve ever seen proved to everyone in attendance why LCD Soundsystem had been given the headlining spot on Friday.
Day 2 – Saturday
Due to my traveling party being unnecessarily slow in the morning, I arrived just as Foreign Air (Read my interview with them here) were wrapping up their set on the Ponce stage. Other friends that were there let me know that I had missed an unforgettable set, and I wish I were able to talk more about it. After sadly missing Foreign Air, I briefly dipped into the Embassy Suites that housed the press lounge and my ears were struck with the beautiful and unmistakable sound of a grand piano being played. I peeked around the corner and noticed an interestingly dressed man playing soulfully and singing under his breath while another man in a denim jacket was watching intently. I recognized that the wristband on the denim-clad gentleman was an artist’s wristband, so I approached him to ask if he knew who the piano player was.
The first thing he did when I asked was laugh. “This is a Grammy winner,” was all he said at first. Seeing that I was still confused the man at the piano said with a smirk on his face, “Fantastic Negrito.” The three of us chatted briefly, and I found out that fresh-ass denim jacket belonged to none other than Mondo Cozmo (Read that interview here). After my star-studded water break had concluded, I made my way into the festival ground proper to be serenaded by Anderson East on the Peachtree stage on my way to find my friend Shelbi and get up close for all Asian rock group Run River North.
The singer made several jokes about the band’s Asian heritage including, but not limited to, “Hey, I’m Steve Aoki and this is my side band,” “This song is for anyone with an Asian dad,” and “I’m Jackie Chan and this is my side project.” In addition to being absolutely hysterical, the LA-based group were a musical force. Running through personal favorites such as “29” and “Run or Hide,” this band were a perfect way to get my day truly started. After Run River North were finished rocking Ponce, The Revivalists were slated to take the Piedmont stage but were delayed slightly due to rain.
To keep the crowd’s energy up until the band were able to take the stage, Kendrick Lamar’s newest single “Humble” was piped through the loudspeakers. As the piano-driven beat was sending fans into a frenzy, the rain lifted and The Revivalists emerged to play one of my top five sets of the festival. After blowing my mind at Hangout last year, I had high expectations for this group and they somehow exceeded them. From the opening note of “It was a Sin” to current hit “Wish I Knew You” to an almost 10-minute rendition of The Beatles “Hey Jude,” fans were left singing loudly and pleading for more. Choruses of “Na, na, na, na na na na” rang through the festival for the rest of the weekend as no one could get that set out of their heads.
The sun seemed determined to make up for lost time when Catfish and the Bottlemen were taking the main stage at 5 PM on Saturday. With the sun beaming down heavily in the humid park, the band would have surely understood if the crowd were inclined to rest for a few minutes, but as soon as their opening song “Homesick” kicked from a melodic, guitar-only ballad to a full-out, rock jam the crowd forgot all about the heat and anything that wasn’t Van McCann and his crew. As always, Catfish and the Bottlemen ended with “Tyrants,” which must have been composed as a set-ender because it’s perfect, and as festival goers were deciding on where to go next, Fantastic Negrito was displaying his Grammy-winning musical prowess on the Ponce stage.
The move for my friends and I was Moon Taxi, which turned out to be one of the best decisions any of us made all weekend. I made the mistake of not seeing a Moon Taxi set at a festival once. Once. After hearing all about what I had missed I vowed to be at every set of theirs that I could make it to. Standing close to the front of the stage, I kept my end of the promise, and Moon Taxi, by putting on a headliner’s set at 7:00, fulfilled their promise to me as well. If the weekend had a theme it was jaw-slacking covers, and Moon Taxi’s contributions were outstanding. They launched into a spellbinding rendition of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall Pt. 2” that briefly featured a snippet of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics before reminding us that we’re all just bricks in the wall. Moon Taxi’s set ended with their hit “All Day All Night.”
At this point, my posse split up into two groups: those who were staying at the front of the Piedmont stage for X Ambassadors and those of us who needed a bathroom break and some water. While waiting at the water station before heading back over for X Ambassadors’ set, I accidentally caught the opening song of Nick Murphy’s set on the Peachtree stage. After a chance encounter with his enrapturing style of music, I made a deliberate decision to forego X Ambassadors and devote this time to a new and exciting discovery. Playing just before the night’s headliner on the main stage is a big responsibility, but Nick Murphy and his band slayed the time slot.
After officially becoming a fan of Nick’s unique live sound, my other friends left a rowdy, X Ambassadors set and we all met up for the headliners for the evening, The XX. Supporting their first new album in five years, The XX were seeing the release of half a decade’s worth of patience as an unstoppable wave of energy. From the opener, the lead single from 2017’s I See You, “Say Something Loving” to old favorites like “Crystalised,” “VCR,” “Shelter,” “Intro,” and the closer “Angels,” The XX and their fans were in perfect sync. Jamie XX stole the show by switching between a loaded DJ table and an acoustic drum kit as well as by performing one of his solo hits, “Loud Places.”
Day 3 – Sunday
Sunday was the shortest day for me, personally, arriving at the festival grounds just before 3:30 PM just as Saint Motel were beginning their biggest hit, “My Type.” Although the day was truncated in comparison to the first two days’ experiences, I didn’t let that stop me from experiencing a full day’s worth of excitement and stellar performances. As Arkells finished up their set on Ponce, which included them plucking a lucky guitarist from the crowd for a song, J. Roddy Walston & The Business were beginning their afternoon set on the main stage. The highlight of this set, in continuation with the theme of the weekend, was a cover of Nirvana’s “All Apologies” that was so spot on that it was a little creepy. With '90s staple Nirvana fresh in our minds, the decision to get close and stick around for Third Eye Blind was a no-brainer.
After making friends with all of the '80s and '90s kids around us, Third Eye Blind put us all in a time machine and took us back to their heyday. 52-year-old Stephan Jenkins looked 30-years-old again as he ran through a setlist of hits and new tracks that included “Never Let You Go,” “Semi-Charmed Life,” “Jumper,” “Motorcycle Drive By,” and others. Notable songs that were absent were “Slow Motion” and “How’s It Going to Be.”
As the crowd migrated to other stages, bathrooms, water stations, and food trucks, the familiar sound of Fleetwood Mac wafted through the air. Upon locating the source of yet another stellar cover I found myself looking up at Bleachers who were making their offering to the Rock Gods with their rendition of “Go Your Own Way.” After hearing personal favorite “Roller Coaster” I departed the Piedmont stage for the Peachtree stage for the final two acts on my schedule for the weekend: The Shins and Phoenix.
Upon seeing The Shins’ set design I immediately named it the “set design of the festival,” and the only thing that topped their outrageous stage design was their immaculate musicianship. The group, who for more than 20 years have been a force in indie rock, played their hearts out for their allotted hour. Not to be left out of the prevailing theme of the weekend, The Shins slipped in an excerpt of “American Girl” by Tom Petty into their closing song “Sleeping Lessons.” Following The Shins on the Peachtree stage were the festival headliners, Phoenix. I didn’t know this until after the show, but Phoenix were using Shaky Knees to debut and live-test a brand new set design that put The Shins to shame.
Less than two hours after being dubbed “set design of the festival,” The Shins were overtaken by a wall of mirrors suspended at an angle above the stage. As if the mirrors weren’t crazy enough, the entire stage floor was covered with a LED screen that projected images from the floor that reflected off of the mirrors so that the fans could see the images being displayed. Although this elaborate design caused Phoenix to begin their set almost 30 minutes late, everyone completely forgot about the wait once the first image was displayed on the mirror screens.
They stunned us all with the single most impressive stage design I have ever seen as well as with a musical performance that was out of this world. Given Shaky Knees and other Atlanta festivals’ tendency to not allow artists to go over set times or perform encores, many were worried that the French phenoms were departing without playing fan favorite “1901.” However, Phoenix said phuck the rules and came back anyway, and left the crowd begging for more to both the set and the wonderful weekend that was now in the books. Shaky Knees 2017 was a huge success.
All Photos Courtesy of aLIVE Coverage