For its fourth year, May 13th to 15th, Atlanta’s Shaky Knees relocated, this time to Centennial Park. For the second time, the entire festival was held without rain, and actually had hot days. Food truck vendors expanded. Dos Equis returned as a big sponsor, bringing its Feast of the Brave for free in its bar area, featuring exotic foods. Lemmy Kilmister was reincarnated as a ten-foot mascot, holding a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a smoke in the other, while still managing to take pix with anyone who approached him.
The Struts’ singer Luke Spiller appeared in a flashy jacket with gold sequins. Between songs, he worked the audience with call and response. Adam Slack and Jed Elliot were focused and by the time they started “Coulda’ Been Me”, Elliot had broken out in full force and the music was rocking. The Struts were a consummate stage act with impeccable timing and showmanship. The show was powerful, the music bouncy, and the rock energy was contagious.
Festivalgoers like to have fun, and Bloc Party seemed a great band to get the vibe going the first day. Singer Kele Okereke began the band procession from side stage to onstage, and lots of eyes landed on the talented, lovely drummer Louise Bartle as she began playing. As the set progressed, Okereke showed off his soulful side, and Russell Lissack brought some wicked raw guitar chops on “Hunting for Witches”. There was sporadic dancing throughout the audience, which was a sea of smiling faces, all grooving to funky fun band on stage. At some point, people don’t want the set to end, but wow what a fun hour that was when it ended.
Years ago, Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart played a small venue called Lenny’s and the live show was raw and tough. It was to be seen if they would sustain that energy on a larger scale. After a minute, it was clear that The Kills had taken the performance intensity to another level. Hince stepped to center stage, brandishing a cheerful sneer and riveting guitar licks, while Mosshart danced around with a spastic grace. Her moves were energetic and hyperactive but still quite sultry. It’s a rare moment when both hot and cool elements merge onstage, but The Kills left the audience mystified.
With a dramatic opening, The 1975 began with a disco-esque version of “Love Me”. Clearly, the audience loves the band, if numbers tell. Matt Healy engaged the audience on the first song and got some positive feedback from the energized crowd. Healey had a boyish charm on stage; he’s also got good dance moves. He shared the stage well, dancing away while Adam Hann and Ross MacDonald took the spotlight during the instrumental bridges of songs. The group was well rehearsed, and the light show was in perfect sync with the pauses and stops of the music. They had lit divisions that created separate spaces like rooms for the band members in the back.
Huey Lewis & The News
Rock bands often cultivate a “bad-boy” image, but Huey Lewis & The News never went down that road. They made good music, were fun, sincere, and offended no one through the years. News veterans Johnny Colla and Sean Cipollina are now sporting the bright “platinum blonde” (gray) look, while Lewis’s appearance hasn’t changed much. The set list included the entire Sports album from the mid ‘80s. They opened with the “Heart of Rock and Roll” with city call-outs, offered a tribute to Armed Forces veterans with “Walking on a Thin Line”, shared a more recent song “Finally Found a Home” and one brand new song, “While We Were Young”. It was nice to see such a diverse crowd enjoying music – people with punk outfits, goth dresses, metal t-shirts, cowboy hats, and parents with children, all singing along with the songs. They say good guys finish last, but this band would have to be the exception.
The Decemberists left behind much of their old stage theatrics and delivered a straightforward rock music set for Saturday night’s large crowd. They had varied instruments, including a Mellotron, and the various members’ parts fit together well. The crowd was a peaceful bunch, but by the time “Down by the Water” began, the band and audience were synced. The highlight of the show was “The Crane Wife,” as many in attendance sang along.
My Morning Jacket
There was a surprisingly dramatic opening by My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan on mallets. The set opened with “Victory Dance” and the music was outstanding. The light show seemed a bit overwhelming since the addition of pyrotechnics. Carl Bromel on keyboards added light-hearted grins during the songs, while singer-guitarist Jim James kept a more serious look throughout the show. James showed his guitar skills on a Gibson Flying V, among other guitars, and channeled the same offbeat musical energy that makes Wayne Coyne, Kevin Barnes and Kevin Drew such successful front men.
Walk the Moon
This show was a big dance party. Walk the Moon opened with “Jenny”. The choruses were easy to sing, and the stage energy gave out an infectious vibe. People in the crowd danced and sung to “Shut up and Dance”. During “Anna Sun”, the crowd was singing along with “this house is falling apart,” during the chorus that ended an exciting set.
Caveman’s upbeat, delicate sound was a good way to open the sunny day to a small but appreciative audience. Looking around the stage, it was noticeable that the assembled musicians were veterans: the former bassist of Elefant (QRO live review), the former singer from The Subjects (QRO spotlight on), and the drummer from End of the World (QRO photos) made up about half the band, so this was a Brooklyn supergroup. Together, they created interesting, charming, catchy pop tunes that got people swaying and happy. They were on a pre-release tour for new album Otero War.
This show was an abrasive romp through the meanderings of post-punk repertoire. The performance by Ought was emphatic but not erratic. The charisma of singer-guitarist Tim Darcy revisited talk style singing paths blazoned by Lou Reed, David Byrne and Luke Jenner. The audience really perked up when they played lead single from the same-titled album, “Beautiful Blue Sky”.
The wide eyed young woman sang what first seemed like almost country, but after a minute Adia Victoria’s eyes were darting randomly, and the lyrics seemed darker, and she also showed adeptness with the guitar. This idea of ‘goth country’ surprised the gathering crowd of fans. Early afternoon sunlight seemed an awkward place for music better suited for an evening campfire setting.
Rhythmic, low-fi sounding twangy guitars broadcasting wicked hooks and head bobbing bass playing suggested California punk, but as Parquet Courts’ set progressed, a strong taste of rockabilly shone through the music. The two singers used short, abrupt syllables in their style of singing. This is reminiscent of the same style that brought people to the sounds of famed bands The Cramps, Mojo Nixon, and X.
Eagles of Death Metal
Jesse Hughes holds onto a dream to rock the world with metal music. He hits the guitar on the 1 and 3 beats with big major chord hooks, and brings keeps enough bad-boy imagery to offend one or two people. Like Spinal Tap or Tenacious D, he takes the best ideas of bona-fide metal stars, melts the ideas down, then molds them into 24k solid gold, and really pulls it off. Updating lyrics like “I really wanna be in L.A.”, making them “I really wanna be in G-A” showed the Eagles of Death Metal were having a lot of fun with its big, bad, gaudy metal.
The Black Angels
The Black Angels maximized their set by starting to play only seconds after the Eagles of Death Metal left the stage until very near the set time for At the Drive-In. Their psychedelic music grabbed many elements of art-rock: harmonies, echoes, effect pedals, and wa-wa immediately come to mind. As the set went on, their songs were short and succinct, guitar phrases kept a common home note and the song endings are clean, with no extended jams and no long drawn out final notes. Certainly, they take many traits from or at least show admiration to 13th Floor Elevators or Brian Jonestown Massacre with their song delivery and solid, no-nonsense music.
Deftones singer Chino Moreno began the set jumping around full of energy and his tenor voice was resonant and bold. Lead guitarist Stephen Carpenter rarely shows his face, but the audience sees the wall of bouncing hair. It’s 80° Fahrenheit outside, so why was bassist Sergio Vega running around with a toboggan on? The loud, tough, fast, intense music opposed their stage appearance, which seemed more of a circus. Only Moreno showed the fury of the music. The rest of it was comedy, irony, and intensity – all at once. Props to Vega – his stage presence has developed immensely since the Quicksand days.
Explosions in the Sky
Amazing instrumentals, no vocals. Being sandwiched between two metal bands is a hard place to bridge, but Explosions In the Sky’s music seemed very appropriate, with the quietly built rising and descending crescendos of guitar work and motion. Rocking out, dancing with guitars, with their motions being slightly off of being synchronized, took away the cheesiness of bands that synched together in the past. Moments of ethereal trills evolved into full metal shrills and wow, what thrills.
At the Drive-In
The first and most obvious part about the live show is the jumping, climbing lead singer of At the Drive-In, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who was super energized. Some of his statements showed his sense of humor: ”Sometimes at home, I listen to Abba, and I’m not ashamed of it…” and his echoing of the words from Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher”: “I’ve got my pencil.” Despite Bixler-Zavala’s demeanor between songs being varied between funny and calm, the fury of the songs was uncompromising because of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s unrelenting guitar work. The music sounded very much like their records: aggressively intense. They were a great band to end the festival, with their energized vibe.
-words: Drew Fountain
-photos: Gail Fountain