Shaky Knees returned for year six at Atlanta’s Central Park, Friday to Sunday, May 4th to 6th, with four stages and nice open spaces with trees so people could chill and enjoy the festival atmosphere. There were local food trucks, a few art vendors, alcohol company sponsored games and lounges, and band and festival merchandise at the “Shaky Laundry”. Friday was hot and dusty, Saturday was overcast and had a short rain for about 30 minutes, and Sunday was pleasant.
The spaghetti western style music was a novel prelude for the Rival Sons. They came onstage boisterously and played “Electric Man”, taking the audience by surprise with their heavy testosterone-fueled blast of 1970s hard-edged rock. They were tough and loud and had songs with dueling guitars and hooky riffs. The day’s rendition of “Secret” was representative of singer Jay Buchanan’s best clear, deep vocals. But he had to take it easy since he said he blew out his voice recently in Kentucky. The set was full of energy and it was difficult to look away from Buchanan’s excellent performance skills.
Ezra Furman was decked out in a floral dress and red lipstick while singing in solid tenor vocals. There were rapid, lyrical bursts answered by frantic guitar riffs. Lyrics about teen angst and identity issues were delivered in anthems at a rollicking pace. Some oddly placed sounds via saxophone and strange, unconventional harmonies added a vaudevillian feel. The bassist played a nice Hofner and sang lead on occasion.
Always quick to the draw, Jimmy Eat World ran onstage and charged into “Praise Chorus” with abandoned glee. Singer Jimmy Adkins led the band in happy, bold deliveries that had a sense of urgency but playful unpredictability. He beamed smiles to the audience throughout the 15-song set. There were two new songs, ”Love Never” and “Half Heart”. Rhythm guitarist Tom Linton seemed to take the lead introducing the band’s hits. After many, many shows and a huge catalog of dextrose rocket fueled tunes, Jimmy Eat World’s set list is like a buffet – the menu is never the same, but always very satisfying.
Courtney Barnett, the first of several Australian acts during the festival, eased out on stage and gave a smile to the audience that shined like the red, left-handed Fender she played. She started in a laid back fashion with her charming whine on “City Looks Pretty” and “Small Poppies”. After strolling through her growing catalog, with each song, her enthusiasm grew, and she brought out more sinister guitar work. Her band was perfect accompaniment, particularly Katie Harkin on keyboards. Highlights were “Pedestrian at Best”, “History Eraser”, “Depreston”, and the final songs, “Need a Little Time” and “Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party”.
Scottish band Franz Ferdinand has consistently been guilty of delivering live shows that are like lightning in a bottle, and this was no exception, despite the heat of the day. There’s always the effervescent persona that Alex Kapranos radiates, with his truly wonderful audience-engaging moves, which he took no time in demonstrating fully during opener “Always Ascending”. That title song of their new album (QRO review) was an appropriate choice, considering Kapranos’ escalating energy as the set progressed. His baritone vocals were more clear and enunciated than ever before, and by the chorus of the second song, “Dark of the Matinee”, the audience was fully engaged, dancing and singing along. There was no escaping the infectiousness of the ditties full of catchy chord progressions, guitar melodies that alternate lower and higher notes (aka angular) and lots of time signature changes. Original members singer-guitarist Kapranos, drummer-backup vocalist Paul Thompson and bassist Bob Hardy played tightly, as always, fully in sync with new members guitarist Dino Bardot and keyboardist-backup vocalist Julian Corrie. As with all Franz Ferdinand shows, people left sweaty and smiling.
The former Talking Heads singer David Byrne and his band were fashionably dressed and finely choreographed. But what was with the brain on the keyboard? Immediately, it was obvious that David Byrne knew how to capture attention with his odd, brainy ways. His new album, entitled American Utopia (QRO review), was what a possible outsider view of American dreams could be from the perspective of those left behind in the wake of progress. New songs played from the concept album included “Everybody’s Coming to My House”, ”Every Day is a Miracle” and “Lazy”. He also sang “Toe Jam” which was a Brighton Port Authority collaboration with Fat Boy Slim and Dizzee Rascal. Fans were delighted when he started into a set of Talking Heads songs, featuring “Zimbra”, “Slippery People”, “Blind” and “Burning Down the House”. A highlight was “Once in a Lifetime”, where he copied almost exactly those staggering moves and peculiar gestures and dance moves that were featured in the music video from around 40 years ago. Amazingly, people in the audience were copying the dance also. The surprise end of the set was a cover of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout”. Kudos to Byrne’s coolness and current concern for America.
The tightly woven five-part harmonies and artful singing and musical melodies, which harkened back to classic rock bands America and CSNY, soared throughout all of the Seattle-based alt-folk Fleet Foxes’ songs. A revolving mixture of acoustic guitars, electric guitars including a hollow-body, percussion, drums and keyboards kept their sound interesting. Songs played included the laid back tremolo-filled “Grown Ocean”, the canon style, Shins-like “White Winter Hymnal”, the calm, building hit “Mykonos”, and their set ended with “Helplessness Blues”.
In complete blue lighting and his “III” symbols, the former White Stripes singer turned artiste Jack White pulled a huge crowd. He exuded great confidence and charisma, and his guitar solos were impressive. His stage performance skills were energetic, as he moved and jumped around the stage with cat-like reflexes. He made his way through about 45 minutes of material before taking a 20-minute break, and then finished his set. It was obvious he would return, because the large video display behind the stage was still active. New songs played included “Over and Over”, “Boarding House Reach”, “Corporation” and “Why Walk Like a Dog?” Old favorites included The Dead Weather’s “I’m Cut Like a Buffalo” and The Raconteurs’ “Steady as She Goes”. But the White Stripes songs got the best crowd response. He revisited “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “Hotel Yorba”, and “The Hardest Button to Button”, which included a snippet of “Psycho Killer”. The set-ender was The White Stripes’ biggest hit, “Seven Nation Army”.
The three-brother Greta Van Fleet was highly heralded, and their act was very much on fire. Their powerful, old school blues rock had all the side dishes included – a charismatic, wailing singer, a gifted guitarist with a flair for also staying in the spotlight, a musical wunderkind bassist who also played the Hammond keyboards, and a skilled drummer who helped drive their pounding, driving rhythms. There was so much happening on stage, it became difficult to keep up. Singer Josh Kiszka showed diverse influences with his poses and gestures, including Marc Bolan of T. Rex, and, at this show, hand gestures were definitely those mostly used by Robert Plant. Guitarist Jake Kiszka drew upon many styles from obvious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members, but his skills also drew from something older and darker, like John Lee Hooker, so it was fun but slightly unsettling to watch him play. Sam Kiszka’s mentioned influences were broad, when speaking after the show. The band liked long endings for their songs, again taking it back to the 1960s and ‘70s.
Andrew aka A. Savage kicked Parquet Courts right into the set, singing and playing guitar on “Total Football”, and then meandered into “Dust”, which was appropriate for the dusty nature of the Piedmont Stage location. By song three, “Stop Sign”, a small pit started behind the front couple of rows, where everyone was jumping and dancing. Their song style was classy, tight, energetic punk kind of like The Minutemen. There was little talk between songs, but A. Savage talked about it being Cinco de Mayo and also mentioned that day’s Kentucky Derby. They covered a lot of ground, playing 15 songs in about 50 minutes, comparable to Friday’s Jimmy Eat World set. Max Savage, the drummer, enjoyed playing “Freebird 2”. Sean Yeaton, the bassist, added a unique and unusual touch, shaking his head and cheeks side to side with his mouth open. Austin Brown, co-lead singer, guitarist and keyboardist, also developed his own touch, playing the keyboard with the head of his guitar – now that’s original. The band will do what it takes to make the sound they need, including playing a Suzuki Omnichord at one point. Their set closed with “One Man No City” and “Light Up Gold”.
There was a lot of applause when Australian born Brody Dalle took the stage with the “new” iteration of The Distillers. The opener “Drain the Blood” was strangely calm, but the pace accelerated quickly. By the time “I Am a Revenant” began, the band had hit break-neck pace and peeled off song after song, complimenting Dalle’s vicious growl. She was able to capture the sound of the record and deliver it live with a few embellishments. Her guttural roars roused those at the show and perhaps anyone nearby.
After bandmates presented themselves individually, Andrew W.K. came out and soon joined the noisy ruckus with his high-energy singing, inciting the crowd into a mosh frenzy. He raised his arms in the air and held his hand out like an expressive, pleading evangelical preacher. The party time, anthem-based metal was spot-on as heavy as ever. Bassist Gregg Roberts’ intense bass playing accentuated the show with funny smiles and facial gestures, and in a different band, he could be the center of attention. But in this band, when it’s time to party, they will always party hard! About halfway through the set, A.W.K. brought out his taco guitar, which drew laughter from the rather intense audience. It seems it would be difficult to find a band with as much energy as A.W.K. but he definitely succeeded, with three guitarists (Erik Payne, Amanda Lepre and Dave Pino), a second keyboard player (A.W.K. played them also), and that wonderful bassist. Drummer Clark Danger actually joined the band after submitting an audition on YouTube. Andrew W.K. seems to be the most committed man in show business – in fact, with that performance, he looked like he may have once been committed!
A short rain delay cooled off the audience, then Grammy winners The War On Drugs came on stage, ready to play to a marijuana-scented, chill crowd. Singer-guitarist Adam Granduciel began the calm, even-keeled performance with tightly woven guitar and keyboard rhythms that spun a spacious sound that captivated the crowd. Granduciel was clearly the bandleader and shifted the overall mood with his guitar solos while playing “An Ocean in Between the Waves” and “Nothing to Find”. It was overall a soothing set, but like Dylan or Springsteen, it challenged the audience.
For years, stories of Matt & Kim circulated, and every story sounded larger than life, with everyone raving about their exhilarating performances. Upon arrival, before the show even started, the audience was full of people that were happy, smiling, waiting to give high fives and hugs to whoever passed their way. Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino literally ran on stage, and receiving a gracious welcome. Schifino pummeled her drum kit, then a few seconds later, she was standing on her bass drum, reaching down to play the snare. Johnson wore a broad, Cheshire Cat smile, beaming at the audience as he hit the sequencer with one hand and played keyboards with another. At one point, “Simon Says” was said, but with the kinetic movement and energy of the band and the crowd, it seemed like a fuzzy memory. The first of many crowd surfers was a young woman. Between songs, Kim was quick to point this out. She said, “Pussy rules. The sooner you guys learn that, the more you’ll get”. Johnson commented, “We play like Kim likes sex – loud, hard and fast.”
The music truly involved rapid-fire playing and fast-paced singing, creating a dance party. The gleeful performance on stage had roused the crowd with an indescribable exuberance. There were bold wails of cheering, many joyous fist pumps to the sky, random jumping, and beers soared into the air and rained down, all with playful delight. Then Schifino just jumped over her drum set! Johnson remarked that it was the one-year mark from Schifino’s knee surgery from a horrible injury onstage – she’s clearly recovered 100%. It was thought that the energy had found an apex, but Johnson started dropping samples like DMX’s “Partyup”, “Thunderstruck” and “Jump”, and that hooked almost every last person in the area like a tractor beam from some science fiction movie.
The Queens of the Stone Age started right into rocking with “If I Had a Tail” and “In My Head”. Then singer-guitarist Josh Homme encouraged the crowd to get loose with him as the band riffed through a few guitar solos. There were two other guitarists playing in the band, Troy Van Leeuwen and Dean Fertita, Michael Shuman played bass guitar, and Fertita played keyboards as well. Drummer Jon Theodore was featured in a long drum solo. Later in the set, Homme spoke up, saying, “What I like about these festivals is we can all watch bands, we can all get shitfaced, and everyone has a good time.” Other songs played included “No One Knows”, “Burn the Witch”, “Little Sister” and “Go with the Flow”. During the set, the band kicked and hooked their legs around the many flexible LED light poles planted on the stage.
While delivering songs, Landon Jacobs of Sir Sly stood, or sometimes maybe stammered by the mic, making rather odd gestures with his face arms and body. No, we’re not talking about calculated pop star moves. His stage presence would be more akin to someone from a mental ward. Adding to the effect may have been Jacobs’ shaved down summer cut – his long locks were gone. There was a quirky charm about his singing, especially on “Astronaut”, “High” and “&Run”. After a few songs, Jacobs opened up about being at his brother’s wedding yesterday, and flying in on the red-eye, and how he was still emotional about his mom passing from cancer. The story tugged at the heartstrings of many, and he received a warm response from the audience. It was a convincing and sensitive performance, and the catchy music and the band offered unexpected surprises. Like when Jacobs climbed the pole of the stage, then explained that when asked about touring by his family, he said, “It’s fun to climb different places.” There were catchy bass lines and dual vocals with a toe-tapping beat. Sir Sly’s slightly dancey pop beats and Californian feel have definitely created elements that can stick around.
While the band originates from Toronto, singer Molly Rankin of Alvvays enunciated more like Scottish singers Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura) or Elisabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins). Rankin’s vocals also tended to be mopey and ethereal, channeling Nico (Velvet Underground) and Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Starr). However, her range was impressive. The band’s songs were positive, but there was an arty touch to the instrumentation that hinted of a more atmospheric sound, and the minimal backing music that makes the music more intriguing. That’s the beauty of alternative music – it’s full of all kinds of moods. People stood around, danced a little, and enjoyed the occasionally bouncy jangly guitars.
Funk is finally back in style! The second band from Australia (Byron Bay), but now based in Berlin, Germany, the young lads of Parcels had grooves for miles. Never boring, they knew how to mix it up and funk it out. Bouncy keyboards, arty harmonies, jazzy guitar, soulful bass: How did all these unrelated musical characters end up in the same band? Somehow, it fit together so nicely that the fusion works. “Overnight”, their 2017 hit song produced by Daft Punk, was played, as well as “Tieduprightnow”, which was released just a week or two before the festival. The band’s performance involved dancing with their instruments in hand and hair flinging by Noah Hill on bass. Jules Crommelin, whose haircut and mustache were completely from the ‘70s, similar to the musical style of the band, played guitar and sang about half the songs.
Basement played aggressive Sub Pop style punk that somehow landed on the friendly shores of Suffolk, all delivered with a dash of pizazz. Singer Andrew Fisher and his brother, drummer James Fisher, were the core of the garage rock band. The guitarists showed gnash and crunch, while the singer was the proper, polite Briton. The miscasting made for a remarkable live set. Quite a bit of crowd surfing commenced and a happy crowd celebrated the British band that played more like Americans.
San Franciscans Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been (QRO interview) of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club did what they do and did it well, playing their laid back 1960s and psychedelic style rock for 20 years now. Jennifer Leah Shapiro, the drummer since 2009, held her own in the alternating dark and bright lighting. The musical mood was a bit somber, and sometimes all-out gloomy. Hayes was the master at posing with his guitars. The big man held up his big guitar, way up when he played, reminiscent of Johnny Cash, and also copied his guitar down when not playing and then placing it on his back. He also used the guitar as percussion a few times. He swapped to acoustic guitar for “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo”. Other songs played were “Six Barrel Shotgun”, “Little Thing Gone Wild”, and “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll?”.
This third Australian act, Vance Joy, was one of the more curious main stage artists, because of the mix of his being a solo act, and an acoustic singer-songwriter who also sang like a pop star. Media attention has accelerated for him since his huge 2015 hit “Riptide”. He was backed up by a backing band that included a trumpeter and saxophone player, which added more texture to his live show. His voice diverged from the record version of “Mess is Mine” and “Wasted Time,” but the crowd seemed pleased with his new interpretations. He let the band take the lead for “Call If You Need Me.”
There was a huge crowd when Jack Black and Kyle Grass, a.k.a. Tenacious D, took the stage with a gaggle of band members who joined the big D. The guilty members probably were John Konesky, John Spiker, and Scott Seiver. They played some big, large, meaty, fun guitar hooks and countless hard rock trademarks. However, they also digressed into a very spirited cover of Lionel Richie’s ‘s “All Night Long”. Did I mention they two main members were only playing acoustic at first? Between every song there were discussions, arguments, jokes, staged conflicts, and while the performance seemed chaotic, the events were well-crafted comedy routines. The highlight for many audience members was the infamous “Beelzeboss (The Final Showdown)”, and of course the big D embellished the set with their impressive repertoire of rock music and Black’s lightning fast improvisational skills.
Touring again after last year’s Grammy win, The National took the stage first with just a spotlight on Matt Berninger, whose deep vocals resonated. After a minute, the music kicked in. The Dessner brothers (Aaron and Bryce) played guitars while the Devendorf brothers (Scott and Bryan) held down the rhythm section. Berninger was powerful as a frontman, tilting his head while he sang, and using expressive and emotional arm gestures. At one point, he spent a while singing directly in front of the audience at the security barrier. The band played in front of a large video screen with abstract multi-colored images, which added a lot to the presentation when the band were playing slowly. After a whopping 18-song set, the band closed down the festival with an acoustic, sparsely instrumented rendition of the sing-along “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”.
-words: Drew Fountain
-photos: Gail Fountain