Shaky Knees Writeup: Top Acts That Took Me By Surprise
Last week I covered the Shaky Knees festival in Atlanta, GA for WIUX. The best word to describe the festival was pleasant. The festival was located in the lush and historic Centennial Olympic Park in Downtown Atlanta and is only in its second year of being at this location even though the festival was celebrating its the fifth anniversary. The location allotted three stages for the bands on the sufficient lineup which allowed for intimate sets and easy access for going in between stages. Being in mid-May the weather was, of course, hot but fairly dry throughout the whole weekend. There were a couple of scares of storms in the area possibly evacuating the festival but either there was little or no rain and everyone was able to continue in their festivities.
It was an incredible weekend of music and I wanted to write an article about my favorite acts of the weekend. I was going to praise LCD Soundsystem’s return and how joyous it was to see the band come alive again and how great it was to hear the new material live. I was going to talk about how magnetic of an entertainer Ryan Adams is and also how engaging The xx’s live show was. But thinking about writing that article, I realized I would just my already present and admirable feelings about those bands. I was going to love those acts going into the festival and I left loving them. Out of the overall acts I saw at the festival, probably half of them I had either not explored their catalog enough or hadn’t heard of them at all and I drove back from the south obligating to myself to listen to their music more. So thank you to Shaky Knees for turning me on to my future favorite bands and I encourage readers of this article to explore new music that reaches outside of one’s musical palette for the chance of finding auditory pleasure and possibly a new obsession. These are my favorite bands that took me by surprise at Shaky Knees 2017.
Cymbals Eat Guitars
The entire weekend was kicked off on Friday at 12:15 at the small but comfortable Ponce de Leon stage with the wiry New York punks. As a punk and metal geek I actually never really explored Cymbals Eat Guitars’ music. But from Joseph D’Agostino’s intimidating frontmanship, chaotic punk jams, and the band’s hypnotic punk anthems, it was a fitting start to the weekend. I was also suspicious of how exceptional keyboard player Brian Hamilton’ playing was and how layered his keyboard sounds were and how he was constantly tweaking his knob from both his keyboard and pedalboard to later learn he that is the founder and operator of the guitar pedal company smallsound/bigsound. Neato!
Before going into Shaky Knees, I knew that Wolf Parade was Canadian and that their 2005 album Apologies to the Queen Mary is known as their best work. But hearing their material live I was immediately hooked to their music with their synthy guitar tones, incredible synth hooks, all around upbeat and frantic tempos that actually reminded me a bit of Strawberry Jam-era Animal Collective. Wolf Parade live was what their music was like, loud and unabashed. The band played as 5 o’clock on Friday just as the sky was clouding up (but luckily it didn’t rain out the festival) and the sun was just done beating down on the crowd. Nevertheless, the mid-size mid-afternoon crowd persevered through the difficult weather just a little before to get one of the most fun, forward-thinking, and still-ambitious bands of the weekend.
Car Seat Headrest
I understand. You can call me biased and throw your hands up in confusion as to why Car Seat Headrest is included in this list because I actually met Will Toledo from CSH at the check out at my hotel on Sunday morning of Shaky Knees and included the band on my list of bands to catch at the festival on the WIUX blog. But hear me out. CSH is included because of how was surprised at how good they were. First off, the band are incredible musicians: Toledo flaunted himself as a worthy and outstanding frontman and songwriter, drummer Andrew Katz absolutely pounded the skins with hard fills that kept the music going heavy, guitarist Ethan Ives shred his way through the set with Teens of Denial’s sharp and catchy guitar hooks, and bass player Seth Dalby held the band together with CSH’s crucial basslines. The band’s setlist included mostly tracks from Teens of Denial sans my favorite CSH song “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t A Problem” (and I’m kicking myself for not going to the CSH Shaky Knees Late Show Saturday night of the festival because they played this track as a part of their encore), but also “Maud Gone” from underrated album Teens of Style, closer “Beast Monster Thing (Love Isn’t Love Enough)” from How To Leave Town, and a cover of DEVO’s “Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin’) that has been making me listen to DEVO daily since I’ve been back from the festival. Overall, the band’s set blew me away after going off of my medium-tier expectations and is making me promise myself to catch the band a couple of times this summer. CSH proved themselves to be contenders as just an excellent and unique rock band in anera where rock music isn’t necessarily in the spotlight for American music culture anymore. All hail Will Toledo. All hail Car Seat Headrest.
I’ve neglected to check out Sylvan Esso at previous music festivals I’ve attended due to my impression of the band that they are rehashing the formula of the band Purity Ring of having an airy, lyrically-deep female vocalist and a male electronic music producer guru backing up said, female vocalist. Watching Sylvan Esso’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert, listening to their solid new album Back Up, and actually seeing them at Shaky Knees proves how dead wrong I was of putting Sylvan Esso under that unfair classification. Seeing Sylvan Esso live show how great of a dance band they are and also how deep they are emotionally when it came to more lyrically deep songs like one of their most popular tracks “Coffee”. In comparison to Purity Ring, I felt that Purity Ring is most sonic, dreamy, and atmospheric while Sylvan Esso is a band you listen to when you want to feel dance-y or hip-hop-like swagger. I was glad I was able to catch the electronic act in the midst of a weekend of watching rock music for a breath of fresh musical palette air but also to get my dance on and to catch a fun band that has sort of became a music festival staple.
Listening solely to Bleachers’ sleek indie-pop music and knowing that the band’s big creative mind ad frontman Jack Antonoff is a member in the massively successful pop band fun., I wouldn’t normally give Bleachers a chance to see them at a festival due to my more rock-oriented music taste. But on the contrary, I’ve listened to Antonoff on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast a few years ago and got the impression that he was a smart, bright, and gifted musician and songwriter. At Shaky Knees, Bleachers were the act before one of my most anticipated acts of the entire festival Ryan Adams so I had no other choice but to check out the glittering and poppy band and experienced easily the most surprisingly superb set of the weekend. The band, unfortunately, got a late 15-minute delayed start to their already meager hour-long set but Antonoff handled the situation like a trained professional. In the middle of the delay, the crowd heard the Third Eye Blind-hit “Jumper” soundbleeding from the Peachtree Stage and so the crowd started a 90s throwback singalong by chanting along with the popular 1997 track. Seeing this, Antonoff smiled and encouraged the crowd to keep going due to the technical difficulties and joyously asked his sax player to play along. After about 10 minutes of the sound being down he went ahead and asked his sax played to join him in a stripped-down guitar and sax only cover of “Like A River Runs” that the crowd sang along to and absolutely ate up. After this track, Antonoff got the news that the sound was fixed and was absolutely grateful and in high spirits when Bleachers ripped through the next track “Everybody Lost Somebody” with no issues. After this fortunate fix the fast pace didn’t let up with the setlist weaving between tracks from Bleachers’ relatively small catalogue, a faithful and admirable cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way”, and finally closing with the infectiously catchy and bright pop hit “I Wanna Get Better”. In the unlucky 45 minutes, Bleachers got to play, the band still banged out 11 songs with Antonoff still being an affable and charming frontman prowess by working the crowd, having fun with his band, and still taking the time to talk to the audience and introduce his band he obviously loved. A band I would initially write off as a just another indie-pop startup actually ended up being one of the most capable and talented acts of the weekend and has me really looking forward to the next time I have the pleasure of catching Bleachers again live.