BY ZACHARY HANSEN/AJC Correspondent
It sure looked as if Mother Nature was anxiously waiting to soak tens of thousands of Shaky Knees Music Festival attendees on Friday. Thankfully, the rain never came, even if the overcast clouds loomed throughout the day.
Despite a few scattered drops of rain and a dusty blow of wind or two, the weather was much kinder to the event’s fifth anniversary than years past. If anything, the stormy-looking weather meant the day wasn’t unbearably hot, which is always appreciated.
Like last year’s debut in Centennial Olympic Park, the festival spread out its shows among several stages. However, organizers changed one significant thing to the festival’s detriment: Last year, the two stages close by each other didn’t have artists performing simultaneously. This year is a different story, as the main Peachtree stage and the secondary Piedmont stage often had a 30-minute overlap during performances.
For those at the larger, sonically beefier Peachtree stage, it doesn’t really matter, but those attending the Piedmont stage the rest of the weekend, unless close to the stage, will struggle to hear through the fuzz.
The overlap also meant that festival-goers who wanted to see two bands performing on these stages at the same time had to make sacrifices and miss half of one band’s set for the other’s. (This happened to us during the Car Seat Headrest, The Growlers, Cage the Elephant and Pixies shows, so recaps are only of the parts we were able to attend — again, sacrifices must be made.)
For those who didn’t set up camp right between the Piedmont and Ponce de Leon stages (a.k.a. audio purgatory), the first day of the three-day festival offered a great variety of entertainment across the board, such as the aforementioned Car Seat Headrest, Cage The Elephant and Pixies, as well as Portugal. The Man and LCD Soundsystem.
Tickets are still available for the rest of the weekend, and Saturday’s lineup includes acts such as Shovels & Rope, Moon Taxi, Nick Murphy, X Ambassadors and The xx.
Here is a recap of some of Friday’s performances:
Car Seat Headrest
Despite the phrase “raise your hands up” being piped through the speakers approximately 100 times while the Virginia indie rockers slowly took the stage, barely anyone in the crowd listened. However, there were plenty of swaying and nodding heads once the dynamic opener “Vincent” started. It’s one of the more energetic tracks of the band’s 2016 album, “Teens Of Denial.” After an energetic drum solo and rendition of “Fill in the Blank” later, the band had full control of the enormous main stage — as well as everyone screaming, “You have no right to be depressed,” along with singer Will Toledo. The slower, sludgy and hilariously named “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” slowed the band’s pace down. Despite the crowd never raising their hands up, the slow ballad “Drunk Drivers” had many singing the somber tune along with the band.
For most of the band’s history, The Growlers have been stuck in flux. However, the band’s main two members, Brooks Nielsen (singer) and Matt Taylor (guitarist), finally seem to have found a stable, promising record label home with Cult Records, led by The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas. The group showed off their blend of surf and garage rock, and tracks such as “Empty Bones” brought fans back to the band’s late 2000s origins — head-bopping grooves included. The band’s vibe remained chill and laid back throughout, including the smooth “Night Ride,” which comes from 2016’s “City Club.” In promotion of their latest album, the entire band was decked out in coordinated cargo long-sleeve shirts with “Club City” plastered on the back, and the band’s set also heavily pulled from that release. Other highlights from the album include the melodic “Dope on a Rope” and “The Daily Chain,” showcasing guitar plucking high in the mix.
Profane and provocative, the rock trio from Cape Cod, Mass., put on a show meant to be remembered. After vocalist and lead guitarist Johnny Stevens came on stage, hips wildly gyrating to the screech of his guitar, the band's mission was quickly accomplished. Highly Suspect rode that wave of energy through the first few tracks, all of which were fast, aggressive and filled with political strife. The biting “Viper Strike,” which comes from the band’s sophomore 2016 album “The Boy Who Died Wolf,” will be hard to forget for most attendees. The song didn't mince words with lyrics such as, "Guns don't kill people, white people kill black people with guns. Is it hard to hear?" Stevens offered up some impressive guitar solos, and he often kept them equally as theatrical and colorful as his spoken words, such as "F*** me up." The band also played an unrecorded song specific to Georgia, one they dub “ATL” on Twitter, which is an old-fashioned blues track; it offered the crowd a breather from the fast-paced lyrics along with some variety.
Portugal. The Man
For over a decade, the Alaska native alt-rockers have been pumping out records, and their anticipated “Woodstock” album is expected to drop soon in June. Regardless of the upcoming album, many of the band’s newer songs stood out during their set, such as the catchy “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” and the rolling acoustic guitars of “Modern Jesus.” Other tracks, such as “Holy Roller (Hallelujah)” showed off some great interweaving vocal harmonies between frontman John Gourley and bassist Zachary Carothers. The band also played the titular track from their 2013 album, “Evil Friends,” which builds to a fuzzy guitar solo near the end. They also performed a song or two that should appear on that upcoming album, including the poppy and upbeat “Feel It Still,” which also shows off Gourley’s high vocal range.
Cage the Elephant
The 8 p.m. hour had a star-studded lineup consisting of alt-rockers Cage the Elephant and Pixies as well as Toronto punk rock band PUP. Because Pixies didn’t take the stage until 8:30 p.m., the Peachtree stage was easily the most crowded, and Cage the Elephant put on an electrifying show. Frontman Matthew Shultz, sporting a soccer jersey for (most of) the show, danced all around the stage — he might not have stood still for a single second while on stage, from the opener “Mess Around” through the closer, “Teeth.”
He also head banged. A lot. However, some of the songs actually put the banging into context. During “In One Ear,” he violently shook his head side to side at a slight angle, almost as if he were attempting to remove water stuck in his ear after a swim. The same applies to the following track, “Spiderhead,” which probably doesn’t need spelling out.
The band’s set otherwise included a variety of songs old and new, from the more recent 2015 hits “Trouble” and “Cold Cold Cold” to the band’s older hits such as “Shake Me Down” and “Cigarette Daydreams.” Unfortunately for audience members who left early to catch the opening song from Pixies, they would hear Cage the Elephant’s most popular song, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” from a distance instead of up close.
If this were 1993, fans of Pixies might wonder if they’d ever get to see the Boston based alt-rock band again after their disbanding. However, the band got back together in 2004 and released two new albums in 2014 and 2016 respectively, and this year, they landed on the Piedmont stage during the closing half of Cage the Elephant’s show.
Hailing from Boston, this quartet of musicians definitely made up one of the most unique and quirky bands to take the stage on Friday. The band immediately followed up morbidly-titled tracks such as “Wave of Mutilation” with bizarre songs such as “Monkey Gone to Heaven.” That’s not even mentioning the closer Spanish closer, “Vamos (Surfer Rosa)” or the eclectic, stop-and-go “Bone Machine.”
If Pixies provided anything, it was variety. The band has its more straightforward alt-rock tracks, such as “Here Comes Your Man,” which features an immediately recognizable guitar riff. Then the band followed it with “La La Love You,” which is a mix of catcall whistles, spoken word and drums with minimal guitar. “Planet of Sound,” which came a few tracks later, introduced a new, alien-esque vocal affect on frontman Black Francis’ voice, and the band continually introduced new sounds and ideas with every song.
The first day of the Shaky Knees Music Festival culminated with the Brooklyn, N.Y. dance and rock group, LCD Soundsystem. Fronted by James Murphy, the band featured eight musicians on stage and enough musical equipment for at least 20. There were multiple keyboards, drum sets and guitars scattered across the stage. There was also plenty of sound system equipment with as many wires as possible plugged into them (only an audio engineer could fact check if they were for aesthetics or if they actually served a musical purpose). The larger-than-life disco ball and extravagant use of lights also added to the mood of the performance.
Through the band’s 110-minute set, they only played about 14 songs, which means each track was almost eight minutes long. The band is critically acclaimed for a reason, and the long songs work with a winning formula, especially for live performance: meaningful repetition. Each song’s progression is fairly simple, typically rooted in electronica with the other instruments and Murphy’s vocals adding the flair, flavor and texture. That’s the formula that crafts hits including “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and “I Can Change.”
Murphy also infused a good amount of humor between the songs, whether it be the corny and enthusiastic way he said “Hi!” at the end of each song or his dad jokes near the end. Outside of two new tracks, “Call the Police” and “American Dream,” most of the tracks were at least seven years old, but they still got plenty of audience members dancing, swaying, singing along and enjoying the spectacle.
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