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Shaky Knees 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

It was a sizzling three-day weekend in Hotlanta.

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    Two years ago, event promoter Tim Sweetwood turned heads nationwide when he opened the gates to Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta’s cozy Historic Fourth Ward Park. The two-day lineup topped by The Lumineers, Band of Horses, and Drive-By Truckers attracted both locals and out-of-towners and proved successful enough for a return. “I wasn’t trying to be Bonnaroo or Coachella,” Sweetwood explained to Ryan Bray back in February. “It wasn’t like we were reaching for the sky. I just wanted to show people what I could do as far as my vision.”

    The following year, the festival expanded to three days, nabbed heavy hitters like Alabama Shakes, The National, Modest Mouse, and a reunited The Replacements, and shifted the action over to Atlantic Station. Weather issues aside, the sprawling concrete parking lot accommodated the expansive crowds with ease. But you can’t host a music festival at an outdoor mall and expect to have any charm or character. When Paul Westerberg’s singing “Left of the Dial” and an Old Navy sign is looming beside the stage, it’s a little hard to lose yourself.

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    Yet, Sweetwood’s a smart guy, and he reckoned with these issues. “You don’t want to do the same festival every year,” he continued. “You want to grow aesthetically, and you have to make sure your booking is on point so fans are just as excited as they were the year before.” And so, the young man’s quest to bring a proper music festival to the Southern metropolis has arrived at its most exciting (and pivotal) chapter yet: it’s finally found a home. Who knew it was just a shade away from downtown at a chunk of grass called Central Park.

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    Prior to Mother’s Day weekend — a trait that Sweetwood digs (“Everyone has a mom, so bring her to the festival”) — there was concern that the festivities would overwhelm the area and the smallish, family-friendly park. That might have been the case if the festival didn’t also take advantage of the adjoining Renaissance Park and the nearby parking lot for the Atlanta Civic Center. Unlike last year’s sprawl, this lot is framed by grassy hills and enough foliage to shadow as an expansion to the corresponding parks. Needless to say, there was a lack of suburbanites walking by with groceries.

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    The setup was very similar to how Lollapalooza takes over Chicago’s Grant Park. It was all in sections and fragments that were tied together by a united street (in this case, Pine). This added a much longer walk between the stages than years prior, but it was efficient enough and also suggested that Shaky Knees may be larger than Sweetwood ever intended. Like any of the Big Four fests, he’s created a city within a city, and there’s reason to believe that his vision has outgrown itself and is on its way to becoming not only a music festival but a destination music festival.

    That revelation might frighten him.

    “Know that we’re committed to getting better each year, and not necessarily bigger either,” he contended. “The end goal is to sell out as a festival, but at half the capacity of the Bonnaroos and the Coachellas so that everyone there can enjoy it. We want the guy who is standing 20 feet back from the stage to enjoy it as much as the guy who is standing 200 feet back from the stage.

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    “It’s a business, don’t get me wrong,” he added. “The business needs to be profitable, but when your business gets too big, sometimes it’s harder to service the ticket buyer in a way that’s really satisfying. I think if we keep things running at a medium level, we can give our fans what they’re looking for.”

    Based on the crowds, which were never too compact (although The Strokes came close), it would appear that Shaky Knees might simply be walking with shoes one size too big. If that’s sustainable, excellent. Save for the notoriously long lines at the dozen local food trucks — pretty much the only outlet for food, which is definitely a good thing — there really weren’t any hiccups in Sweetwood’s current design. The monitors at the main stage were state-of-the-art, the Buford Tent was a godsend, and the various ice pops were tasty blessings.

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    Whether or not Sweetwood wants the growth is up for him to decide, but if he’s game, he’s certainly not alone. There were good vibes all weekend, supported and kept alive by a sea of people hungry for an honest music festival. If he’s smart, he’ll keep feeding ’em. And well.

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    So, what about the music? Click ahead to see the worst and the best of the fest. Just know that “worst” is simply a designation of the feature and not exactly the quality of the actual set. To quote Professor Henry Newman, there were some that were simply … “less than.”

    –Michael Roffman
    Editor-in-Chief

    Milky Chance

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    Have you ever been pigeonholed? Well, that’s how some festivalgoers might have felt between 6:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. on Saturday night. You had the umpteenth manifestation of Social Distortion over at the Peachtree Stage and Milky Chance over at the Boulevard Stage. That’s it. Nothing else beyond packed food trucks and longer lines at King of Pops. (Please, tell me someone had the Arnold Palmer Pop? I hope to see comments below.) Well, I took my chances with the German folk duo and pretty much had the same experience as I did leasing my very first Volkswagen. The electronics were iffy (Philipp Dausch’s Macbook Pro wouldn’t boot) and rather oversold (the band’s a modern-day doppelganger of Hootie and the Blowfish). –Phillip Roffman

    Kaiser Chiefs

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    The English power pop of Kaiser Chiefs was the only other alternative to Manchester Orchestra on Friday evening. So, there was a commendable crowd gathered at the Boulevard Stage, where frontman Ricky Wilson attempted to get everyone to clap, shout back, or do whatever boring stuff bored leading men tend to ask of their bored fans. Still supporting last year’s bland and mediocre Education, Education, Education & War — okay, “Coming Home” isn’t too shabby, and they played it — the outfit tossed out the expected crowd favorites like “Modern Way”, “Everyday I Love You Less and Less”, “I Predict a Riot”, and “Ruby”. Wilson and his bandmates couldn’t have looked more uninterested with that last one, perhaps numb to the fact that they’re slowing becoming one of the first nostalgic bands out of the mid-aughts, at least stateside. Not sure that Who cover helped much, either. –Michael Roffman

    Spiritualized

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    Blame Panda Bear, Ryan Adams, or straight-up poor scheduling for one of the most disappointing turnouts at the Piedmont Stage all weekend. Spiritualized deserved better, even if they’re now three years removed from their last album, 2012’s Sweet Heart Sweet Light. Though, I think we can all agree that Jason Pierce’s symphonic rock would have been best booked for the Buford Tent, or, at the very least, later in the evening. This would have certainly given more people the opportunity to take their clothes off…

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     –Phillip Roffman

    Best Coast

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    Knowing the Piedmont Stage would be packed and boiling Sunday afternoon, we assumed that seeing Best Coast the night before at The Loft would be a far more ideal scenario. Wrong. It was a sweltering mess inside, so much so that Bethany Cosentino called ’em out, saying: “It never ceases to amaze me how fucking hot Atlanta venues are.” Perhaps that’s why she wasn’t in the brightest spirits for a good half of the night’s show, offering bored looks that made for desolate hooks. That was until the whole thing turned into a surprise birthday party for Bobb Bruno, who received a Grumpy Cat cake on stage from Cosentino. A little sugar goes a long way, but not enough sometimes. Then again, who the hell wants to work on their birthday? –Phillip Roffman

    Mastodon

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    Mastodon’s bassist and lead vocalist, Troy Sanders, said it best early in their set Friday afternoon when he said he didn’t think they’d ever be invited to a festival like Shaky Knees, and while you could see that the band was happy to be playing in their hometown, it was evident as to why. Apart from the meager mosh pit near the front, the crowd wasn’t necessarily feeling it. And while the band put on as great of a show as they could with their newer material, Mastodon just could not shake that fish-out-of-water status. –Sean Barry

    The Black Lips

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    When Mark Ronson’s production work for The Black Lips’ sixth record, Arabia Mountain, involved the addition of a saxophone — it was an exciting prospect for them sonically. Look what a little brass did for The Replacements on Pleased to Meet Me. Aren’t those horns necessary? (Calm down you Tim version, fans.) Unfortunately, the addition became more of an addendum, and four years later, it’s still the same ol’ thing. Look guys, stick to the ashtray floors, dirty clothes, and filthy jokes. –Phillip Roffman

    Death From Above 1979

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    Not until You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine had I ever felt music so assaulting in my entire life. I was only 13. To me, the whole album sounded like a live recording of Thomas Edison torturing elephants in a living room as some psychopath — perhaps neighbor Henry Ford — screamed and beat out his own thoughts and emotions in the corner. Just me, huh? Nevertheless, that sadistic twist is why Death From Above 1979 quickly became a favorite of mine. Over a decade later, the reality of it all proved disappointing, to say the least. Maybe it was their two-month hiatus, maybe it was last year’s forgettable Physical World, but their late afternoon performance was the epitome of phoned in. Some things are best left in the past, apparently. –Phillip Roffman

    TV on the Radio

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    Six years ago, TV on the Radio performed a late afternoon slot at Chicago’s Lollapalooza while supporting arguably their strongest album, 2008’s Dear Science. The crowds were overwhelming, the energy was radiant — there was an unspoken indication that they could one day be headliners. Now, two polarizing (read: less than) albums later, they’re still playing against the sun’s last stand, and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. On Friday evening, a healthy but by no means expansive crowd gathered around the Piedmont Stage, where the Brooklyn collective shuffled out for a set that was just as sluggish. “Are you guys ready to take it up? Up? Up?” Tunde Adebimpe asked. Well, “Wolf Like Me” came close, so did “Lazerray”, but the five other meandering tracks off last year’s Seeds (especially closer “Trouble”) iced the crowd. “This is why they call it Hotlanta,” Adebimpe joked as he wiped his brow. Yeah, but it should have been so much hotter, man. –Michael Roffman

    Zella Day

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    “Raise your hand if you’re sunburned,” Zella Day asked her toasted new fans early Friday afternoon. The young Arizona singer-songwriter lucked out with a performance at the Buford Highway Tent, where hundreds of festivalgoers sought an escape from the sweltering sun sizzling flesh and asphalt beyond. Dressed in what can best be described as Hipster Marion Ravenwood, Day powered through a dazzling array of eclectic indie pop, which sounds a lot like what Miley Cyrus was expected to do until she dropped the mic with Bangerz. Songs like “The Outlaw of Josie Wales”, “Milk & Honey”, “1965”, and “East of Eden” are dense, oft-countrified tracks, conditioned by the keyboardist’s digital strings and horns, which Day slinks over like a prairie sister of Lana Del Rey. That she covered The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” spoke to her old-school aesthetic and, if nothing else, won over older passersby of which there were many. It’ll be interesting to see where her full-length debut, Kicker, takes her next month. –Michael Roffman

    Old Crow Medicine Show

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    If there ever were an opportunity for a hoedown pit to open up at some point this weekend at Shaky Knees, it was Sunday evening at Old Crow Medicine Show’s set, where all who brought with them a cowboy hat were present. Playing their old-time music and entertaining quite a large crowd of people who weren’t all too eager to go and grab a good spot for Tame Impala, Old Crow threw down as many old-fashioned, Southern-style songs worth dancing to as they did references to regional landmarks surrounding Atlanta. Having been born beneath the Mason-Dixon line myself, I could just barely suppress the urge to join in on the boot scootin’, but my weekend-long exhaustion caught up to me before I could really go and enjoy the down-home country fun. –Sean Barry

    Flogging Molly

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    Flogging Molly walked out onstage to a very welcoming crowd Saturday afternoon hoisting cans of Guinness and beaming from ear to ear. The show they put on may have been just their typical Irish punk material, but it was certainly one of the most fun sets of the weekend. I was more than eager to rush the pit with many other fans and dance around to hits such as “Selfish Man” and “Swagger” until I had nearly lost both my shoe and my hat. I left drenched in even more sweat than I had before. –Sean Barry

    Built to Spill

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    Singer-songwriter Doug Martsch gets so lost in his music that he often only musters up an “Ah, thanks” after each track. That intensity to form, however, got the best of him at Shaky Knees as he forgot the band had about 10 more minutes to go. So, after he expanded and deflated a sparky rendition of “Goin’ Against Your Mind”, the bearded one waved farewell and headed stage left before being reminded of the set time. To his credit, he marched right on back, admitting: “I guess we have a few minutes, so we’ll play a couple more.” Granted, most of the previously overwhelming crowd had already set out towards Neutral Milk Hotel next door — mostly during the drawn-out ruckus of Untethered Moon’s “When I’m Blind” — but even they could hear an oldie like “Joyride” or rock out to the band’s go-to cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. Still, nothing ever tops “Carry the Zero”. It’s all just “mildly excellent” after that. –Michael Roffman

    The Mountain Goats

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    It’s a strange thing to see The Mountain Goats live as a full band with a whole crowd of people. John Darnielle’s music is so personal and intimate, and in a live setting, it loses all of that. It’s like realizing your therapist also talks with dozens of other people. Still, despite the change of scenery, JD’s energy and excitement was undeniable. Coming onstage after a speech from what might have been an early ’80s Wrestlemania, John and his band put on a really well done set full of tracks spanning his entire discography. His desire to have a VH1 Storytellers type set was reluctantly cut short, though, due to Shaky Knees’ strict set times. –Sean Barry

    American Football

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    There wasn’t a better time to hear American Football. As the Midwestern math rockers hit the Boulevard Stage, the Southern sun crest over the nearby trees and through the downtown Atlanta skyline, creating a balmy glow over the mellow crowd that either stood meditating or sat contemplating. Singer Mike Kinsella joked that they were Wilco prior to rolling straight into their landmark, self-titled debut, a gag that sadly, probably fooled a bunch of folks. From there, the set really was the “cool off” everyone needed after sweating through the insufferable Friday heat. “Do you guys wanna talk about something?” Kinsella asked. “I like the South. I like it as much as anywhere, which is someplace else.” For some reason, that about summed up the moment to a tee. –Michael Roffman

    Dr. Dog

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    Never have I hated the sun so much as I did on Sunday afternoon. (Really, could we live without it? Probably not, right? Damn.) While the majority of the Shaky Knees crowd questioned and tested their physical limits, Dr. Dog walked on out to take them all on a rock ‘n’ roll journey. For the record, I had never seen the Philadelphia rockers live before, and after years of listening to their LPs, the waiting paid off. The setlist wasn’t exactly perfect — six songs off 2012’s blargh-worthy Be the Void was a bit much — but their energy was contagious. Even Ryan Adams couldn’t get enough of these guys, ending his set by saying: “Thank you so much! I got to meet Dr. Dog!” Where do they go from there? Well, opening for Dispatch at Madison Square Garden is a good start. –Phillip Roffman

    Heartless Bastards

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    Shaky Knees should just book Heartless Bastards every year. Or maybe swap them with their sister festival, Shaky Boots, every other season to break things up. Reason being, the Cincinnati veterans brandish a country rock sound that’s right in line with Sweetwood’s original vision. And it helps that they draw well: On Sunday afternoon, vocalist Erika Wennerstrom sang to a hefty crowd inebriated by her coarse, rustic vocals. She led the band through a couple of new tracks off their upcoming album, Restless Ones, and revisited a few selections off 2012’s Arrow. It’s always a joy to hear “Parted Ways”, which closed the show, but Wennerstrom and lead guitarist Mark Nathan carved a sermon out of “Down in the Canyon”. For a solid eight minutes, the Buford Tent was hotter than the sun-smooched asphalt. –Michael Roffman

    Wavves

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    Wavves had the misfortune of playing an early afternoon gig to a bunch of sluggish festivalgoers already sunburned five hours into the festival. Frontman Nathan Williams remained unfazed, though, as he bit through an 11-song set that screamed for the blistering heat and the endless days of summer. Although this year should be busy for the Los Angeles outfit — a collaborative LP with Cloud Nothings; another Wavves LP — the setlist was fairly split between 2010’s King of the Beach and 2013’s Afraid of Heights. They did preview one new song titled “My Head Hurts”, which bodes well for their next chapter. “August,” Williams suggested. We’ll see if that holds. –Phillip Roffman

    METZ

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    “Oh, it’s a beautiful day,” vocalist Alex Edkins observed early Saturday afternoon. This would be the last time anyone heard their own thoughts for, oh, 45 minutes. Despite having played only 14 hours prior at Austin Psych Fest — ahem, as in Austin, Texas — the Toronto hardcore trio gurgled the nastiest of their two eponymous albums and berated the Boulevard’s dedicated handful with ease. The boys were sandwiched in between UK brats Palma Violets and Los Angeles heartglobs FIDLAR, making them three back-to-back acts whose trademark energy can only truly be felt live. Naturally, the two bookends brought plenty of melodies, but METZ came off more like an endurance test. New tracks “Spit You Out”, “Nervous System”, and “Wait in Line” coagulated with past thrashers like “Wasted” and closer “Wet Blanket”, proving that the only thing that’s changed with this new album is that they can play longer. Feel the sweat on your sideburns? Those are your ears crying. –Michael Roffman

    Palma Violets

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    Top five moments of this year’s Shaky Knees? One of them will undoubtedly be bassist Alexander Jesson’s shit-eating grin. Here’s some context: Throughout the tail end of Speedy Ortiz’s set, I kept hearing music trickling out from the Ponce De Leon Stage. Knowing I had to cover Palma Violets, I rushed over next door only to see each band member jamming along to the Massachusetts outfit. They all had smiles on their faces, but Jesson’s stuck out like a sore thumb. He was loving every minute of this. It was a quick snapshot that made you immediately fall in love with the band.

    Not surprisingly, they carried that goodwill into their set. Now, over the years, I’ve come to realize that too many bands are getting fairly lazy at festivals, trying to look cool on stage rather than actually investing themselves into an intense set. That whole disenchanted, plug-and-play routine — for example, Parquet Courts’ 2014 Lollapalooza set —  is getting pretty fucking old. But Palma Violets aren’t interested in trying to be cool … they are cool. They prove that by ensuring everyone invests their blood, sweat, and tears into every song they play off 2012’s 180 or this year’s Danger in the Club. Namely because they do. –Phillip Roffman

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    Viet Cong

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    Viet Cong’s brand of discordant and militantly precise post-punk excited a sprawling crowd early Saturday afternoon. While their playing was very tight and focused, the band’s rapport with the crowd was loose and friendly. Each song was more noisy and energetic than the last. It all led up to the lengthy closer, “Death”, wherein the final moments, guitarist Scott Munro’s guitar strap ripped off of his shoulder, and as if nothing even happened, Munro threw caution to the wind and picked up his guitar to play the remaining bit of the song sans strap. Viet Cong was one band who found themselves at the bottom of the lineup, but ended up being one of the best shows of the weekend. –Sean Barry

    Ride

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    It’s not really fair to lump Ride into the shoegaze genre. Okay, maybe they do share a few elements with their former labelmates My Bloody Valentine, but the same argument could be made about another Creation export: Oasis. Somewhere between those two acts might be the best way to describe the Oxford veterans to the youths of today — or maybe not. During their late Sunday evening set, the small, eager crowd around the Piedmont Stage skewed both young and old. There was delight on everyone’s faces, as if they were finally seeing something they’ve waited years to catch, and that reassurance wasn’t just on the weathered mural of fortysomethings. Right after the distortion drained out on “Dreams Never End”, a kid no older than 23 turned around, mouth agape, to his loving friends. He looked like he had just seen a ghost. Some cynics might argue he did. They’d be idiots.  –Michael Roffman

    Mac DeMarco

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    Canadian goofball Mac DeMarco put on as much of a comedy variety show as he did a lo-fi rock concert, and both solid ones at that. Along with his equally lackadaisical bandmates Pierce and Andy, DeMarco clearly enjoyed himself while both playing his music and playing with the audience. For every track off of Salad Days that hung there and danced in the hot and humid Georgia summer air, there was an improvised and half-assed cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow” or the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication” to keep everyone lighthearted and cheerful. Mac and his band possess this wonderful energy onstage, and it was delightful enough to forget all my sunburn and dehydration concerns of the day. –Sean Barry

    Ryan Adams

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    Vintage, vintage, vintage! As expected, Ryan Adams brought his trademark ’80s chic to the Peachtree Stage on Sunday evening. Arcade games, a Dr. Pepper machine, and two Neil Young-sized guitar amps surrounded the shaggy-haired singer-songwriter, who sported a thick pair of shades and one sick Misfits tee. When he wasn’t celebrating the forthcoming 15th anniversary of Heartbreaker, he was yammering about his hero, Danzig, Philly rockers Dr. Dog, or Nas photographer Danny Clinch. They were all funny tangents, but not quite as hilarious as when he dedicated his cover of “Mother” to the Hallmark holiday, only to discover it wasn’t exactly a tight fit lyrically: “When you actually sing it, the song doesn’t feel appropriate.”

    The problem with festivals booking a unique personality like Adams is that they’re only ever getting an abbreviation. The guy tends to meander, but that’s why he’s so damn good. In fact, some of the more memorable moments off his Carnegie Hall live album are when he’s chatting nonsensically about things like the T-800s of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. For some, the verbal footnotes might seem stupid or inessential, but they’re actually little peeks into his unpredictable psyche. So, when he started to say his goodbyes 11 songs in, there was an understandable disappointment. “This is how this stuff works,” he shrugged, smiled, and then added: “This festival kicks so much ass. I fucking love this place. I love Georgia so much.”

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    Minutes later, the roadies started rolling the games away. Bummer. –Michael Roffman

    Manchester Orchestra

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    Hometown indie alt-rock heroes Manchester Orchestra made a somber entrance onto the stage clad in either all black or, in the case of keyboardist Chris Freeman, all white. Whatever energy they seemed to lack before starting their set, though, came in full force (and then some) as they began with three of the heaviest tracks of their discography. Like being in a Southern Tent Revival, nobody held back anything. Despite Andy Hull’s dulcet tones, his passion and frustration were on full display that Friday afternoon. Not to be underestimated, Manchester Orchestra held an immense stage presence that was incomparable that weekend. –Sean Barry

    The Avett Brothers

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    Scott and Seth Avett have become some excellent showmen over the years along with the rest of their band, and proving that there’s no such thing as an Avett Brothers show that wants for more, they brought down the house Saturday night. Playing songs spanning their entire catalogue and giving each member of their seven-person touring band a solo, their set was as complete as it could possibly be. Playing in the South and in a state that neighbors their own, Scott and Seth treated Atlanta like it was their home and the audience like we were all family, welcome to join in the celebration. And having a crowd as passionate about their music as they were did not hurt in sealing The Avett Brothers as the best possible choice to headline a festival like Shaky Knees. –Sean Barry

    Panda Bear

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    Attracting and hypnotizing a fairly large crowd early Sunday evening, Panda Bear’s harmonious and entrancing music surprisingly worked well with the sweltering heat. Beginning with “You Can Count on Me” and welcoming beach balls into the crowd, Panda Bear, aka Noah Lennox, played nearly an hour-long set nonstop, mixing it all himself onstage. This marathoning caused some hiccups really only detectable to those who know Lennox’s music, but the lack of polish also made for an aspect of authenticity. Shutting himself out from the audience for nearly his entire set, Lennox seemed lost in his own world playing in front of hypnotizing and sometimes surprising projections of things like fruit, women with painted faces, cartoon characters from the ’80s, and various reptiles. This was only to be expected, though, coming from a founding member of Animal Collective, and for those of us who are familiar with Lennox’s body of work, we left indeed very satisfied. –Sean Barry

    James Blake

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    I would imagine that being a singer or a songwriter or even a producer isn’t an easy business. How the hell do you set yourself apart within a genre that is intensely vulnerable and overwhelmed? (How many musicians are adopting the R&B tag? I lost count.) James Blake knows exactly how to stay on top of his game, and I am sorry I ever doubted him. Being light years away from modern-day performers, Blake and co. know their work in and out with precision. Now, this is where I shoot myself in the foot: I wrongly assumed his live show was simply pressing a “Play” button” and crooning into a microphone. Damn, I was so wrong. On Friday night, Blake orchestrated a modern-day Fantasia experience that rattled the rib cages and throats of every human being who could fit under the Buford Tent. “Limit to Your Love” nearly crushed my larynx with its wobbly bass. It was terrifying, it was uncanny, and it’s something every festivalgoer needs to experience. –Phillip Roffman

    Neutral Milk Hotel

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    It’s typically a good sign when you walk up to a stage and see set upon it things like a singing saw, several different accordions, and nearly half a dozen brass horns. Indie darlings Neutral Milk Hotel put on a show with such passion and whimsy that I swear I saw many more butterflies around their stage than any other that weekend. Going through classics from In the Airplane… and On Avery Island, along with some select B-sides, Neutral Milk Hotel held the entire audience in the palm of their hands gently like a small and delicate bird. Requesting that no one photograph their set allowed both band and audience to share in an experience like no other that weekend where nothing mattered more than the present. –Sean Barry

    FIDLAR

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    Minutes after METZ, the Los Angeles punk quartet strolled out to entertain one of the liveliest crowds to cluster underneath the Buford Tent all weekend. There was crowd surfing, there was manic clapping, there was fist-pumping, there was airborne beer, and there was endless bouncing. Yet not once did guitarist and vocalist Zac Carper ask for any of it — quite the opposite. Deep into the set, he simply suggested that everyone should quiet down for a second. His face when the crowd obliged was fucking priceless — legitimately shocked — as he exclaimed, “That’s never happened before!” Someone then screamed back: “Don’t tell me what to do!” His response? “That’s what I like to hear!” His shock swiftly turned into a big, goofy grin that screamed of unadulterated charisma.

    FIDLAR is a people’s punk rock band: They know their fans; they love their fans. They even made a limited-edition tee just for Shaky Knees, which sold out before the show even began. That’s not the least bit surprising; the crowd’s dedication parallels the band’s commitment, a bond that makes their live show so definitive. And it’s unlikely many fans will tire of watching the “retards from CA,” as Carper self-deprecatingly described themselves. “No Waves”, “Cheap Beer”, and “Cocaine” all went off without a hitch, but it was the new stuff that torched everyone’s shoes. They’re excellent songs — one possibly titled “On My Way Home” is my new “Summerbaby” — that collectively hint towards an album akin to Hootenanny, a varied LP that shows growth without fully graduating.

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    In other words, their next album is going to rule. –Michael Roffman

    Wilco

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    Photo by Carlo Cavaluzzi

    Time is a finicky thing for Wilco. Which is why restrictive festival sets are hit or miss for the Chicago outfit. This is a band that typically starts warming up around hour one, when they know a good two hours lie ahead. But to this writer’s surprise, they hurdled past the jugular and went straight for everyone’s spirits by opening with “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, “Art of Almost”, and “One Wing”, three tracks that basically said, “Okay, here’s what we can do, and here’s what we will do.”

    But when you have a frontman like Jeff Tweedy, you let the Midwestern teddy bear do the talking. “We realize you have many entertainment options on a night like tonight. We’re glad you chose Wilco. Hope you enjoy the flight.” The airline imagery was apropos, as this set seemed to travel some. Perhaps in celebration of their 20th anniversary, they played at least one song off of each of their eight albums, leaving enough room for “Camera” off the Australian EP and a cover from their Billy Bragg collabo, Mermaid Avenue.

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    Photo by Carlo Cavaluzzi

    “This is Woody Guthrie’s double-neck guitar,” Tweedy admitted before launching into “Secret of the Sea”. “You can tell your grandparents you saw it in person.” These little touches made the night all the more special, topping a list that included a Who-esque breakdown at the end of “I Got You” (Pat Sansone doing his Townshend best with the windmills), vivid harmonies on “Heavy Metal Drummer”, and one charming admission of a “snot bubble” by Tweedy.

    This is a good time to see Wilco. They’re so far removed from their last album — it’s easy to forget that The Whole Love was from way back in 2011 — and they’re still unclear when their follow-up will surface. As such, their sets right now are unpredictable, allowing fans both new and old to experience something wholly unique together. And thanks to an economical use of time, Wilco provided just that on Saturday night. Happy birthday, guys. –Michael Roffman

    The Strokes

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    Photo by Debi Del Grande

    The Strokes were good. Damn good. They sort of knew it too, which made their Friday night headlining set all the better. Career-spanning setlist aside, which was idyllic to say the least (a few highlights included the live debut of “All the Time” and rare inclusions of “You Talk Way Too Much” and “Vision of Division“), the real joy was seeing the New Yorkers in good spirits. Julian Casablancas led the way with his trademark comic apathy, which he peppered throughout the tight hour and 15 minutes.

    “Atlantaaaaa,” he sang, pausing to add: “I just wrote that.” He then joked about the festival (“What is Shaky Knees? I’ve been asking all day, and nobody’s been able to give me an answer.”) and applauded its good vibes (“This is a cooool fest, lot of cool bands, and a beautiful park too. It’s just gorgeous.”). To be honest, it was somewhat strange to see him so enlivened, but when he exclaimed, “I’m so fucking ready for this,” before diving into “Under Control”, the feeling was palpable.

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    Photo by Debi Del Grande

    The night was wired with that energy. Both Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi eviscerated their six-strings during the solos, while Casablancas did a little extra legwork with succinct harmonies that extended into the instrumental refrains. If that weren’t enough, the renewed grump later brought out Mac DeMarco to play guitar on “Last Nite” and ran into the crowd to high-five fans and sign autographs. It all ended with a politically charged performance of the rather timely “New York City Cops”.

    You couldn’t have asked for anything more, and if you did … well, you’re a schmohawk. –Michael Roffman

    Tame Impala

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    Photo by Debi Del Grande

    Rock ‘n’ roll won’t ever die, and it’s thanks to acts like Tame Impala. The Australian assembly is about to release their most pervasive album to date — Currents, due out July 17th — and it’s going to rattle the music industry. Here’s why:

    On Sunday night, Kevin Parker & co. stormed the Peachtree Stage, where they drugged the minds of thousands with the album’s opening track, “Let It Happen”, a stomping EDM anthem disguised as a psychedelic rock song. For 10 minutes, the festival’s tired and weak attendees found their spirits once more, bobbing together to form a sea of confused brainwaves.

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    Photo by Debi Del Grande

    That’s a good thing. Mystery loves company, as the saying goes, and Tame Impala are about to yank rock ‘n’ roll back into the great unknown. Judging from the capsule of new material they put on display, it would appear that the band’s retracing MGMT’s gnarled footsteps, shifting from psychedelic to electronic, instead. Here’s the kicker: They’re holding on to both.

    Longtime fans shouldn’t be too startled. This direction has been a part of Tame Impala’s DNA for half a decade. One listen to “Alter Ego” off 2010’s InnerSpeaker or “Be Above It” from 2012’s Lonerism suggests that they’ve always had their eyes on the dance floor. Hell, the former is a brilliant marriage of ’70s disco and rock, if only they could have co-existed more fashionably.

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    Photo by Debi Del Grande

    It’s a wild thought, but there’s little to no reason why this band couldn’t “kill it” next year at Ultra Music Festival, just as they have at Coachella and just like they did on Sunday night for Shaky Knees. If that’s the case, Tame Impala could wind up being the biggest rock band in less than 12 months. For now, they’re just the most exciting act to see at any given festival.

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    “Did you say play a new song?” Parker asked a fan, befuddled. “Nobody ever says that.” Get used to it, pal. –Michael Roffman

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