Happenings /// Shaky Knees Power Rankings, Part Two

Our thoughts, part two, on Atlanta's Shaky Knees: from the Strokes' monster set, to annoying food truck lines, to how it all came full-circle in the hands of Wilco's magical Saturday night performance.


5.) The StrokesSK2015_0508_214455-6121_ATW

I’m not even going to bother adding any qualifiers to this one, The Strokes were everything I could have possibly been expecting out of a band just now entering the “monetizable legacy” stage of their career.

They played the hits (STARTING the set with “Reptilia”), Julian Casablancas got hammered (“What does Shaky Knees even mean?”), but for about 90 minutes on Friday night, all was right with the world. In the past two years at Bonnaroo and this one, I’ve never enjoyed myself quite as much watching a headlining act as I did here, whipping out my best dorky dance moves to songs that soundtracked a healthy and memorable portion of my younger years.

The infectious nostalgia that entails songs like “Hard To Explain”, “Someday” and “You Only Live Once” is nearly unquantifiable for us maligned millennials. The Strokes haven’t exactly been able to replicate on record the lightning they bottled for much of the early 2000s, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still a damn good band. In fact, the opposite is true. Everyone on stage, from Albert Hammond Jr.’s blood red jumpsuit (maybe the best #festivalstyle of any musician all weekend) to the still flawless drumming of Fabrizio Moretti and the falsely speculated Mac Demarco cameo, helped to prove that The Strokes might be over the hill without quite being on the rough tumble downwards.

4.) TV On The Radio, as heard from the food truck line

SK2015_0508_190555-5491_ATWOne thing that Shaky Knees does not have quite figured out yet is their food and beverage situation. $9 beers are to be expected at this point, and the offering of Georgia-based Terrapin brews was a welcome alternative to the usual subpar domestics. However, the idea of relegating onsite dining options to about twelve understaffed and overmatched mobile eateries came across as just a bit tone deaf.

Within the first hour, I was dropping $10 on two child-portioned tortillas from a purveyor claiming to have “the tightest tacos in ATL.” Within the first 90 minutes, I found myself wishing I had smuggled in a portable gas grill through the media entrance. Never was this problem more glaring than when I joined Olivia and her friend in line (AKA I skipped the line) during TV On The Radio’s Friday night slot, the sound from the Piedmont stage muffled enough to make the complaints about the length of the line more deafeningly loud than anything from a decades’ worth of angular art rock.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain too much here (I’m awaiting my karma from jumping in front of people that had been waiting over an hour for burgers), but it’s definitely an issue that could use some addressing before the fourth edition of the festival. All that being said, TV On The Radio were great and I got to hear “Wolf Like Me” from a comfortable seated spot, while everyone was kicking dust around me on a makeshift foot trail that just so happened to be right next to where I was.

SK2015_0508_202745-5389_DVP3.) Solving my biggest conflict of the weekend

I am making reference to the Friday night logjam that found Pixies, Brand New and James Blake all playing during the same time slot. These scheduling clusterfucks are the necessary evils of every music festival, and while I’ve seen worse in my day (Friday night at Bonnaroo last year: overlapping sets from Neutral Milk Hotel, Phoenix and Vampire Weekend putting me to the the ultimate test of my indie cred, ending with me choosing to run underneath a giant rainbow parachute instead of listening to any of the three play), this one was pretty bad.

Immediately I realized that Pixies would be out of the question. Not only do I not have the same emotional connection to the band that others do, but I’ve also heard “Where Is My Mind” enough times in my life to just simply say no.

Still, I was left with a tough decision: indulge even more high school nostalgia by getting all sad at Brand New ot indulge current nostalgia (and make up for getting way too under the influence at his ‘Roo set last year) by getting all sad at James Blake? Going into the evening, I was set on catching all of James Blake with a bunch of my friends who had decided to do the same. It was a good choice…until Blake’s angelic voice gave way to his reliably loud bass, an effect so disarming and alarming that it began to rattle the bones of myself and future generations of myself down to their very cores. Then I saw a couple of my friends pushing through the crowd about three songs in, telling me to join them over at Brand New’s (thankfully nearby) stage.

I waffled on my decision…until I felt my stomach actually leave my body at some point during Blake’s cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love”. James Blake, while being one of the singular talents of this or any generation, puts on a live show worth listening to from the cheap seats. I booked it to Brand New and came upon their set just as they were launching into one of their best early songs, “Mix Tape”, a song that I’ve sang loudly to myself more times than I can care to count.

Luckily, everyone in the nearby vicinity was also singing back Jesse Lacey’s (relatively juvenile now that he’s a married father) tales of lost loves and betrayal. It was a cool moment to experience at 24, far removed from my own long forgotten version of myself, traveling to a music festival in a city in which I’ve never lived but am highly familiar with, from a city in which I’m still new to but am already well lived in. There was a cavalcade of random reflections coursing through me while Lacey was up there wailing about his girlfriend’s lacking musical tastes. I wrote a note for safekeeping (pictured to your right): “Brand New swarming me w/ nostalgia on a balmy summer night.” You always expect the scheduling conflicts at music festivals, but it’s an unbelievable feeling when everything works out for the best.

2.) Tame Impala’s coming out party

More on that here.

SK2015_0509_203454-2_ATW copy1.) Figuring out that I’ll always have an answer when people ask me who my favorite live band is

Though I had long floated through the ether of existence with not much more than a passing recognition of Wilco’s music, I did know that attending a show at The Ryman was an essential box to be ticked off the checklist of each and every Nashville transplant. The major reason I was able to clear this hurdle four days into my newfound citizenship was thanks to a desperate Preds fan. The team having hit an early season stride, a young man in Cool Springs found himself needing to shed two tickets to the first night of Wilco’s two-nighter on October 21st and 22nd. The offer was hard to pass up: $30 for both tickets, right there on the main floor of the Mother Church. It was, to this date, the best $30 I’ve spent in this city. Not only did the inherent beauty of The Ryman stop me in my tracks, but I realized that I had spent way too long of my life sleeping on Wilco.

I had no idea what Lockeland Springsteen was when I first arrived in town, I only knew that for whatever reason I was being followed by them on Twitter. I did my research and found out that it was a music blog. For years back home in Florida, I was told by others to put my often complex thoughts about music into a tangible written form, advice that I willfully ignored for a long time under the pretense that there was no market for it. Well, it seemed that I had unintentionally moved to a city in which that market did exist. I got in touch with my now-editor through social media, offering to write a piece about my experience at the Wilco show as a way of auditioning for a contributing spot.

Nearly seven months later, I stood outdoors on an increasingly breezy Saturday night in downtown Atlanta, waiting for Wilco to take the stage at my first festival assignment. Somehow, this had all come full circle for me. Here I was, occupying space in the first city that I ever had a passion to ditch Florida for, only I was coming from a different city that I had ditched Florida for, successful in relation to what I would be doing had I not made the decision to move to Nashville. Maybe the top choice on my list is a bit biased, because I would have been happy for myself even if Wilco didn’t turn in the best festival performance that I’d ever attended.

But they did. Taking the paltry 75-minute time slot they were given, Jeff Tweedy and company (special shout out to unapologetic guitar hero Nels Cline) ran through 17 songs from a catalog just four years younger than myself, drawing from each of their eight albums without relying too heavily on any one era of their history.

This is the kind of atmosphere that WIlco has entered, having conquered the stigma of “dad rock” to simply be nothing more than an impressively diverse rock band, blending jammier tendencies with country sensibilities, energetic shredding with quieter acoustics. I knew about twenty minutes into their set that I hadn’t seen anything more exemplary of the genre all weekend, and that no one after them would even begin to scratch the surface.

There were multiple times throughout Wilco’s 75 minutes where I found myself texting Olivia to tell her that I would leave the crowd after a certain song was played, or after I felt that it was a suitable time to leave. I must have sent about four of those procrastinatory messages before I realized that I wasn’t moving. I’ve been to a number of live performances in my day, but at no point have I simply conceded to myself that I had witnessed the peak of the form, at least not until this past Saturday night.

Words and Photos by Kevin Brown /// Festival photography courtesy of aLive Coverage

LS Stars

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