The Best of Shaky Knees 2015
It didn’t rain. Even a little. Quite the opposite, actually, Atlanta earned its often locally balked at nickname, HotLanta. Saturday and Sunday were scorchers for the third annual Shaky Knees Music Festival, this year at Central Park, but after the downpours of the first two years, sunshine was enthusiastically welcomed. Festival vendors sold shirts this year with a rain cloud on the front and the words “100% CHANCE OF RAIN” emblazoned across the back. I actually recall leaving last year and thinking aloud, “Would Shaky Knees even be the same without the rain?”
The Central Park location behind the Atlanta Civic Center provided much more ground which, accordingly, added stages. Five main stages graced the festival grounds in 2015, with two side-by-side on either end of the site and a tent in the middle. Last year’s Atlantic Station had three stages, as did the Historic Fourth Ward Park location in 2013. Its new sprawl made it a little more exhausting; rain was once the weekend’s foe, but the greater walking distances made this weekend feel much more like the endurance test of Bonnaroo than that of Hangout. Not that that was a problem, as Shaky Knees has evolved to cater to a very specific, niche audience in attendance for the music. With headliners The Strokes, The Avett Brothers and Tame Impala, and an undercard filled with the likes of Wilco, Ryan Adams, Pixies, Social Distortion and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, it was a dream lineup for the AAA listener, the 35-year-old man that hates to shave.
Here is the best of what I saw this weekend, which is entirely subjective:
- Ryan Adams: David Ryan Adams hasn’t played Birmingham since a 2009 set with The Cardinals. He’s grown a lot in that time, even covering “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams at The Ryman in Nashville recently. Sporting a Misfits t-shirt and flanked by 80s arcade games and a vintage Dr. Pepper vending machine, Adams played hits. “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High),” “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and “Gimme Something Good.” He was joined onstage by rock and roll photographer Danny Clinch for “New York, New York,” and he closed with “Come Pick Me Up.” He also managed to include a cover of Danzig’s “Mother,” a Mother’s Day tribute on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t flashy, but it was reassuring to see Adams smile more. He’s having fun, and Birmingham needs him soon.
- The Strokes: Like Adams, The Strokes have had a reputation that has followed them. And like Adams, they displayed a new direction that hints at maturity. Backed by a simple light show, they knocked out their two biggest and most recognizable hits, “Last Nite” and “Someday,” and complemented them with fan favorites like “New York City Cops” and “Hard to Explain” in the encore. Mac DeMarco joined the band onstage for their “Last Nite” performance, and Julian Casablancas walked into the crowd before the “New York City Cops” finale, signing autographs for fans. While his last stop in Birmingham isn’t ancient history (he came to Birmingham with side project The Voidz last fall), Friday’s Shaky Knees set was a reminder than when The Strokes are on, they’re a rock force to be reckoned with, and any other Casablancas project pales in comparison.
- FIDLAR: The California band with the unprintable acronym translation began my new favorite trend of the weekend: introducing songs by telling you the title and saying the song is about the title. “This next song’s called ‘Stoked and Broke.’ It’s about being stoked and broke. Lead singer Zac Carper was wearing swim trunks because any L.A. punk band should be ready to surf Atlanta’s gnarly waves at a moment’s notice. FIDLAR was fun. And what makes FIDLAR spectacular is their ability to be simultaneously authentic and ironic. And make you want to pump your first. They’re at the Workplay Theater on Wednesday, May 13 with METZ. Check them out.
- Mastodon: Birmingham’s own Brent Hinds is the guitarist for metal gods Mastodon, a band which, to my recollection, has never made the trip to Birmingham. Atlanta-based, the band may be the last bastion of big, loud heavy metal music, the kind your mom told you to turn down. I wasn’t at the Mastodon show for lyricism. Holding a metal sign in the air and banging my head were the goal, and the goal was achieved.
- Matthew E. White: White played a set on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 for what couldn’t have been more than 200 people. That’s generous, to be honest. He’s a fabulous singer-songwriter from Richmond, Va. that most easily compares to John Mayer, toeing a line between rock and R&B. But White does it with more of a Strand of Oaks or Father John Misty sensibility. He doesn’t have a Birmingham date on his calendar, but in the meantime, check out the 2015 release Fresh Blood.
Honorable Mention. Diamond Rugs: Diamond Rugs is a Georgia supergroup featuring John McCauley and Robbie Crowell of Deer Tick, Ian Saint Pe of The Black Lips and T. Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate. It also has Bryan Dufresne of Six Finger Satellite and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos on baritone saxophone, which completely sets the band apart. Diamond Rugs were doing what FIDLAR was doing, but with a Southern sensibility and Berlin’s sax. They write songs about drinking beer, a few of which they passed out. They also invited their wives to the stage with their infants – McCauley is married to pop-turned-rock singer Vanessa Carlton.