2018 marks the 6th Annual Shaky Knees Festival here in Atlanta, GA, and after moving the festival around to a few different locations in town, this year marks its return to the Midtown neighborhood and the Central Park location, where it was held in 2015. Unlike the Centennial Park location where it was held the last 2 years, Central Park is nestled into the neighborhood and has a ton of trees and open spaces when you want to grab a bite to eat or get out of the sun for little while.
This year’s music lineup is as strong as ever and you need look no further than Friday, the first day of the festival to see what a diverse and talented lineup festival creator and visionary, Tim Sweetwood has curated.
Songs for Kids
As has been customary at previous years festivals the day kicks off with Songs for Kids, an organization lead by Josh Rifkind, Sanjay Kothari and Justin Kerenyi, dedicated to bringing music to kids battling serious illnesses and giving them the opportunity to be creative and express themselves through music. All 3 days of the festival will feature them on the Peachtree stage shortly after the gates open. It was amazing to hear them kick off the festival with the Replacements’ song, “Bastards of Young” and the Velvet Underground’s song, “Sweet Jane.”
If you’ve seen Jack White live before tonight you’ve probably seen Lillie Mae playing violin as part of his backing band. Well, she’s got a new self-titled record out on Third Man Records and she played a great selection of songs off that record to get those folks moving and grooving in the mid-day sun. It’s modern country in the best possible sense, authentic production, killer tunes and Lillie has a fantastic voice.
We might have a thing for *repeat repeat. Not only is their latest record Floral Canyon stuck in our CD player, er… streaming service, but they put on a killer live show today despite having left Nashville at 3am to make the drive down to Atlanta. “Thanks for coming out early to see us, it’s early, sort of. We left Nashville at 3am so it’s pretty damn late to us.” Before they played their hit song “Girlfriend,” singer, Jared Corder said, “this is a song you can hear on the Internet…. let’s give it up for the Internet everyone” Applause all around. To close out their set they played a killer cover of Rage Against the Machine’s, “Sleep Now in the Fire” and then gave the entire front of the crowd hi-fives.
The War & Treaty
As *repeat repeat wound down just across the way The War & Treaty fired up in a big way. They had a huge soulful sound and the crowd was ready to party. Their song, “All I Wanna Do” went over big with the crowd.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
One of the bands on our “must see” list this year was Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever from Melbourne, Australia and they did not disappoint. Right from the first tune they had the crowd’s attention with catchy tunes, some killer guitar interplay and interactive vocals switching back and forth between 3 singers. Of all the songs they played a few really stuck out, “An Air Conditioned Man,” “Wither With You,” and “Sick Bug.”
At 2pm over on the Criminal Records stage, from Los Angeles, CA, an all-girl three piece, LA Witch laid down some spacy-desert-heroin rock that had a loyal crowd grooving to their entire set. Heavy on mood, atmosphere and vibe, at times they reminded us of a spacier version of the Black Angels.
After LA Witch, just across the parking lot, The Frights delivered an abrupt 180. Their music is punk-pop-esque, but it leans a little heavier on the garage-rock than most and with all the gang vocals and a killer rhythm section, The Frights had the first mosh pit of the festival going from almost the first note.
It’s been a few years since Ezra Furman last played in Atlanta at the EARL and in that time he’s grown by leaps and bounds both artistically and personally. Ezra, decked out in an amazing red floral dress and tights with floral boots, and his band, dressed all in white played a passional set that included unstoppable performances of “Haunted Head,” and “I lost My Innocence” among others. Definitely a highlight of the festival.
Jimmy Eat World
90s nostalgia is back in full swing with bands like Jimmy Eat World getting back together to rock out some of their older tunes, and Jimmy Eat World did just that. They played a ton of songs off of Bleed American but they played some killer new tunes too and probably turned in the tightest set all day. The band sounded incredible ripping through songs like “Sweetness” and when the guitar solo in “In the Middle” happened, 10,000 people all played the air guitar solo on cue.
Courtney Barnett was definitely one of the most hyped bands of the festival today and she didn’t disappoint. Kicking off her set with “City Looks Pretty,” Courtney and her band ripped it up, playing stellar versions of “Sleepless in New York,” “Pedestrian at Best,” “History Eraser,” “Depreston” and “No One Really Cares if you Don’t go to the Party.”
Franz Ferdinand was a party from start to finish, early 2000’s redux with all the hits. They started off with a great new tune, “Always Ascending” and had the field dancing all set, peaking with “Take Me Out” off their debut record.
The Black Angels
While it doesn’t feel right to see the Black Angels with the sun still hanging in the sky, the band had a large devoted fanbase that braved the light to see a killer set of Austin psych-rock from one of the best bands out there. The rear-screen projector may have struggled a little to push through the sun but the crowd loved every note.
David Byrne is a legend and the fact that he only played for an hour seemed like a shame, but what a glorious hour it was. The set began with David seated in a chair holding a human brain while choreographed dancers and musicians emerged from a stage bordered with a chain curtain. The band, dressed all in gray roamed the stage the entire set, coming a going through the curtin, interacting with each other and with Byrne. In addition to some classic solo material, Byrne also pulled out “Slippery People,” “Home,” Once in a Lifetime,” and “Blind” by the Talking Heads. Byrne’s sent ended with a powerful version of Janelle Monae’s protest song,”Hell You Talmbount,” where he inserted the names of victims of police violence.
Wapping up the first night of Shaky Knees, Jack White played an eclectic mix of solo material and tunes from the White Stripes. Leaning into “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” strings came flying off the guitar. Other highlights included, “Why Walk a Dog?” “Hotel Yorba,” “Steady as she Goes” and “Love Interruption” which featured Lille Mae, who performed a wonderful set earlier in the day.
Review by John McNicholas – Photos by Hillery Terenzi (Lillie Mae by John McNicholas)