Shaky Knees Fest guide: 10 artists to see (and the rest of the schedule)
Atlanta festival Shaky Knees returns for this third consecutive year this weekend (5/13-15), and this is arguably its best lineup yet. It’s got so much good stuff that the schedule inevitably has some pretty tough conflicts. On Friday, what’s someone who just saw Beach Slang and Craig Finn to do when they have to pick between Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon vs The Front Bottoms vs Delta Spirit frontman Matthew Logan Vasquez? (At least the next day, there aren’t any conflicts during the sorta Craig Finn-approved Huey Lewis & the News set.) Later on Friday, how do you pick between Jane’s Addiction‘s headlining set and The 1975‘s? Actually that’s easy. Just pick the cheesy band with the shirtless singer in leather pants. Oh wait…
Saturday is a lot more conflict-free, and it’s especially great for folk rock fans. You get to see Strand of Oaks into Hop Along, take a quick lunch break, then see Shakey Graves into Deer Tick into Phosphorescent, into that Huey Lewis set, into The Decemberists into My Morning Jacket‘s headlining set. Luckily for all people of good music taste, MMJ’s set only overlaps with Walk The Moon.
Sunday has a tough conflict in the headlining slot once again: Florence + the Machine vs At the Drive-In. Both very different, but both very talented artists and great acts to see while you’re at a festival — especially if you’re coming from somewhere like NYC where ATDI’s reunion show sold out a long time ago and your only way to see Florence is in an arena. Earlier that day, if you’re looking to check out some buzzy indie rock bands, it’s a tough choice between Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Parquet Courts and Diet Cig.
For these reasons and more, we’ve picked 10 bands we think you should see at Shaky Knees this weekend. Don’t get us wrong, that run of folk rock on day 2 is a bill we’d show up for any day of the week, Ritual de lo Habitual (the album Jane’s Addiction is playing) holds a special place in our hearts, and we’re always up for spending the day being lifted up and zoning out with bands like Explosions in the Sky and The Black Angels (who unfortunately overlap with fellow zone-out inducers Nothing). But we decided to keep this list at just 10 artists who are especially exciting to us at this very second, and so here is that list (in alphabetical order):
Against Me! quickly became a favorite in the punk (and folk punk) world with their still-great early 2000s records like Reinventing Axl Rose and As the Eternal Cowboy. More recently though, singer Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender and the band subsequently released Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which was easily their best since the early days if not just their best album yet. It has them sounding reinvigorated as a driving punk band, belting out huge anthemic choruses, and writing the most powerful and honest lyrics of their career. Their live shows have been great too (they’ve had a new lineup since the release of that album), and there’s no doubt in our minds that the Shaky Knees set will rip.
At the Drive-In
While they’re sadly without guitarist/backup singer Jim Ward, it’s still a massive treat that influential post-hardcore heroes At the Drive-In are back in action once again. Those late ’90s / early ’00s records seriously live up, and they’re not surprisingly more popular than ever. Given that plenty of us never got to see them the first time around, it’s an even bigger treat to hear these songs live. (And if you have seen them, why not take the chance to do it again?) As pointed out in the intro, ATDI dates are still rare and a bunch are sold out, so being able to see them at a festival is a tough chance to pass up.
There’s not too much metal on this festival, so Baroness are pretty unmissable if you’re looking for heavy bands. But even if you aren’t, this is a tough set to pass up. Baroness are increasingly a straight-up rock band anyway, one that often appeals to metalheads and non-metalheads alike. Their choruses are memorable, their twin guitar leads out of this world, and they’ve got one of the craziest rhythm sections you’ll see on this fest. Their most recent album, Purple, came out this past December, and it’s their fourth of four very different and very good records. It’s not as heavy as their first two albums, not as experimental as their double album Yellow & Green, but often a good middle ground between all of their sounds.
With their brief breakup scare thankfully behind them, Beach Slang have continued on tour and they’ll bring their cathartic live show to Shaky Knees this weekend. Their sound is part Replacements, part Jawbreaker (and they often cover both of those bands), but they have too much spirit to worry about who they sound like. Singer James Alex sings about living every night like it’s your last, loving rock and roll, getting drunk… but there’s an underlying sadness too. Their debut album is called The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, and if you’re one of the people that feels like them, you’ll be screaming your heart out with your fist in the air the whole show.
As I’ve said before, you can probably count on one hand how many good bands came out of nu metal, and Deftones are arguably the only one still making interesting music in 2016. Their new album Gore is a creative high point, pulling from their metal roots but also from shoegaze, post-rock, post-hardcore, art rock and plenty of other sounds that the Limp Bizkits of the world never tried to mess with. Talking about them in the context of nu metal isn’t even that fair though. After two decades as a band, it’s very clear that Deftones are one of our generation’s truly individualistic rock bands.
Foxing quickly established themselves as one of the leaders of this whole “emo revival” thing with their 2013 debut album The Albatross, but it’s last year’s Dealer where they prove they’re too forward-thinking to be “reviving” anything. Sure it’s kinda emo, but it’s also part chamber pop, part downtempo electronica, part post-rock, and more. Singer/trumpeter Conor Murphy has a hell of a voice, and he’s the kind of frontman who’s often leaning over a group of passionate fans who can’t wait to sing his words back at him. In fact, everyone in this band is a great performer. As good as Dealer is (and seriously, it’s really good), this is a band who consistently prove to be better live than in studio.
The Front Bottoms
The Front Bottoms are actually kind of hard to pigeonhole, but very easy to enjoy. They pull pretty equally from folk rock and pop punk without ever really sounding like either of those things (and they aren’t folk punk either), but you won’t be thinking about what genre to call them while you’re watching their show. The joy (and sometimes the sadness) is all in singer Brian Sella’s delivery. He’s also dishing out super-specific lyrics that favor honesty over metaphor, and applying them to undeniably catchy melodies. TFB’s shows are always massive singalongs, and it’s easy to see why. Just a few listens to their records and you won’t be able to get them out of your head.
While I mentioned Hop Along as one of many folk rock bands worth seeing on Saturday, that’s kind of doing them a disservice. There’s been a folk element to Hop Along since day one, but they’re equally a ’90s-style indie rock and punk band, and it’s Frances Quinlan’s wild voice that really pushes them over the top. She can go from a whisper to a raspy yell and back without missing a beat. She sounds untamed, but never sloppy. And it’s no surprise that — like their more famous labelmates — the Saddle Creek band’s lyrics connect with people. Frances is the star of the show for sure, but everyone in Hop Along brings something to the table. Their rhythm section is a powerhouse, particularly drummer Mark Quinlan (Frances’ brother) who rocks out as much as the other three members combined, and they’re gifted with some serious ’70s-style soloing from guitarist/producer Joe Reinhart.
One of the fastest-rising success stories in indie rock lately has been Memphis singer/songwiter Julien Baker. She plays with nothing more than her clean electric guitar and voice, but went from opening small shows to headlining fairly large ones in under a year since her debut album came out, simply on the strength of her songs. Her shows demand silence from the audience, and I still haven’t seen one where they don’t give it to her. Unless people are singing along, they’re usually just standing there in awe of what they’re seeing.
Shoegaze is probably more popular now than it was when it started in the late ’80s / early ’90s, and there are definitely more new bands doing it than ever. (Some, like Nothing, are on this very fest.) But there still isn’t anything like the top-tier OG bands, and it’s pretty amazing how many of those are active bands right now. One of the very best, Slowdive, will put on one of their sure-to-be-mesmerizing sets at Shaky Knees. If you dig shoegaze (or dream pop) at all, it’s hard to justify missing this.