Every now and then, you get surprised. In life I find it rarely happens when you think it’s going to, but it never gets old. Especially when you’re surprised in a good way. This weekend I felt a similar surprise at visiting a town I swore I’d never be caught dead in. For a little bit of background, I’m a New Orleans Saints fan. And if you’re unaware, our bitter rivals are the Atlanta Falcons. I can’t think of anytime in the last twenty years that I haven’t hated the team, and dismissed the city. I’m not proud of it, but it happens.Even through all of the Falcons hate though, I’ve managed to separate my feelings and fall in love with many, many amazing musicians from not only the state of Georgia, but Atlanta itself.
So it was with great hesitation that I agreed to visit there for four days and take in what is without a doubt one of the better festival lineups this year. I mean honestly, it’s amazing, and over the course of three days I saw many amazing acts, a few lame one’s, and got to learn that after all the hate, Atlanta is actually a pretty cool town full of people who are interesting, buildings that are a sight to behold, and also beggars on the street who are way more persistent than anyone I’ve met in New Orleans.
Immediately as you enter the Central Park grounds, you find a spacious, yet well organized festival ground that is nothing if not easy to maneuver around. Stages are close enough to never miss more than a little bit of the action via walking, and there’s tons of shade and lay around area’s if you need a quick breather. You’d think most festivals would get this by know, but you'd be wrong. Even in it’s third year, Shaky Knees seems to have it down to a science, which is exceptional for everyone involved.
The first band of the Friday, Surfer Blood, started a near perfect series of on time acts that lasted all weekend. Only one band over the course of the weekend that I saw started late, but we’ll get to that in due time. Surfer Blood was good, but not great, and while they were able to hold the crowds attention, I feel like they should’ve grown a little more in the years since their standout debut “Astro Coast.”
A few bands on Friday were middle of the road unfortunately. Wavves proved that the fanbase is still there, but that was about it to be honest. “King of the Beach” killed, as it always does, but something was just alright about the set, to me at least. The other regret of the day, very sadly, was Death From Above 1979. I’ve loved this band for years, and this being my third time seeing them, I was excited, especially after the amazing show at Voodoo Fest last November. Today though, it was bad. And boy do I mean bad. When a band mentions they haven’t played a show in two months, you might assume they would have practiced since the last show, but there was zero evidence to support this claim. It was sloppy, and you could tell they simply didn’t care. Oh well, you can’t win them all. Let’s just hope they show up ready when the Deftones/ Incubus tour rolls around, because those acts won’t be phoning it in.
With every disappointment however, comes surprises. Two acts on Friday did in fact engage me in a way I wasn’t expecting. Those acts, England's Kaiser Chiefs and Mac DeMarco, both pulled in solid crowds that very full of energy and gave awesome responses back at the stage. Kaiser Chief’s especially. I had a few moments of “Oh it’s that band?!” during their set, and to say the least, I became a fan. Go see both of them if you have a chance, because while both are different shows, they’re both fun and engaging in ways more bands should be.
As the day drew closer to completion though, my main two acts of the day were about to take various stages of the festival. First up was Atlanta’s own Mastodon. For over a decade now they’ve been gradually building into a force within the metal world, and while this venue might be a little out of the ordinary, they proved themselves, even if the crowd was waiting mostly for the Strokes to play in a few hours. For an hour they pummeled the crowd with focused and precise playing, and riffs big enough to rock any veteran metal head. They just killed it, and on top of that, During the incredible, severely mind blowing Pixies set, I was fortunate enough to meet Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor, who was awesome enough to take a picture with me.
But the Pixies man… They proved while they still earn respect. For seventy-five minutes they assaulted the crowd with grimy, fast, garage rock, in only the way they can. A highlight of course was “Where is My Mind,” and while they didn’t play “Debaser” or “Gigantic,” it was still an amazing show worth any hardcore fans time.
Not to be outdone though, the Strokes sauntered onstage fifteen minutes late(as usual), and delivered a hearty set of favorites and rarely played songs. This was my first time seeing them, and honestly, it was pretty great. Most of the songs were solid, and while the band has a sort of “Careless Cool,” to the way they operate, it works for them. They clearly don’t care what anyone thinks, but you have to admire that, especially when they make solid rock n roll when others are trying to stay relevant.
Upon entering day two, a few bands were must sees, but it felt like more of a see how I feel type of day. Speedy Ortiz surprised me, and while they initially reminded me of a better Hole, I enjoyed the show. There wasn’t much time until Viet Cong’s set though, which i didn’t want to miss. For all the controversy their name has garnered, it really hadn’t even crossed my mind. I like to judge things based on merit, not on a name people aren’t thrilled about. Plus, it’s good marketing. Any press for an up and coming band is good press, and people are talking. The music though, is solid as hell, and well executed. I found the set a little bit brutal for a 1 P.M. show, but it was great nonetheless, and the crowd really seemed to dig it also.
Real Estate was next, and while they provided a gorgeous, laid back texture to fit with the beautiful day, I wanted to rock, which is why I sought out the homecoming show for locals The Black Lips. Seeing them before I knew what they were like, and despite the heat, they went off for an hour and left the crowd in a frenzy. But, the big dish of the day, at least for me, was my second encounter with the perfect and incomparable Neutral Milk Hotel. Its rare that a band can command an audience so easily,but their mere presence evokes delight. This is a band so good that a crowd is putty in their hands, and Saturday was no exception. With tears flowing during moments, I watched as the band played most everything you want from them, and the love and beauty was palpable in the air. It was magnificent, as it is every time. After that though, I checked out two well worth it acts, and while Social Distortion rattled off their brilliant self titled record and Wilco scored big with your typical Wilco festival set, after Neutral Milk Hotel, those acts were just icing on the cake, and the hotel pool was calling mine and my friends names.
Which brings us to Sunday. Those days are traditionally rough. After two days of non stop action and more than likely a fair amount of drinking, you need to take it slow. I walked up to The Damnwells thinking it was Matthew E. White, and unfortunately it wasn’t. The best way to describe the Damnwell’s is to say it reminded me of the new millennium's version of the Gin Blossoms. Just really bad and generic. I was even trying to figure out if one of the songs had the same melody as “Hey Jealousy.” Next though, were Mini Mansions from Los Angeles. I had been interested in them due to the Queens of the Stone Age affiliation(they share member Michael Shuman). I guess I was expecting something similar in style and tone, and while that wasn’t present, i did enjoy the synth pop vibrations and funky outfits.
By this point in the day though, I was able to get a taste of home with the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band. This jazz outfit has been a mainstay in Nola for decades, and they once again proved why. The crowd seemed to love it, and truly, it was one of the better sets of the weekend.
After deciding to roam around and see some parts of the grounds I had missed, I decided to head over and check out Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. While it was what you’d expect from a folky punk rock flavored band, the heat was becoming an issue, and water was the main order of the moment.
Towards the end of the weekend though, the crowd still lingering around for the last tastes of the music filled weekend were treated to some really great music. Hopefully everyone enjoyed it,
First off was Panda Bear, who brought the energy up during an unlikely and poorly scheduled daytime set in the only tent at the festival. He was just fantastic, and honestly, the only thing hindering it from being amazing was the fact that electronic shows are so much better during the time of the day when the stars are out. But, it was still great, and well worth everyone’s time. Following that, Ryan Adams and Ride both rocked it, albeit in different ways, and while I couldn’t tell you which I preferred, they were both great choices for this festival.
After all that though, it was time for the Sunday night headliner, Australia based Tame Impala. To say they’ve earned a prime spot at these types of festivals is an understatement. Over the course of two albums and with one being released in July, they’ve brought the psychedelic elements back into the mainstream in a big, big way. The show was everything you would want from this type of band, and after finally getting to see them, it was well worth the wait. New tracks played well among the crowd, while old thumpers like “Elephant” and “Feels Like We’re Only Go Backwards” got the energy up. It’s not too often that the last band of the weekend can hold the attention, but Tame Impala certainly can. I expect them to get even bigger once “Currents” hits us, but only time will tell.
Overall though, this festival was both a revelation and a privilege to attend. Seriously, you couldn’t really ask for better from a fest still in it’s infancy. If they can spruce up the grounds a little bit with some more grass, and add a little more non band merch to the area’s, there’s no reason this festival can’t become a destination festival for many. After all, it was for me. Thanks for reading guys,see you Friday.
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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