On my whiteboard at home I keep a highly prioritized list of top five bands I have yet to see. AC/DC and Van Halen have been at the top for me for awhile, which is evident with the faded marker ink. Sadly, I had to scratch off Motorhead at the #1 spot when Lemmy passed two Christmases ago. Also on my top five were Cage the Elephant and LCD Soundsystem. So, it was a pleasant surprise a couple months ago to see that they were playing back to back the first night of Shaky Knees.
Shaky Knees is an interesting gig. Like Lollapalooza in Chicago, the festival is held at a large park in downtown Atlanta with the skyline circling the stages providing that cozy feeling of being inside one of those other world, magical snow bubbles. For 10 hours, that definitely was the case, and it got shook hard.
The best part of Shaky Knees is it’s less than a two minute walk from any of the three stages and the longest line all day for a beer was under five minutes (usually zero). The layout reminded me of a pocket-sized Bonnaroo minus the melting Tennessee heat. Perfecto. Due to the tamer temperatures and easy location, there was an even mix of older and younger fans which made getting close to the stages pretty easy. I didn’t have to reside to my go-to shtick of pushing through the crowd two beers in hand yelling ahead to my pretend sister, “Sarah!!!”.
At my desk the Monday prior to the festival, a quick search on the web showed single day tickets were still available for $99 and hotels directly across the street from Centennial Park were $102. JACKPOT! I notified work I needed a vacation day on Friday and I hit the road rooster early for my 4.5 hour drive to ATL.
As I walked into the venue SPF 15’d head to toe perusing the Friday lineup slots, little did I know two relatively unknown bands (to me) were about to take me back to my fist pumping, mosh pitting 20s. Here’s a quick snapshot of the bands I ping pong’d back and forth to and then I’ll deep dive into my favorites:
1:30PM – The London Souls – Rocking two-man band with heavy 70s-esque rock/blues guitar riffs
2:15PM – Temples – Sound like the Animals, channeling that catchy, 60s pop vibe.
2:45PM – Rainbow Kitten Surprise – Indie pop meets folk rock.
5:30PM – Highly Suspect – 3-man band that sounds like Queens of the Stone Age and Kings of Leon had a love child….with the live performance antics to match.
6:30PM – Portugal. The Man – Rock meets Indie Pop. Perform with a vibe similar to the Arctic Monkeys, which is a high compliment.
7:00PM – FIDLAR – My favorite show of the day. Nirvana meets Blink-182.
8:00PM – Cage the Elephant – As polished as it gets. All hits and incredible stage presence.
9:30PM – LCD Soundsystem – Best live dance music in the business. 7+ co-ed band members led by James Murphy with surely the world’s largest disco ball as the stage focal point.
We’ll work our way down from the headliners.
LCD is truly one of a kind – especially in today’s EDM world of fake DJ’ing. I only started getting into their music two years ago when the fist pumping anthem of Dance Yrself Clean randomly came through my Spotify. That led me to their channel with more mega hits like Daft Punk is Playing at My House, North American Scum, and I Can Change. While generally electronica is not my cup of tea, when the act has real vocals and a real band playing behind it, you’ve got something that is really powerful. The stage looked like a 1950s Frankenstein set with multiple large electronic boards with exposed wires and infinite knobs. Stir all this together with a mega disco ball and you have an epic show both visually and audibly from this Brooklyn, NY band. Did I mention there were eight people on stage playing one instrument or the other?
CAGE THE ELEPHANT
If you ever get the chance to see Cage, the rock band hailing from Bowling Green, Kentucky, that is anything but caged, it’s imperative you do. Lead singer, Matt Shultz, reminds me of a 23 year old Mick Jagger that just shotgunned three Red Bulls and snorted two lines of coke. From the second he took the stage to their banger, Mess Around, to their closing song, Teeth, the entire set he was dancing, running, and absolutely ensuring the crowd was upside down with his signature white shoes. During Cold Cold Cold, I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t remember the last show I’ve been to where I literally can’t hear the lead singer because the crowd is so loud.”
At one point during the show Shultz ran down to the ground level and jumped on the security guard’s back from behind and continued to sing while the bouncer managed the crowd in front of him still piggy backing the rocker. Matt’s brother and lead guitarist, Brett, not to be outdone, was in the jam-packed mob crowd-surfing on his back with his guitar. Matt then came back with a barefoot vertical crowd surf.
With so few bands playing on Friday, I was able to Spotify them all at length the week leading up to the festival. What came through for FIDLAR was beyond impressive. Lots of screaming, catchy guitar riffs, and lyrics about cheap beer, drugs, vomiting, and being fun – lyrics that come naturally when you’re a bunch of skaters from Los Angeles. Influenced by Blink-182 and Offspring, their live performance to me had much more of a Nirvana vibe. And by that I mean heavy guitars and yelling, but in a really clean noise. From the millisecond they started their set, beers were consistently being thrown and sprayed in the air and mosh pits galore. Their music videos consistently pay homage to the Beastie Boys and surely Mike D would have tipped his mesh hat to this performance – high energy start to finish with a Weezer cover in the middle (Sweater Song). A funny moment came in between songs when lead singer, Zac Carper, acknowledged the co-ed mosh pits and tried to orchestrate an all-female one: “No dicks on the dance floor!!”
I recall thinking during the show “FIDLAR…is that the worst band name ever?” Then I remembered my age and to check trustworthy urbandictionary.com to realize indeed I was off. The L.A. band named themselves after a common, Cali-slang acronym: Fuck It Dog Life’s A Risk.
This Brooklyn, NY, trio’s Spotify bio sums them up pretty well, “A muscular, hard-hitting power trio in the vein of Queens of the Stone Age, Kings of Leon, Band of Skulls, and Royal Blood, the group issued a three-song EP (The Worst Humans) before heading into the studio with producer Joel Hamilton (Black Keys, Elvis Costello) to record their debut long-player.”
Their songs, like all the great rock bands, have riffs that from first listen have you rolling down the car windows and screaming at the top of your lungs. Their live act matches that intensity with all three members banging their instruments like it’s the last show of their lives. I’ve always wanted to see Glass Animals, which I have the chance to at Lollapalooza this August, but Highly Suspect shares the same time slot. I will be returning to see Highly Suspect where the energy level (insert English accent) “goes to 11.”
THE LONDON SOULS
I’ve been a major fan of this band since streaming their incredible Bonnaroo set last year. Their previous album, Here Come the Girls, is one of the rare albums these days that has legit, banger songs start to end. Their live performance is nothing short of how their bio defines them: “The band’s celebrated sound and spirit draws significant influence from the driving force of British rock pioneers Cream and Led Zeppelin to billowing and bouncing funk and soul, to the layered harmonies and memorable hooks of The Beatles and The Hollies, to the contemporary psychedelia of My Morning Jacket among many more.”
The featured image and LCD Soundsytem image were borrowed with love from @shakykneesfest’s Instagram.