Sometime during my sophomore year of college, I learned that there is something magical about the festival experience. Strangers from diverse backgrounds travelling long distances to be unified with other strangers for a couple of days of fun, overpriced beer (9$ for a Heineken?), and a great appreciation for music. But the festival experience is hard to come by these days without trust fund baby money– Lollapalooza and the like charging an obscene amount of money for tickets. Don’t get me started on Coachella. I remember back in 2009 driving to the middle-of-nowhere California (Indio) and buying tickets for a reasonable price at the gate
, enjoying the likes of The Black Keys, Morrissey, Crystal Castles, M.I.A. (after Amy Winehouse pulled an Amy Winehouse and didn’t show, RIP) and fucking Paul McCartney. Now Coachella is divided into two weeks, costs a fortune, and the tickets sell-out faster than it takes to announce the lineup.
Such is life. There are rules to life you just have to accept I guess. If Chris Brown and I are ever in the same vicinity, he will not only steal my girl but take her to the hotel, a point he seems to stress repeatedly every time I turn on the radio. Similarly, if you think the infamous “cyber dress” is blue and black, you require severe medication. But as Julian Casablancas sings in “Someday,” tables they turn sometimes, so when I learned about Shaky Knees in Atlanta, boasting an exclusively alt-rock lineup of The Strokes, Wavves, The Pixies, Neutral Milk Hotel, Best Coast etc. for only $200, I was sold. Tickets for Shaky Boots, the Country Music version, were also on sale. I wondered if there was a Hip-Hop version called Shaky Asses. Whatever, on to Atlanta I traveled.
I’m sure there are much more thoughtful, carefully worded articles about the upsurge in “festival fashion,” but I must add my own thoughts to the canon. Rare was the time I saw a girl not wearing some concoction of fringe, crochet, or shoulder-less top. I know all the Urban Outfitters and H&M stores were completely raided before the festival. I wonder if these women dress like hippies on a normal basis, or has the female festival costume ballooned into some amalgam of hippie sensibilities and a Stevie Nicks’ style inspired get-up? I elected for a more subdued look myself– fluorescent tank tops, purple-tinted shades, long socks with bright hues, and a pair of red, green, and yellow Bob Marley-inspired Nike SB Dunks. No need to be attention-seeking.
Never stepping foot in Atlanta outside of the Hartsfield-Jackson airport, I never spent much time pondering the term “Hotlanta.” They call it that because Atlanta is hot as hell
, and I can’t stress that enough. I spent the most time on the festival grounds during Day 1, and in addition to all the overpriced beer, I can’t tell you how many pop-sickles and water I consumed to beat the heat.
Before the festival I had a list of bands that I wanted to see after carefully analyzing the schedule. Anyone familiar with festivals understands that the schedule is oftentimes the root of much dilemma, with great artists being scheduled at the same time. Fans of Wavves probably want to see The Kooks, just like fans of Neutral Milk Hotel want to see Interpol. Clearly, some of the scheduling for Shaky Knees caused me much vexation and confusion, like why a band like Surfer Blood was scheduled at noon. The noon artists are supposed to be the up-and-comers that nobody cares about yet, like The Gnarly Gnats or The Marbly Mables or DJ Who Gives A Shit (who just mixes different pop songs for half an hour). Fresh off their third critcally-acclaimed album, I feel that the band has outlasted the flash-in-the-pan phase and deserve much better treatment. Worse yet, the set was only thirty minutes long. Sadly, as much as I love “Floating Vibes” and “Weird Shapes,” I missed the entire set.
Luckily, as I was entering the festival, I caught the tail end of Tennis’ set and got the chance to hear them perform “Marathon.” After an eight hour drive to Atlanta, working my way through the frenzied festival attendees and trying to hail an Uber in East Atlanta when seemingly half the world is doing the same, the lyrics of Tennis’ magnum opus were prophetic.
The first full set I saw was Wavves, and it was awesome. I usually get pissed when artists play too much new material (more on that later) but the new Wavves tracks sound fantastic, and I imagine his next album will be the same. This being my first time seeing him in concert, I would’ve liked to hear him play some of the oldies, like “No Hope Kids” or “So Bored,” but he did play a lot of material from Demon To Lean On
and King Of The Beach
, the latter being my favorite album from him. There were no meltdowns or angry barks at the crowd, but a guy in the audience randomly started vomiting for what seemed like an hour, wiped his mouth, and continued to mosh (I spotted said guy numerous times in venues outside of the festival, which was eerie). Aside from the vomit, Wavves put on a great high-energy performance, and it was beautiful hearing the entire audience sing “Demon To Lean On.”
After Wavves, a burning desire for “Festival Food” bit my flesh, and I missed Mac Demarco to stand in the food-truck line, eventually eating a meal that I definitely could have gone without. I wanted to make sure I was properly fueled for TV On The Radio. Even though they are world renowned, I still feel like Tunde and the fellas don’t get enough props– these guys are fucking good.
They take their time with each release and artistically expand every time.
If you haven’t downloaded their late 2014 album, Seeds,
head to Spotify or iTunes or Tidal or some illegal streaming site immediately. You could even go to a record store and pick up a physical copy, if those things still exist because it’s that good. The band played a diverse set, mixing everything from their Dear Science
to newly released material. Tunde was clearly feeling good, dancing around the stage as the guys burned through their immaculate (yes, immaculate) catalog.
In attendance with my girl, she really wanted to see James Blake. Like all women on the universe, she loves James Blake. I also like him, but The Pixies were scheduled at the same time. My girl doesn’t share to same love for The Pixies as she does for Blake’s boyish good looks and silky baritone, but I tried a multitude of different approaches attempting to relay why The Pixies really mattered culturally speaking, like the story of how Apple was foolish enough to use “Gigantic” (a song, to put it bluntly, about a big black penis) for an iPhone ad. Two years her senior, I felt like Paul Rudd in This Is 40
when he is rocking out to “Debaser” and his family is visibly annoyed, preferring to hear younger acts. Somehow a thin logic of “Blake is young, we will have many chances to see him. The Pixies are old and will die soon” eventually won out. After a few Blake songs and much frowning on her part, we headed to see The Pixies.
How do I put this? The Pixies were not very good. Black Francis sounded excellent performing classics like “Monkey Gone To Heaven,” “Here Comes Your Man,” and “Where Is My Mind,” but for starters they played too much new material. I would’ve liked to hear a lot more Doolittle
and a lot less Indie Cindy
if you know what I mean. Also, Kim Shattuck is no Kim Deal, and the latter’s presence is sorely missed in the band. I know The Pixies have long crafted songs that pay little attention to traditional song structure, but at times she sounded woefully out of tune. The worse is that I never heard the band play “Hey,” my favorite Pixies’ song. But I wonder how it would’ve sounded without Deal’s unique, squeaky backing vocals.
The Strokes were the last act to perform, and the glee was infectious. As a millennial, I remember being in middle school when Is This It
came out and everyone had it. Nostalgia reigning supreme, I accidentally planted my size 13 Nike’s on some poor girl’s leg that was sitting down with another girl minutes before the show was set to begin. Our conversation went as follows:
Oh shit, that hurt!
Sorry. But why are you guys sitting down for The Strokes?
The concert hasn’t started yet, has it?
Only a moment later, we had a friendly gathering, centered on the sharing of spirits. The Strokes soon came on and wasted no time, launching into “Someday” two songs in. Feeling good for about twenty minutes, the combination of heat, alcohol, the aforementioned substances, and Julian Casablanca’s massive sense of self-importance all hit me at once. Luckily my girl played the hero, guiding me as I sweated profusely through literally an endless collection of bodies (I know that in actuality this can’t be a literal sentence by definition, but trust me, it was an endless collection of bodies). We finally made it to a grassy area, where I enjoyed the songs of my childhood while swaying to the music in an off-beat fashion. Sweaty, inebriated, and covered in grass stains, I briefly thought about how far I’d matured in the fourteen years since the release of Is This It
I write about Hip-Hop for a living, and usually it is my preferred weapon of choice. But as one ages, you begin to question if what you’re hearing from Top 40 emcees is really the truth. Does Rich Homie Quan do nothing but pop Molly, fuck bitches, and count money? What are his opinions on ISIS? Did he happen to catch the Bruce Jenner interview? Does he think the dress is blue and black, because it’s not.
The repetitive narrative in commercial Hip-Hop gets old, which is why the dreamy riffs of Real Estate are a relaxing musical departure for a person like me. Real Estate, despite their critical acclaim, got early Surfer Blood-like treatment for the Shaky Knees festival, and I had the intention to see them. But while dining at Highland Bakery with my girl, coupled with long wait times due to a plethora of hipsters all pining for orange juice and eggs, none other than Killer Mike sat down to the table next to us with his family. I’m usually unswayed by groupie sentiment, but Mike is a rare breed. I tried my damnedest to get my fangirl composure in check, but eventually I found myself blabbing with one of the greatest rappers of our generation. I may have been talking backwards, but it was worth it.
Although Real Estate didn’t happen, I managed to make it in time for Neutral Milk Hotel. The story of Neutral Milk Hotel has always fascinated me. After spearheading a sonically gorgeous album with 1998’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea,
the content of which has inspired legions of bad imitators, Jeff Magnum pulled a Lauryn Hill and stopped recording. Luckily, the band is touring again, and during their set at Shaky Knees they mostly performed In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
content, allowing a bunch of inebriated people to cheerfully sing “Holland, 1945” and “The King Of Carrot Flowers Pts. 1-3.” I. LOVE. YOU. JE.SUS.CHRIIIIIIIIIIIST.
On Day 2 I got a little too drunk on alcohol and Neutral Milk for my own good, so I missed the entire Milky Chance show to take a nap by a tree. You read that right. To be honest, I’d be lying if I said that I had even heard of Milky Chance before the lineup was announced. Sometimes I feel like James Murphy on LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge,” where he sing-talks about being unable to keep up with the times. Everyone told me that I missed out on a great performance, and on the eight hour drive back home, I became more acquainted with their music. Liking what I heard, I understood that I had missed my chance, and sad but necessary thoughts ensued. So much music to be heard, so many shameless bad puns to be written, and so many $9 Heinekens.
When one becomes a music writer, there are certain Illuminati-like rituals that must be performed. First, you have to memorize every chord and lyric from Radiohead’s OK Computer
, always choose Pavement over Weezer in any debate, and looove
Wilco. I like
Wilco, but I was perfectly content sitting in shade just close enough to hear them perform instead of being front and center like many a die-hard Wilco fan in attendance at Shaky Knees.
After Wilco, Day 2 was over. A lot of people rushed to see The Avett Brothers, a band I have still never really listened to. My girlfriend had listened to them, so I asked her a simple question:
They seem kinda “Mumfordy,” am I right?
Yes, that’s the perfect word.
Big deal breaker. Of course, one should experience things for themselves to make up their own opinions, but the risk of hearing one song that reminded me of the sick and twisted world Mumford & Sons inhabit was much too great. PS) I know my recounting of experiences this day is kind of weak, but I don’t have much else. So… here is the “Anaconda” video.
On the last day of the festival, I had one main agenda in mind. To see Best Coast. I wasn’t sure this was going to happen after a way-too-talkative Uber driver had an extremely difficult time using a combination of Google Maps and their lifelong, 30+ residence in the city to find the concert venue. Back in 2010, after I moved from California, I became a big fan of Bethany Consentino and Bobb Bruno. I feel strongly that Crazy For You
is a modern day classic built on lo fi, punk sensibilities that sound exactly like California (which is weird to say). Their follow-up, The Only Place
, was completely different, re-purposing Bethany as some modern Fionna Apple type (this isn’t the right description at all, but when I think of stripped down singer-songwriters, I automatically think of Fiona for some reason. A better comparison would be Neko Case). However, their Fade Away
EP was a return to form and the newly released, full-length California Nights
is amazing. Some might even say heaven sent.
Despite it being one of their oldies, I was surprised that the band did not play “Sun Was High,” it being the perfect compliment to hot-as-fuck weather. But I imagine it must get pretty sickening playing the same songs over and over even if they are crowd pleasers. But the band performed a varied set, featuring everything from their new LP to Crazy For You
. Bethany was cheerful, and so was Bobb, it apparently being his birthday. This being my second time seeing them in concert, I’ve noticed a considerable transformation in Bethany’s disposition. She is much more confident, and not (not Hotlanta hot). As far as celebrity crushes go, I’d much rather pick Bethany over Rihanna. I know that makes me strange to some folk, but I don’t care what you think.
(It’s fucking hot in Atlanta. Did I say that already?)
Speaking of female rockers, ZZ Ward was also feeling the crowd, strutting along the stage as every male (and female) in attendance gawked. There were a slew of artists I wanted to see, but due to scheduling conflicts, I saw a little of Spiritualized, Dr. Dog, Trombone Shorty, and Panda Bear. Noel Gallagher is unquestionably talented, but he is also unquestionably one of the artists I most despise. Usually I can separate the unfavorable personality from the music, and if we were talking about Oasis, this would be the case. But I guess what I’m trying to say is I could give a high flying fuck about Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.
I decided to take it easy on both my body and mind, so I didn’t get too inebriated on the final day of the festival. There isn’t much that I feel I need, and ZZ Ward and Bethany were intoxicating enough.
I don’t have much interest in Ryan Adams, and that’s just being honest. I saved up my energy (and spirits) for Tame Impala, a band kick-ass on their own merits but undoubtedly sound better in a different state of mind (especially when one begins to think that Kevin Parker listened to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” approximately 3 billion times then tried his best to sound like John Lennon. The band performed fan faves like “Elephant,” but mostly stayed true to music from their fresh, critically acclaimed Currents
album. The music was good, and I was content, yet I was tired.
I recommend that everyone take a break from their busy lives and attend at least one multi-day festival a year. Not only can you dress like a fool, but you can act like one too, all the while hearing your favorite bands perform the classics that you love as well as new material the masses have yet to hear. Also, while watching the artists, don’t spend most of your time using your smartphone to videotape the performance rather than just watching it. If you noticed, the songs that appear in this article are the result of me going to Youtube.com to get the polished versions. Yes, you may get a shaky (no pun intended) shot of Minus The Bear, complete with such thick crowd noise the music is completely stifled, but I personally think it’s better to just live in the moment. In short, most of those videos usually suck.