Shaky Knees Festival: The Strokes, FIDLAR, Viet Cong

This Mother’s Day Weekend I spent most of my time in some sort of crowd, watching some performance in heart of Downtown Atlanta. You see, Shaky Knees brought together a one-of-a-kind line-up in the green leafy expanse of Central Park (a park called Central, in Atlanta). Naturally, I did my best to go to ever show I could manage. Starting from my favorite, here are stand-out performances from Shaky Knees:

1. The greatly anticipated return of the Strokes.

It was surreal waiting behind the barricade, watching the tech crew set up guitars and the drum kit. It felt like something extracted from a dream I might of had when I was in high school. Most concert crowds have small gaps of space between bodies where a short person could slip through and improve stage-sight. Not this time: I was stuck in the same place and fought to keep my spot. Everything was tense in the crowd. At the very forefront were teenagers with beat up signs and Go-Pros; they were updating their twitter feeds with details about the crew and extended members of the band’s entourage. At that point I felt a little uncomfortable because I thought I knew all there was to know about these guys (I had seen the interviews, heard the B-sides). These girls started cooing at a guy who looked like a sound technician: “Gus! Look guys, it’s Gus!” Who the hell is Gus? I felt out of touch.

The waiting felt prolonged and everyone in the crowd looked anxious. When Julian and the guys finally stepped out the crowd went ballistic. I’m talking teenage girls clawing at each other, crowd surfers passing overhead, grown men singing at full lung capacity. With the chaos of the crowd all around me I couldn’t help but feel paralyzed. After years of waiting and wishing, I was finally seeing the Strokes.

Their performances was nothing short of amazing. Having five tremendously talented musicians in close proximity was overwhelming. I could barely dance, all I could do was nod along to lyrics that felt like muscle memory. I wasn’t sure what songs they played or hadn’t played. I was thrilled they played any songs at all.

Mid-set, Andy from Mac DeMarco’s band jumped on stage and gave Julian a quick hug. As he shuffled his way off stage Julian joked to him over the mic about wanting to say “hi” during their sound check. When Mac DeMarco came on stage, Julian gave him a proper introduction to the crowd – they must of planned something that night, the next day Mac DeMarco performed a song on stage with The Strokes at Big Guava Music Festival.

When it was all over I felt conflicted. One of the best performances I have ever seen felt like a reunion show. Something in me was slightly saddened by that; the golden age of intimate venues and opportunities was gone. Songs like “Automatic Stop” and “New York City Cops” are over ten years old. I was captivated by the sheer power of nostalgia and remain hopeful for a new album.

 

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The Strokes (zabaf.com)

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zabaf.com

 

2. Cheap beer and loud music: FIDLAR

The skate/punk/garage rock sound is taking over. While most of the genre falls into the the cliche smoke-weed-pizza-aliens-California brand, FIDLAR is a band making music from experience. Yes, there are plenty drug and California references but there’s a sincerity to it. It’s more about their experiences than living a certain lifestyle. Their honesty about their experiences give them integrity. Example: They “drink cheap beer,” and if that bothers anyone they don’t seem to care too much about it.

The thing about loud music is it’s not cool if the person(s) playing it aren’t feeling it. FIDLAR brought a contagious level of energy. Even during sound check they looked like they were fixing to tear it up.

A girl with a beer box over her head, a guy with a broken nose and blood all over his shirt – these are the people who go to their shows. The security take note of the crowd and anticipate a rough crowd and huddle to the front of the pit, creating a second barricade. The instance Zac Carper belted out the first song, the crowd broke into a frenzy. One after another, crowd surfers would be dropped into the arms of security and escorted out. The pit looked like a big fight: people throwing cigarettes and beer over the barricade.

Everyone was feeling it. The guys on stage were tearing it up and the crowd was returning the vibe by dancing like it’s nobody’s business.

This was one of my favorite shows of the festival. A fun and genuine performance has no comparison. It was cool to be at a show where the crowd and the musicians were requiting the verve.

Also, musicians who throw water bottles into dense sweltering crowds have a special place in my heart. They understand. 

 

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FIDLAR (zabaf.com)

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Zac Carper (zabaf.com)

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Max Kuehn (zabaf.com)

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FIDLAR crowd (zabaf.com)

3. Viet Cong, from Calgary

I had fallen in love with their self-titled album which came out earlier this year and was dead set on hearing it live. The haunting harping and the persistent drums had been background music in my life for the past few weeks. Just like FIDLAR, there was an unspoken reciprocity between the crowd and the band. The crowd was dancing, feeling it, gaze-locked on the four guys killing it on stage.

The intensity of their set got crazier and crazier. At one point, guitarist Scott Munro was throwing his guitar around and Mike Wallace was playing the drums like some sort of reckoning. If you watch their KEXP performance, from beginning to end you can see some progressive hostility. Mike Wallace takes off his shirt as if to liberate himself, Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen are thrashing in the small studio confines, veins are bulging in Matt’s temples.

Their performance was evocative and entirely memorable. I recommend everyone check out their new album and watch them live should the opportunity presents itself.

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Daniel Christiansen and Matt Flegel (zabaf.com)

These three shows were particularly memorable because of their irrepressible liveliness. I wasn’t really anticipating anything, it was as comfortable and intimate as jamming out in my room or my car. There’s something powerful about those live-music moments; time loosens its grip, worries fade, you can act like no one is watching. That kind of lost is brief and fleeting, there are only a few things in this world that bring that.

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knows a little about a lot, writes about art and music. stares at the light for too long to capture the right photo.

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