Shaky Knees Day One Recap: Wolf Parade, LCD Soundsystem, Cage the Elephant and More

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Shaky Knees Day One Recap: Wolf Parade, LCD Soundsystem, Cage the Elephant and More

Atlanta hosts its fifth Shaky Knees Musical Festival this weekend at Centennial Park and, bluntly, it’s been pretty damn great. Unlike its Coachella and Lollapalooza peers, SK worships solely at the altar of strings and beards—2017’s lineup offers a svelte buffet of indie rock, folk and light Americana. Friday kicked off with an electric schedule that included Wolf Parade, LCD Soundsystem, Car Seat Headrest, Pixies and many more. Even the threat of lightning sightings didn’t keep Paste’s own Annie Black, Scott Russell and Jim Vorel from rampant stage hopping. Check out their favorite performances below and Annie’s photos in the gallery above. Check back for more coverage of Shaky Knees.

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Rainbow Kitten Surprise
Remember the golden age of Kings of Leon? Those hard-charging, scrappy, pre-“Sex On Fire” days? So does Rainbow Kitten Surprise, and the Boone, N.C., folk-rock fivesome are bringing that long-lost band back to life, earning every bit of their steadily swelling buzz in the process. But where old-school KoL went garage-rock ragged, RKS opt instead for singalong-friendly, almost Mumford & Sons-esque anthems that connected squarely with the band’s early-afternoon Piedmont stage audience. Lead singer Sam Melo, who must have been cursing his bushy beard and black shirt in the sneaky-high heat, truly excels as a showman, selling every song with his undeniable stage presence and full-throated vocals. RKS reached into their still-burgeoning catalog to whip out crowd-pleasers like “Lady Lie,” off their 2015 RKS, and “Devil Like Me,” off their 2013 debut Seven + Mary. But it was the new tune they offered up, “Free Fall,” from a third album that remains unannounced, that was the most exciting. Rainbow Kitten Surprise won’t be able to surprise anybody much longer. Scott Russell

Margaret Glaspy
Margaret Glaspy looks a little unassuming upon first glance, but the indie-folk exterior belies a young woman with fire and soul in her belly. Her Shaky Knees set felt grittier and more raw than the work on her 2016 breakthrough LP Emotions and Math, full of minor keys and swirls of dark fantasy. Glaspy’s voice has more blues in it than one realizes, sounding at times a bit like Genevieve Schatz of the sadly departed Company of Thieves. She projects a relaxed, laid-back sort of vibe on stage—friendly and inviting, and one gets the feeling that she’d be an engaging interviewee. Think of a (somewhat) younger Grace Potter, with less rock star swagger but better songs, and you’re most of the way there. An appreciative audience lapped up soulful vocals and commanding lead guitar on tracks such as “Memory Street” and “You and I,” with Glaspy feeling effortlessly in her element. Jim Vorel

Car Seat Headrest
Car Seat Headrest put out the best album of 2016 if you ask me, and Teens of Denial’s overwhelming acclaim has vaulted Will Toledo and company from low-key Bandcamp adulation into the big-stage spotlight. If their performance on Friday was any indication, Car Seat remain uncomfortable with their newfound high profile—the band stood clustered close together in the center of the Peachtree stage, as if they were not yet confident enough to spread out on such an expansive platform. That said, a boombox blasting Teens of Denial would have been more than enough to satisfy the substantial crowd, easily the biggest of the fest to that point. Toledo, clad in black glasses and shirt with skinny jeans, was quite sedate to start, holding back his impassioned shrieks and draining some energy out of their set-opening “Vincent.” Between guitarist Ethan Ives’ kick-ass solos and drummer Andrew Katz’s infectious enthusiasm, the band still managed an impressive degree of energy, essentially carrying Toledo until the singer came alive halfway into a rollicking “Destroyed by Hippie Powers.” The upswing came just in time for the band to rip through Devo’s “Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin’)” and then pull off the singular dynamism of “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.” As Toledo goes, so goes Car Seat—here’s hoping their collective direction continues to be onward and upward. Scott Russell

Pinegrove
Evan Stephens Hall’s alt-country outfit had the tiny Ponce De Leon stage swarming, drawing a crowd like ants at a picnic. The intimate area was perfect for Pinegrove, whose effortlessly melodic and thoughtful indie rock captivated everyone in the small space. Watching Pinegrove live, it’s evident that everything flows through Hall, his bandmates looking to him every step of the way. That’s saying a lot—Pinegrove is essentially an under-the-radar indie supergroup, including Nandi Plunkett and Zack Levine of synth-pop trio Half Waif, as well as burgeoning solo artist Sam Skinner. The band reeled off Cardinal hit after Cardinal hit during their incredibly satisfying set, highlighted by a particularly spectacular rendition of “Visiting.” Hall delivers each song like he just wrote it a few minutes ago and is thrilled for you to hear it, and his earnest excitement is infectious. Between tunes, the affable frontman bantered about a giant carrot he ate, thanked Aeolus, the Greek god of wind, for a passing breeze, and even started the wave. An impassioned “New Friends” capped off Pinegrove’s joyous performance, one of day one’s very best. Scott Russell

Wolf Parade
Wolf Parade’s performance was, in a word, loud. The Canadian outfit put on a rip-roaring display of their distinctive strain of post-punk, which sounds like smarter, sharper Brit punk—like if the Sex Pistols had stayed together, cleaned up their act and moved to Montreal. Wolf Parade’s placid main stage crowd clearly needed a second wind after soldiering through the heat of the afternoon, but the band certainly didn’t, despite the fact that, as singer/guitarist Dan Boeckner mentioned between tracks, the band was fresh from Newfoundland (where they had nearly been stranded) and were each operating on an hour of sleep at the most. Wolf Parade has been around the block, but that seemed lost on much of the audience—regardless, their performance was characterized by the confident presence of indie-rock old hands. They reached back into the early oughts for the song that launched them, “I’ll Believe in Anything” off Apologies to the Queen Mary, invigorating fans “Wolf enough” to remember it. The band recently released Wolf Parade – EP 4, one of 2016’s finest EPs, and said while performing from it they were “still figuring it out”—despite their decade-plus-long career, Wolf Parade are still growing. Scott Russell

Twin Peaks
The men of Twin Peaks are a band of ne’er-do-well rock ‘n roll artists, looking like consummate couch surfer rock dreamers. You get the feeling that they’d be the protagonists at the lead of a rock ‘n roll dramedy struggling to make rent and subsisting on an endless diet of pizza, beer and mildly psychotropic drugs. That seems to be their audience as well—attendees at the Ponce De Leon stage, only a few hours after the respectful listeners at Margaret Glaspy, were much more raucous here, dancing, head-shaking and hoisting up crowd-surfer after crowd-surfer, only to have them brought down by exasperated security. A dense cloud of pot and cigarillo smoke rolled over the audience to a soundtrack of pounding organ and exuberant, guitar-worshipping rock. There’s a powerful, nostalgic quality to Twin Peaks; a gaggle of men in loose-fitting shirts, shaggy hair and a permanent sheen of sweat. The Velvet Underground and Rolling Stones comparisons on songs such as “Walk to the One You Love” are inescapable, but Twin Peaks aren’t the kind of band to care overmuch about comparisons. They’re content to trade off vocalists from song to song and deliver an absolutely rollicking set; goofy rock and roll with not a hint of self awareness. They play unfettered guitar likes kids playing air guitar, and slammed through an up-tempo cover of “Dead Flowers” to close one of Shaky Knees’ most purely crowd-pleasing sets. Jim Vorel

Preoccupations
It was a travesty how small a crowd had gathered at the start of Preoccupations’ early-evening Ponce de Leon stage performance. The Canadian post-punks formerly known as Viet Cong may have been overlooked by virtue of their name change, or because their show overlapped with those of both Portugal. The Man and FIDLAR. But Preoccupations put on a positively vicious performance, attracting a larger and larger audience as their savage set progressed. This is a real barbed wire fence, dark alley of a band; bassist and lead singer Matt Flegel’s growls were unerringly ferocious, and drummer Mike Wallace was a whirlwind, the heartbeat that lent direction to Preoccupations’ menace. The band brought the noise in squalls early and often, their music a miasma of dark energy that was impossible to ignore. Preoccupations leaned on their 2016 self-titled album, to their set’s benefit—the new material balances their fearsome darkness with intermittent lightness, primarily in the form of Scott Munro’s synths, opening up the at-times impenetrable guitar rock of their 2015 LP Viet Cong. That said, it was a set-closing track from that very album that was far and away the highlight of Preoccupations’ performance: a ribcage-shaking, bone-bruising, just flat-out punishing rendition of “Death.” Preoccupations’ show closed out as an Apocalypse Now-esque descent into madness, highlighted by Wallace blasting his drumkit as if he felt like destroying something beautiful. Scott Russell

Cage The Elephant
Cage The Elephant  is not just another band on alternative radio. The Bowling Green, Kentucky group has been around for more than 10 years, making these men seasoned performers. Their musicality was altogether in sync, they seemed at ease, and their stage presence was mesmerizing. Matt Schultz’s moves may rival Mick Jagger’s— it’s nearly impossible to keep your eyes off of him. Whether the group was playing the rollicking “In One Ear” off of 2009’s self-titled album or Tell Me I’m Pretty’s sing-along “Mess Around,” Cage The Elephant delivered what they do best: rambunctious, romping rock ‘n roll. Annie Black

LCD Soundsystem
LCD Soundsystem  is the only band that can have a gigantic disco ball hanging from the rafters without looking contrived. It’s as if we almost expect it— it’s exactly what LCD Soundsystem would be if it were a party decoration. James Murphy and crew kept the massive crowd in a jubilant state throughout the show. It was impossible not to dance to “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and “I Can Change,” and even the lesser of the buoyant tracks such as “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” were met with hazy sways. I had to leave before the closer, “All My Friends,” but from what I’ve heard I surely missed out— it was an experience unlike any other. Annie Black