Day 3 of Shaky Knees 2017 dried out and warmed up, bringing toastier climes and making patches of shade around the Piedmont stage into valuable real estate. Hoops and Chicago psych-poppers Whitney made compelling arguments for arriving early in the afternoon, while most festival goers seemed to be waiting breathlessly for the promise of Ryan Adams and Phoenix to come.
That, and it’s always fun to hear one of the members of Third Eye Blind say, “Yesterday I was surfing in Fiji, so I flew around the world for this motherf***er.” Read our complete recaps below, and check out the exclusive photos from Paste social media editor Annie Black.
Shaky Knees Day One Recap
Shaky Knees Day Two Recap
Under a cloudless early-afternoon sky, Bloomington, Ind., indie-poppers Hoops kicked off Shaky Knees 2017’s third and final day on a cool note. Drew Auscherman and company reeled off a number of hypnotic tracks from their recently released full-length studio debut, Routines, including lead single “Rules” and upbeat anthem “On Top,” soothing the small but energetic young crowd with their accessible blend of dreamy guitars and murmured vocals. Each member of Hoops stood out in the mix, allowing the sounds of each of the band’s core players to shine through, from Auscherman’s chorus pedal-leavened guitar lines to Kevin Krauter’s steady bass and Keagan Beresford’s chiming keys. Standout moments included the refreshing and contemplative “Underwater Theme”—which, true to its title, felt just like being at the bottom of a cool pool on a hot summer day like this one was—and Beresford’s impressive falsetto vocals on a striking “Gemini.” It’s exciting to see an up-and-coming band so assured of their identity, but Hoops are still just an unassuming group of young guys enjoying every step of the journey, wherever it takes them. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m having a great time,” Auscherman chirped near the end of their set. “I love playing the guitar—who knew?” Scott Russell
The falsetto of drummer Julien Ehrlich is a refreshing novelty placed front and center for Whitney, the Chicago indie rock band who so impressed last year with their debut LP Light Upon the Lake. They played to a sunny Sunday afternoon audience on Shaky’s Piedmont stage; a beguiling blend of indie pop and mildly ‘60s psychedelia. Their vibe is chill and relaxed, and one can tell they’d rather not be competing with the thunderous conclusion of Cloud Nothings on the other end of the festival, but once given a little space to breathe the band brought its best. Trumpet is integral to the sound of this band; that and tinkling keys that remind one of Mr. Rogers’ jaunts into the Land of Make Believe. “Our boys from Hoops,” who played the same stage earlier, joined Whitney on stage for a few additional “Na na na na na na’s” on a lovely rendition of “Golden Days,” and the band also premiered a new track that they dubbed “Rolling Blackouts,” which picked up sonically exactly where Light Upon the Lake left off, with a heavy emphasis on jangly guitar. Jim Vorel
Hamilton Leithauser’s show is light on gimmickry and high on plain-speaking. Dylanesque at times in his vocal delivery, he’s nonetheless melodic when he wants to be and howling and scratchy when the situation calls for it, as on his delivery of “Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up),” one of the tracks off his collaboration album last year with former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij. There’s something distinctly southern and swampy to Leithauser’s set—he has good presence, and no aversion to honky tonk keys, but nothing in his work seems affected. He wisely goes grittier and more soulful than the studio version on “1,000 Times,” the lead single from the Rostam collaboration, slowing the pace a bit and really leaning into the rasp of the vocals. To observe one particular YouTube commenter: “Listening to Hamilton’s voice is like having a drink with your dad.” Well said. At one point, he treated the audience to the backstory of the song “The Bride’s Dad,” concerning a wedding he attended that featured the father of the bride being forcibly ejected after commandeering the stage to sing a tearful rendition of Scottish folk tune “The Wild Mountain Thyme.” It will be hard to hear that particular track the same way again. Jim Vorel
Eric D. Johnson’s Fruit Bats, a folk-rock group the affable frontman introduced as being “from far away from here,” attracted a small, sun-drained crowd to the Ponce De Leon stage that steadily swelled over the course of their set. Their performance was exceedingly cheerful—bright even in the shade, where I was firmly anchored amidst the late-afternoon heat. Fruit Bats pulled quite a few tunes from their excellent new record Absolute Loser, with cuts like “My Sweet Midwest” and the album’s title track exemplifying their twangy, yet dreamy and ever so slightly doleful sound. Johnson and company also circled back to material pre-dating their 2013 dissolution (which, thankfully, didn’t last), like the breezy rocker that lent its title to 2009’s The Ruminant Band, and even dedicating “My Unusual Friend” to a fan Johnson recognized from one of the band’s previous Atlanta shows. Outside of a handful of momentum-slowing tuning breaks, Fruit Bats kept up a pleasantly steady pace, though they did make time to celebrate Mother’s Day—before diving into Absolute Loser’s “Good Will Come to You,” Johnson pointed out that it was his mother’s favorite track from the record, and that their keyboardist Graham LeBron’s mother was watching from the front row. It was a happy occasion all around, and a reminder of just how sweet it is to have Fruit Bats back. Scott Russell
Know that there is no hyperbole involved in my saying that Ron Gallo’s set was unlike any other that I saw at Shaky Knees 2017. Gallo first demanded the crowd take out their “stupid phones” and call their moms, Facetiming his own so we could all wish her a “Happy Mother’s Day,” sung to the tune of “Happy Birthday.” He then whipped out a piece of paper and read a hilariously rote prepared statement in an exaggerated monotone, explaining that both he and his band are named Ron Gallo and thanking Shaky Knees, LLC for the opportunity to play their festival. The audience had hardly finished laughing when Gallo and co. launched into Heavy Meta opener “Young Lady, You’re Scaring Me”, an electric rock ‘n’ roll shredder that swiftly inspired one of the only mosh pits I saw at the Ponce De Leon stage. Gallo swaggered like a millennial Elvis on acerbic “festival banger” “Why Do You Have Kids?” and gallivanted through the crowd handing out high-fives during a raucous, sprawling cover of Pissed Jeans’ “Spent.” Ron Gallo the band, with Joe Bisirri on bass and Dylan Sevey on drums, were just as exciting as their frontman, putting on a powerful display. Still, it’s tough to take your eyes off Gallo himself—he’s a livewire performer, one minute rocking the mic like a young Zack de la Rocha, the next pausing “All The Punks Are Domesticated” for a one-measure “Bleachers solo” (i.e., stopping the song to let Bleachers’ distant set bleed in for a second), or tossing a water bottle into the mosh pit for a thirsty fan. As one audience member pointed out, Gallo “has no chill,” and it made for an exhilarating show. Scott Russell
French indie-pop institution Phoenix’s performance, which marked the bittersweet end of a damn fine Shaky Knees Fest, was entertaining before it even began. The band’s very stage setup was a sight to see, consisting of an enormous mirror that faced the crowd before being pulled back and angled towards the front row, reflecting outward the light display that was laid down on the floor of the Peachtree stage. A late start allowed more time for a vast crowd to amass, and amass they did. When Phoenix’s set started at last, it did so with a heartbeat—the heart from their Ti Amo album art, lit up on Thomas Hedlund’s bass drum, thumping as it brought their tick-tight opening tune to life: nothing less than their new record’s title track, a swaggering synth-pop anthem. Frontman Thomas Mars’ vocals, though pitch-perfect, were somewhat thin in the mix, which was all about the beat—that played perfectly into later tracks like Phoenix’s halcyon disco jam “J-Boy.” Looking back, it’s hard to say which was more dazzling between the array of gloriously effusive hits that Phoenix regaled us with and the pure visual ingenuity of their performance—the floor-projected imagery, reflected in their backing mirror and then compounded by the main stage displays, was brilliant in every sense of the word. At one point, during the psychedelic “Love Like a Sunset,” Mars laid down on the stage, reclining on gathering red clouds, then a sky full of constellations, then a cavalcade of flashing solid colors, the carousel of imagery enhancing the hypnotic song itself. It was a beautiful moment in a festival full of them—the first festival Phoenix played after unveiling Ti Amo—and a wonderful end to the fifth iteration of Shaky Knees. Scott Russell