Photos and Review by Max Stewart
Shaky Knees had another massively successful event in 2023, which actually marked its 10 years (!) as a festival. Shaky Knees has cemented itself as one of (if not the most) sought-after festivals to attend in the U.S. to see a uniquely-curated lineup focused on indie rock, with touches of indie pop, punk, hip hop and all great things in between. While other festivals get watered down with lineups that try to appeal to everyone, this festival has remained true to its ethos. Fans certainly have taken note, as this year was completely sold out.
As always, there were many great moments at the festival, but we narrowed down a few highlights below. We cannot wait for Year 11!
Futurebirds: This Athens, GA band brought it down for their home-state show on Saturday afternoon. A long overdue inclusion in the Atlanta festival, it was amazing seeing them having such a good time ahead of their headlining Ryman performance. As a fan who has watched this band take flight over the years, it was amazing seeing many local followers flock to this set and watching others get exposed to their Southern seasoning on Indie rock.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: The Indie rock legends of the 2000s led by the effervescent Karen O, this show was a highlight of the first day. It was so obvious that she was beaming as the band took the stage for their first performance on a leg of dates, with a show full of confetti and serotonin. The NYC trio have long been known for their energetic live performances, and their latest album Cool It Down actually represents an introspective and joyful moment in their career. Hits “Heads Were Roll” and “Maps” echoed over the city with the crowd singing along to every word.
Shame: All gas, no brakes. This set was a sweaty good time. Led by the powerful Charlie Steen on vocals, this UK post-punk band brings it all for their live show. Mosh pits and fists in the air, their latest album Food for Worms is a fantastic leap forward in their career. We had a nice chat with Steen after their set, who was very gracious and talked of their appreciation for the Atlanta venue The Earl and the East Atlanta neighborhood.
Tenacious D: Always a fantastically fun show, Jack Black‘s epic antics and stage acrobats sometimes disguise the fact that he is actually a fantastic singer and that him and Kyle Gass truly have tapped into something truly unique. Complete with pyro, devil mic stands, and sax a boom performances, this set was just a jolly good time.
Killer Mike: God bless Killer Mike, a legend in the ATL. When Manchester Orchestra had to pull out of the festival last minute due to illness, Killer Mike stepped up to the plate and filled the void at the last minute. Another ATL godfather Big Boi of Outkast showed up midway through the set as well to play a few tunes including Outkast’s “The Whole World.” The ATL spirit was strong and vibes were immaculate.
The Walkmen: A major trailblazer in leading the wave of post-punk rock revival out of NYC in the early 2000s (which is profiled excellently in Lizzy Goodman’s book Meet Me in the Bathroom), The Walkmen just got back together and indie rock fans could not be more stoked. The Sunday late afternoon set at the Ponce de Leon stage was full of fans eagerly anticipating the reunion.
Flaming Lips: Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips are truly a 1 of 1. Whimsical music with theatrical stage presence, their set is such a spectacle that must be witnessed to be appreciated. From the evil pink robots, the Coyne in the plastic ball, to the pink robot confetti, this show will go down as one of the great Shaky Knees sets.
Father John Misty: What is better than a little Sunday sermon from Father John? For those who have not seen FJM live, it is definitely an enchanting experience led by his mix of crooning, comedy, and falling to his knees charisma. He brought the A game songs, including “I’m Writing a Novel”, “Mr. Tillman”, and “Real Love Baby.”
Babe Rainbow: Australia has a psych-rock movement happening right now for sure, with bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Pond (who was supposed to play but had to drop out), and Psychedelic Porn Crumpets all collectively tapping into a spirit that takes flavors of the past and brings them into the 21st century. Babe Rainbow definitely have a 60s / surf rock feel since forming in 2014, and their latest album The Organic Band appears to be them finding their footing as a unique live outfit, which was certainly true at the Criminal Records stage.
311: The 90s mainstay rockers were all energy (amber was the color) and good vibes. Veterans of the festival circuit, this band does not phone anything in, bringing all they had on a Saturday afternoon. Say what you will, these guys rock and are nothing but fun at a festival.
The Mars Volta: This was a full dose of prog-rock shredding and wild time signatures. Known for compelling live shows, their 2022 release could be their most accessible with mixes of Latin, dance, prog and all things in between.
Olivia Jean: Jean released her new album Raving Ghost the day before her Saturday midday performance with a release party at Third Man Records in Nashville. As part of Jack White’s Third Man Records label since 2011 with her band The Black Belles, Jean just got married to White last year. Her performance on the main stage kicked things off on Saturday and we look forward to seeing her continue to play to bigger rooms and audiences.
Digable Planets: This Brooklyn hip-hop trio were major contributors to the jazz rap / alt hip hop scene that emerged in the 90s and beyond, and this was in a big part due to their 1993 album, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space). Their whole band was on point as the played that album in its entirety during their Friday afternoon set, a record that includes jazz samples from Art Blakely, Sonny Rollins and Curtis Mayfield.
Wilderado: This newer indie folk band out of Tulsa has a unique approachability their songs that had a raw energy when brought to the stage. Wilderado will also will be joining My Morning Jackets for a string of dates in June, so if they are Jim James-approved you must know they’re doing something right.