Not a soul dared remark on the weather during Saturday morning’s overcast. A pleasant chill filled the air and held out for most of the day, until the weekend’s heaviest rain arrived in the evening.
I really enjoyed the slow mornings at Shaky Knees; getting there around noon as the crowd slowly filtered in was a great opportunity for people watching and catching smaller bands before the day’s big names. I arrived at Atlantic Station in time for Fly Golden Eagle, a bluesy rock band from Nashville. After, I checked out Packway Handle Band–Andrew Heaton of powerkompany, frequent Savannah visitors, is their violin player. Though they’ve played in our neck of the woods, I hadn’t had the chance to see the Athens bluegrass band before and am glad I got to catch them; their tongue-in-cheek lyricism and impressive string skills were thoroughly entertaining and a perfect start to the day.
Petee and I ventured toward the Peachtree Stage in preparation for Tokyo Police Club. Texan singer-songwriter Hayes Carll, over on the Piedmont stage, had us cracking up with his long-winded and downright hysterical song introductions. He reminded me of a delightfully crackpot Jim White-meets-Cory-Branan, delivering hard-luck country songs with some snark and great stories of his experiences.
Having seen Tokyo Police Club in a little venue before, it was a blast to see the Canadian boys take over a festival stage. Keyboardist/guitarist/backup vocalist Graham Wright never holds back on the theatrics, rallying the crowd to join in and striking his Nord Wave keyboard like a bespectacled sorcerer.
Vocalist/bassist Dave Monks set down his bass guitar for a song to roam the stage. Breaking away from the safety of his instrument, Monks embodies all of Tokyo Police Club’s cooly-nerdy vibe, throwing up his hands for punctuation and grooving with a slightly awkwardish swagger, as if he’s easing his way into the circle at a school dance. At 3PM on a big stage, I was situated between some hardcore fans (my favorite was a enthused fellow doing interpretive dance to every word of “Bambi”) and people who, from eavesdropping, hadn’t heard of the band before that very moment. The set was a perfect blend of new Forcefield cuts mixed in with upbeat songs from Champ and A Lesson in Crime.
Giddy after catching one of my must-sees, I wandered over to Ponce De Leon for a few minutes of highly recommended Savannah Music Festival band The Lone Bellow. Their incredibly rich and pitch-perfect harmonies were admirably just as strong live as on their record; I love their soulful country sound.
After heading back into Atlantic Station to refuel with a killer Cobb salad at local, farm-fresh focused Chick-A-Biddy, I heard the almighty voice of Nathan Willett of Cold War Kids coming from the festival area and hoofed it back. I caught a few songs from a distance when they were were the SCAD Alumni Concert band a few years ago, but the Shaky Knees show completely won me over as a fan. I’ve probably heard “Hang Me Up to Dry” a few hundred times from working in retail (Cold War Kids seem to find their way onto nearly every Pandora station) and even covered it as a warm-up song with my old band, but hearing the punchy hook and Willett’s unbridled, seemingly infinite range live gave me chills.
After Cold War Kids, the real geeking out began — only one hour until the fathers of alternative rock, headliners The Replacements, would play. I was surprised at how easily I found a spot near the sound booth with great visibility. Next door at the Peachtree Stage, Conor Oberst was rounding out a set with a few numbers from 2005’s Bright Eyes release I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, dedicating closer “Another Travelin’ Song” to the Shaky Knees bands.
That’s when the rain began. Behind us, the Atlanta skyline, wrapped in black clouds, looked apocalyptic; as the crowd hurried to tug their ponchos out of their backpacks, the hard rain fell. Ten, fifteen minutes passed; I took a sip of my beer and quickly discovered it was all rainwater.
Thus far at Shaky Knees, the second that one band ended, the other would begin. As the wait extended, concern began to grow. The Replacements reunion is still relatively fresh (the big comeback, with vocalist/guitarist Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson as the only original members, kicked off at Chicago’s Riot Fest last summer), and a collective worry that the band may have flaked set in. But the moment crewmembers began mopping the front half of the stage, it became clear that the delay was merely an effort to make sure that Shaky Knees wasn’t the last stop in the Replacements reunion.
When Westerberg finally emerged, he threw ponchos into the audience, welcomed by the screams and applause of adoring fans of all ages. Immediately, we were taken back to the Replacements’ origins with “Takin’ A Ride,” the pummelling, hardcore-flushed first track off their 1981 debut. The rain let up to a light drizzle–not that anyone was even paying attention to the weather anymore.
Westerberg and Stinson are every bit of the performers they’ve always been; it was so powerful to witness the passion they still clearly have. There wasn’t a trace of fatigue, just pure electricity. Oh yeah, and did you hear about that time Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong joined The Replacements on guitar and backup vocals at Coachella unannounced? Yeah, that happened again. With his big hair and headband, he looked like he wandered right off the Let It Be cover.
And what a set. The light, sweet haste of “Kiss Me on the Bus.” “Merry Go Round.” Westerberg taking a seat for “Androgynous.” A Chuck Berry cover (“Maybelline”), a Ramones cover (“Judy is a Punk”).
But it was “Left of the Dial” that really, really got me. Seeing track 9 (always my guaranteed favorite on albums growing up) off Tim live, I was convinced that it is the single greatest American rock ‘n’ roll song. It’s perfect: sweeping guitars with just the amount of brightness and grit to them; big drums; a contagious, anthemic chorus. Verses that restrain themselves ever so briefly then completely explode. Themes of young love, longing, and analog. The hair stood up on my neck and I just lost it, couldn’t stop the tears, couldn’t stop smiling. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt such gratitude at a concert.
Some sweet moments in the crowd: A white-haired gentleman and his wife, along with their friends, all in faded Replacements tees, laughing and dancing together near me. A dad with his son, no more than 9, on his shoulders, both singing along to “Alex Chilton”: “I’m in love/with that song.”
I’ll admit that I was apprehensive; it’s hard not to be when a band with such a legacy reunites after 22 years. But hearing The Replacements live is something that I will never forget. I was completely elated and inspired as they tore through “Bastards of the Young,” “Customer,” and “I.O.U.” for the grand finale and waved goodnight. To put it succinctly: they’ve still got it.
The Replacements’ engrossing performance completely distracted me from the thousands of people closing in for Modest Mouse in the settling dark.
Taking in the madding crush of bodies, I briefly flashed back to high school in South Carolina, where I fancied myself quite the “indie” connoisseur for knowing who the band was pre-Good News For People Who Love Bad News. I recalled arriving at art school, shocked to see that everyone in my dorm owned the same Modest Mouse shirt — we were all shocked, our precious band-ownership pride shattered.
Ten years has passed since Good News and “Float On,” the bouncy, hakuna-matata single that catapulted Modest Mouse into car stereos worldwide. They’ve only released one studio LP since — 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. But a lot can happen in a decade; like, say, the iTunes Store, Pandora, and Spotify putting music in the ear buds of millions. In 2014, frontman Isaac Brock & company are larger than ever.
After the whole rain-soaked-Replacements-stage debacle, Modest Mouse was set up about halfway back on the stage as a precaution. With such positioning, those of us of average height in the sardine-tin-packed audience were doomed in terms of visibility. I glimpsed some of bassist Eric Judy’s headstock at one point. Only when I forcibly wove through the crowd, way, way back toward the food trucks, and leaped in the air did I see a dark shape that bobbed as if it was singing and could therefore be interpreted as Brock.
The house volume was also weirdly low in the thunderous roar of the crowd, the mix a mess for the majority of the set. I know every spacey guitar note and raw-spat word of “Dark Center of the Universe,” but the guitar levels were so muddled that I couldn’t identify the song until about halfway through the first verse. The jaunty, cheerful high end that sets the tone of the “Paper Thin Walls” intro was completely lost.
The band continued to dish out the hits and favorites, but with no visibility and a shoddy mix, it really just felt like listening through a transistor radio among strangers and a lot of Lime-a-Rita fueled, riled-up bros.
Despite all this disappointment, “Dramamine,” positioned halfway through the set, was the highlight. The droning bass tones reverberated through the audience, and even the delicately piercing string bends were audible. Brock’s lashed-out vocals cut through the night.
Though Petee & I decided to leave a little early to beat the crowd, I’m pretty sure we heard nearly the whole set in the long time it took us to get off the fairgrounds. Saturday was definitely the fest’s biggest night, so big that I wondered if there was even a cap on ticket purchases. I was glad in a way to have finally (kind of) seen one of my favorite bands, but I think I’ll keep an eye on their tour dates for a headlining venue show instead of a festival gig.
Shaky Knees partnered with several local venues to host separately ticketed, late-night shows. The Masquerade welcomed us with plenty of breathing room and devoted Tokyo Police Club and Today The Moon, Tomorrow The Sun fans. It was a relief to be in an intimate, enclosed space. I used the hand dryer in the bathroom to dry out my boots and dress, still soaked through.
Atlantans/Savannah regulars Today the Moon took a break from playing out recently–gosh, were they missed. The live show is a shot in the arm of unstoppable dancehall energy and new-wavey, toughed-up electro beats. Lauren Gibson’s vocals are glossy and commanding, quite reminiscent of Metric’s Emily Haines. Check out their new EP, QUADS, if you haven’t yet — you can hear “Golden” and “Powerline” on their Soundcloud. I picked up a copy at the show and am absolutely hooked.
It seemed that I wasn’t the only one happy to be in a little venue; Tokyo Police Club is in a stage where they’re growing out of small clubs, but it seems that spots like the Masquerade’s Hell level are still the most homey for them. Dave Monks sarcastically introduced “special guests” The Faint, playing upstairs, whose thudding bass we could hear in the quieter moments of the show.
The set was relatively close to what we heard at the festival, peppered with a few songs from Elephant Shell–expected, since not a hint of the album was played during the day.
During “Wait Up (Boots of Danger),” Monks disappointedly explained how, at Shaky Knees Fest proper, the band could barely hear the crowd’s a cappella “woo-hoo-ooh-OO-ooh-oohs” when he rallied them to sing along. I love you to death, boys, but, in the afternoon attendees’ defense, it is a really difficult part to sing loudly! The late night audience tried to outdo the fest crowd’s attempt, resulting in a truly onerous but earnest noise that seemed to delight Monks.
Taking advantage of a smaller stage and enrapt house, Monks grabbed an acoustic guitar to play “Favourite Food,” the slow-building, poignant Champ opener in which a hospital-bound elderly relative, post-heart attack, looks back on life. TPC’s lyrics can feel like cut-and-pasted journal entries at one moment, snappy conversations at the next; I’ve always enjoyed the sincerity in “Favourite Food” and was glad for its inclusion.
Though they proved that they belong in the festival ranks, it was a treat to see TPC back in their comfort zone. Whatever their fast-moving future holds, I can’t help but cheer them on.