8 Shaky Knees acts you should have seen (but probably didn’t)

The attendance seemed pretty strong to me throughout the 3-day Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta, and all the acts here had fairly good crowds. But more people should have turned out for all of them — a lot more. It’s a real testament to Shaky Knees that they had this much talent playing early afternoon slots.

The Both
Aimee Mann and Ted Leo are The Both. Yes, that Aimee Mann — ‘Til Tuesday, an Oscar nod for a song in Magnolia, a part in The Big Lebowski that you’ve probably forgotten, a lengthy and diverse solo career and more projects than I can list here. Ted Leo is known primarily for various punk acts, including Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Citizens Arrest, and Animal Crackers.

There was a decent crowd on the main stage at Shaky Knees for The Both’s afternoon set on Sunday, but some of those in attendance might have had sunstroke and been unable to move. The sun beat down on Mann and Leo too — it was a hot day for early May, that’s for sure — but they laughed it off in a way that could have seemed cynical, but didn’t seem cynical at all. The pair had the easy nonchalance on stage of musicians who have paid their dues — and paid lots of other people’s dues too — and have earned the right to do whatever the fuck they want.

And what they have decided to do is subtle, finely crafted, witty, and really clean music with just enough emotion to suddenly stop you cold. The set was definitely “craneworthy”, which Mann herself questioned as the camera soared around them, projecting massive Leos and Manns on the screens flanking the stage.





Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
Where has Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue been all my life? I love all sorts of New Orleans and Louisiana roots music, and I’ve heard plenty of performers try to meld various styles, but I don’t know if there’s a performer out there as versatile, energetic, and charismatic as Troy Andrews. There was a decent crowd at the Ponce stage on Sunday afternoon (I’ve never taken photos where I had to fight so much direct sun), but the place should have been packed.

I’d pull out some stops to see Trombone Shorty again. Also, never a bad thing, the guy literally doesn’t take a bad photo.









Palma Violets
Palma Violets has just released the band’s 2nd album — Danger in the Club. And speaking of clubs, I’d love to see Palma Violets in some raucous, smallish venue. I guess the band is still really young — maybe early 20s? — but they are all great players, and Samuel Fryer and Chilli Jesson both have the chops to be doing solo lead vocals. The fact that they both have such commanding voices could take the band somewhere that few bands go.










Speedy Ortiz
Speedy Ortiz played The Jinx during Savannah Stopover in 2014. The show was not a success.

But I’ve loved the recent tracks released by the foursome — and I somehow missed the fact that their strong new album Foil Deer was released last month (hey, I had a busy month, as some of you know). Even “Bitchfork” gave it a glowing review.

A decent crowd on the Boulevard stage at Shaky Knees early Saturday afternoon, but I guess too many people had been partying too hard the night before after seeing The Strokes. No worries: you’re going to have chance to see Speedy Ortiz again, no doubt. Just don’t blow it.










Old 97’s
I had never seen Old 97’s before, but they came highly recommended by friends whose musical tastes I have the utmost respect for. I had expected some smart alt country/Americana rock, but I wasn’t really prepared for the rock and roll, for the touches of honky tonk, for the sheer exuberance of lead singer Rhett Miller. Like some of the other bands on this list, Old 97’s knows how to put on a show – with no holding back. (Or if there is something being held back, I’d pay extra to see it.)

And here’s the Old 97’s being joined by Nikki Lane at Shaky Knees:






John Grant
“I hate this fucking town, you cannot even leave your fucking house without running into someone who no longer cares about you.” — “I Hate This Town” by John Grant

I love Savannah. Seriously. But after living for 20 years within a few blocks of Forsyth Park and having dabbled in many different things, well, you get the point — it’s a love/hate thing.

I had heard just enough of John Grant to know I wanted to catch at least a few minutes of his set on Friday afternoon on the Piedmont stage, and I can’t wait for the chance to catch him again. The deeply sharp, wise, and sardonic lyrics come out of a rough life, but you can’t get away from the underlying joy. Grant seemed to have a ball on stage — and the audience loved it.

I’m pretty sure that if I start listening regularly to John Grant, I will be laughing 65 percent more of the time. Or maybe 63 percent.

At least 25 percent.



Black Pistol Fire
I’ve seen some great 2-piece bands lately (including an awesome night of garage rock duos at The Jinx), but I was still taken aback — in a good way — by the sheer electricity of Black Pistol Fire.

They sounded just like this KEXP session, only bigger and better. It was only 1 p.m. on the festival’s opening day, but I knew with Black Pistol Fire’s set that I was in for a stellar weekend.





Field Report
OK, I’ll admit that I really loved Field Report‘s self-titled debut album — dark themes, evocative lyrics, and all. But the latest effort Marigolden has plenty of rewards too — and it’s an album worth returning to again and again. For this current incarnation of the band, the spectacularly talented Chris Porterfield is fronting a tight 3-piece, quite a different effect than the band’s set at the 2013 Revival Fest here in Savannah.




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