Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Black Lips, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Wilco at Shaky Knees, Atlanta, May 9, 2015

Okay, I've got to move this retrospective along at a bit of a quicker pace if I'm ever going to finish it at all.  Let's see if we can't wrap up Day Two today, almost 20 days after the actual festival.

 Last post, I was leaving the Peachtree Stage heading toward Ponce to see The Black Lips. 

Actually, truth to be told, I wasn't heading that way to see The Black Lips so much as to wait through The Black Lips to see Neutral Milk Hotel.  I may be one of the few people in Georgia who doesn't care that much for The Black Lips, but I figured that they would have attracted a very different crowd than Neutral Milk Hotel and if I could wait through their 3:45 pm set, I could get a good position near the stage for NMH's 5:45 set.   

It was my first Black Lips show, so I suppose their Shaky Knees set was typical with the sing-alongs and crowd surfing and beer flung from cans across the audience, but I'm just guessing.  Still, even though they're not my favorites, I'll admit the show was fun and in fact didn't suck.

However, I was not the only one planning to press toward the stage after their set for Neutral Milk Hotel.  I managed to get about eight rows back from the stage, which wasn't bad at all, but it was so claustrophobicly crowded that I wasn't sure I wanted to wait there, pressed belly to butt with the crowd, for a full hour while Build To Spill played from the nearby Boulevard Stage.  But the crowd was pressed so close, and some kids had managed to sit down while waiting and took up what little ground wasn't covered by feet, that it was difficult to impossible to leave and I had no choice but to stand there under the Georgia sun for a full hour waiting for Neutral Milk Hotel to take the stage. 

But as it tends to happen, as soon as the band did take the stage, at 5:45 sharp, all the frustration over waiting in the crowded conditions was immediately forgotten.   But as soon as the band launched into Holland 1945, the crowd surged forward, and as impossible to believe as it was, things actually got more crowded.  Then the front rows started pushing the crowd back and we'd all teeter backwards like falling dominoes until a wave of forward-pushing bodies drove us the other way.  Back and forth we'd ebb and flow like kelp in surf as the band sang a song about, of all things, Anne Frank.  

After I had taken about as much of that pushing and shoving as I could want, I finally forced my way back toward the read of the crowd where I could watch the show more sanely from a less frantic vantage point.  I mean, I appreciate the enthusiasm of the audience, and the band was very, very well received, but I like to be in control of my own center of gravity.

Before I forget, it was a great set, one of the highlights of the weekend, and included Two- Headed Boy, In An Aeroplane Over The Sea, King of Carrot Flowers (Parts One, Two and Three!) and about every other song one would want to hear at a Neutral Milk Hotel show.  Virtually every song was a sing-along, and Jeff Magnum sang in his wonderfully nasal voice while Julian Koster played about every instrument imaginable, including the musical saw, all while wearing his goofy trademark hat.

Sadly, it had already been announced that this would be Neutral Milk Hotel's last tour ever, so we may never see them again.

Since I had managed to find a less frantic spot that still had good sight lines, I stayed there for the next hour while Milky Chance played at the Boulevard Stage and waited for Wilco.

Wilco took the stage at 7:45 and, as always, played a near flawless set.

Wilco opened with I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, followed by Art of Almost, one of my favorite Wilco songs.  This isn't from Shaky Knees, but this video captures the Art of Almost performance pretty darn well.

Actually, the full set list went as follows:
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Art of Almost
One Wing
Handshake Drugs
Via Chicago
Secret of the Sea
Heavy Metal Drummer
I'm the Man Who Loves You
Red-Eyed and Blue
I Got You (At the End of the Century)
Jesus, Etc.
Born Alone
Impossible Germany
Box Full of Letters
A Shot in the Arm 

The earlier relentless sun had finally set giving way to a beautiful evening, and Wilco performed the perfect set to match the evening.

The days headliners were The Avett Brothers, but they had already started by the time Wilco finished their set and there was no getting anywhere near the main Peachtree Stage where the Avetts were playing, so after Wilco I headed home, one set early but fully satisfied, although from all accounts the Avett Brothers set was superlative.  In fact, I had only seen six sets the entire day (Speedy Ortiz, Viet Cong, Real Estate, The Black Lips, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Wilco) as opposed to the ten I had seen the day before (Surfer Blood, Haerts, Mitski, John Grant, Wavves, Zella Day, Mac DeMarco, The Mountain Goats, American Football, and James Blake), but it's quality, not quantity, that counts baby! 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pharaoh Sanders at Atlanta Jazz Festival, May 24, 2015

We got to Piedmont Park around 8:30 pm, having taken a well-timed MARTA rode from Lindbergh Station to Midtown, and the short walk from there to the park.  It was just getting dark, but there was a sizable crowd already present from the day-long (weekend-long, really) Atlanta Jazz Festival.   

Pharaoh took the stage a few minutes after 9:00, played about 8 bars of fiery saxophone, and then walked off the stage letting the band carry the piece while he talked to a stagehand.  He seemed concerned about something - I think the mic in his sax wasn't working, and he had to use the external mic instead, which may have limited some of the effects he had wanted to create.

In any event, he and the band played about 45 minutes of modern, post-bop jazz, with extended solos by his pianist, bassist and drummer, and relatively little Pharaoh.  Pleasing enough, but not really what one goes to a Pharaoh Sanders set to hear.

That changed at around the 45-minute mark, when he played a solo, soulful number, I believe a John Coltrane cover (Alabama?), and then went into his own The Creator Has A Master Plan, with Pharaoh singing the lyrics covered by the inimitable Leon Thomas on the recorded version.

The set was more upbeat and more typical of Pharaoh after that, and he finally got the audience up out of their lawn chairs, standing, dancing, and clapping along to the music.   Some call-and-response singing followed that, some of Pharaoh's sax feedback tricks, and a long farewell to end the set.

It turned out to finally be a good set, but without the fire of Pharaoh in his prime.

Still and all, even on an off night, a set by Pharaoh is better than a lot of other things, and the evening could not have been more beautiful.

Most of my pictures sucked, but I did find this one good image from last night on line. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015


More from Manhattan Inn's remarkable Hum residency, brought to us by the good people of NYC Taper, this time featuring Jen Goma (A Sunny Day in Glasgow), Cassandra Jenkins, and Caroline Davis (Maitri).

For those of you disappointed by the absence of the previous set-by-set review of Shaky Knees, a) it will resume again after this holiday weekend, and b) what's wrong with you?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Radiation City

Another performance in an Oregon State Park, this time by our old friends Radiation City somewhere overlooking the Columbia River.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Real Estate at Shaky Knees, Atlanta, May 9, 2015

Backstage Photo by Shaky Knees
After the jagged, noisy rock of Speedy Ortiz and the loud aggression of the redoubtable Viet Cong, Real Estate was pure soothing comfort on a sunny afternoon.

We've seen Real Estate before, at Terminal West and when they headlined Bumbershoot in 2014, we've seen individual members of Real Estate perform as Ducktails and as Alex Bleeker & The Freaks, and we've listened to all of their records many, many times (they're favorites of ours), so there was no shortage of sequential comfort listening to them perform live again at Shaky Knees.

The crowd, after the Real Estate set, approaching the Ponce De Leon Stage for The Black Lips: 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Speedy Ortiz and Viet Cong at Shaky Knees, Atlanta, May 9, 2015

So, finally, we get to Day Two of Shaky Knees and I'll try to move things along a bit more briskly.

On Saturday, we got to the festival site (MARTA again) early enough to see any of the three opening acts (Hey Rosetta!, Field Report, and Kevin Devine & the Goddamn Band).  We had our pick, but we've already seen Field Report this year, and while we're curious to see Hey Rosetta!, we instead headed straight to the good stuff and bypassed all the active stages to get in a good position to see Massachusetts' Speedy Ortiz at the Boulevard Stage. 

We got there early enough to get a front-position right on the rail, and there was even a hint of shade for a while while we waited for the band to come on.  And as always happens, as soon as they did, and right on time at that, we completely forgot the wait and enjoyed their great set.

Speedy Ortiz play a wonderfully noisy brand of guitar-driven indie rock, showcasing Sadie Dupuis' angular playing and harmonic singing.  It was just the thing to get us going early on a Saturday afternoon

Mitski was still hanging around after her set yesterday, and watched Speedy Ortiz from backstage (while also checking her phone).

I missed Speedy Ortiz the last time they played Atlanta - a DIY set at WonderRoot that Sadie mentioned during her banter and must have been fabulous.  Saturday's set, though, was a nice surrogate for the missed performance.

After Speedy Ortiz, I made in over to the tent at the Buford Highway Stage to hear Calgary's Viey Cong, and they sounded huge.  Viet Cong play a primal form of post-punk that at times almost sounded like Swans in its pummeling intensity.

It may have been the stand-out performance of the day for me.

What a perfect one-two punch in the face to start the day: the jagged noise rock of Speedy Ortiz setting us up for the full body slam of Viet Cong.  The latter closed their set with the mighty Death, and by the end, although it was only 2:45 pm, I already felt like I had heard enough to make me capable of scaling mountains.

The day was just beginning.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

James Blake at Shaky Knees, Atlanta, May 8, 2015

Photo by Shaky Knees
Got sidetracked there before I could finish out by recap of Day One of Shaky Knees.  After Surfer Blood, Haerts, Mitski, John Grant, Wavves, Zella Day/Mac DeMarco, The Mountain Goats and American Football, I went back to the Buford Highway Stage tent, even though the sun was setting by then, to hear James Blake.  

It was a great set, enhanced by the creative use of stage lighting which was then finally possible due to the encroaching night.  But honestly, I don''t know if I have anything more to say about it other than to say that live, Blake sounds just like his recordings.

After James Blake, the only band left on the schedule for the day was The Strokes.  I left before they started playing, because they're The Strokes and it's not 2003 anymore.  However, I saw on the interwebs that Mac DeMarco joined them on stage for one song, so that must have been fun.