Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Shaky Knees Retrospective, Day 1 Part Two

So, picking back up where we left off yesterday, we were back in the comforts of the VIP pavilion, charging phones and drinking free beer whilst listening to the 90s-inspired sounds of Wolf Alice, when we decided it was time to go to the Ponce De Leon stage to catch Crystal Fighters.  

Crystal Fighters (Ponce De Leon Stage)

There was already a pretty good size crowd waiting there at the Ponce stage, but we still got a pretty good spot. However, the sun was brutal and right in our faces while we waited, but we realized that with just a little more time, the sun would set a little bit further down and behind the Ponce stage itself and we'd finally get shade.  As it got closer and closer to show time, the shadow from the stage crept up to our feet, then up to our knees, and then up to our waist.  The sun was still in our eyes when Spain's Crystal Fighters took the stage waving their flags, but we no longer cared, and about two songs into the joyful set, the shadow was finally up and over our heads.

Crystal Fighters are a folktronic band that combines Basque folk instruments with drum loops, heavy synth, and lilting vocals.  The band formed after singer Laure Stockley recovered a diary of her deceased reclusive grandfather's while visiting his Basque country home. Inside his notebook was the skeleton of an incomplete opera, with what would become the future band's name as its title. Intent on completing the work and honoring her grandfather's legacy, she enlisted the aid of some friends  and together they researched and worked to finish his opera. Along the way, they became inspired by the dark, folksy sounds of the Spanish instruments and combined them with booming basslines, and the band was born.

Known for their dramatic, eclectic, and artful stage performances, Crystal Fighters play new tracks and remixes at every show. 

We only recently discovered the band when we caught their performance on the webcast of this year's Coachella.  We're happy to note that their Shaky Knees show was just as loopy and psychedelic and upbeat at the  Coachella set.

Needless to say, Crystal Fighters got the audience to dance along with them, and concluded their set by throwing out a bunch of beach balls, including a couple of really huge balls, turning the whole lawn into one big beach volleyball party.

The set was a lot of fun, and one of the standouts of the festival.

As previously noted, we had a pretty good spot for the show, and as the crowd trickled away, we were able to get a near-front row spot by the rail, and decided to wait it out at that spot for the next band on the Ponce stage, London's Savages.

Savages (Ponce)

There's different kinds of "fun."  Crystal Fighters were sunshiney, beach-blanket fun, and London's Savages were the dark, post-punk, Siouxsie-and-the-Banshees kind of fun.

What kind of fun is that? The New Musical Express described Savages performances as "frottage-inducingly intense affairs."  The Observer has said of Savages, "It's not exactly sexy [I disagree - Ed.], it's not funny and they're not going to be rolling around in mud like the Slits. But it's the closest thing to art that 'post-punk'... has offered in a while". The Guardian said Savages' song Husbands "makes us dream of what it must have been like to have been around to hear, in real time, the debut releases by Public Image Ltd, Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, to feel, as those incredible records hit the shops, that unearthly power and sense of a transmission from a satellite reality."

Savages are Fay Milton (drums), Ayse Hassan (bass), Gemma Thompson (guitar), and France's Jehnny Beth (vocals). 

Jehnny Beth steals the show in true front-woman, rock-star style.  She prowls the stage like a sinewy panther, snarls her lyrics, and is not afraid to dive into the audience and continue to sing even while she's on the shoulders of the crowd.



Standing right in front of the stage as we were, the subwoofers were blasting Fay Milton's bass drum so loud you could actually see my clothing vibrate along with the beat.  It was intense, it was brutal, and it was just the kick in the ass we needed at that time of that afternoon, and coming right after the Crystal Fighters set, it was the second standout performance of the festival experienced that day. 

Bloc Party (Peachtree) 

Savages were the first band of the day that we had seen before, at an incredible show in Atlanta's intimate Vinyl, but Bloc Party was a band we've wanted to see for a long time now.  Silent Alarm was one of our favorite albums of 2005, and like many people that year, we attached near-mythic status to the band.  Unfortunately, they never lived up to the potential at which Silent Alarm had hinted, squandering the esteem they had built with their fans on some questionable synth-pop tunes and even string accompanied ballads.  Still, some of the songs from Silent Alarm can to this day make the hair on my arms stand up.  So this was one set for my bucket list.

Unfortunately, we can't put our finger on exactly what it was, but the set let us down.  Maybe we were still reeling from Savages set, or maybe our expectations were too high, but it never clicked. The Silent Alarm songs still sounded great, but we found ourselves waiting for the next one from that album between all the other songs in the set.

We were pleasantly surprised to see our old friend Justin Harris of Menomena now playing bass in the band.  That was cool.

Admittedly, we got there late after leaving the Savages set and we left early to cross the Bridge of Death and go see The Kills, and even while we were there at the Bloc Party set, we were as busy taking advantage of the VIP amenities by the Peachtree stage as we were listening to the band.  We note wistfully that back in the Silent Alarm era of 2005, we actually had tickets at one point to go see Bloc Party in their angular, guitar-driven prime, but didn't actually go to the show for some reason we can't even remember now.  Oh, opportunities missed . . .

The Kills (Boulevard Stage)

We've seen The Kills before, twice, once at Bumbershoot in Seattle in 2011 and the next week at MFNW (RIP) in Portland.   It's been five years now and I mean this as a compliment - The Kills haven't changed a bit.

The Kills strength is the simplicity of their formula - Alison Mosshart's force-of-nature, wall-of-sound vocals over Jamie Hince's blistering guitar.  The more stripped down and basic they make it, the more it works.  They know this and they keep it simple, leaving others to determine what to call their sound - garage rock?  noise rock? blues rock? All of the above, sometimes at the same time?

I'll be the first to admit, it was great, but I'll also be the first to admit - I'm an old man.  I had been on my feet and in the sun for most of the past nine hours, and I was tired and sore.  The Kills' music was great if I stayed with it, but as soon as my attention wandered, it became overwhelming.  It was time for me to go.

There were still sets left in the evening by The 1975, but we didn't go because I'm not 16, and by Jane's Addiction, but I didn't go because it's not 1997.  Commenters the next day in the Atlanta Journal Constitution couldn't say enough bad things about how terrible the Jane's Addiction set was, so it's probably best that we left when we did and put Day One of Shaky Knees in the books.

We'll get to Day Two very soon, maybe even tomorrow, but I'm not promising anything.

Here's your parting shot from the day:

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