Sunday, May 22, 2016

Shaky Knees Retrospective, Day 3 Part Two

The last installation to this six-part retrospective . . . If the strategy for the first half of Day Three was to maximize the opportunity to catch Ought and Parquet Courts on the same day, the strategy for the second half of the day was to get in as good a position as possible for Florence + The Machine's headlining set.  So after Parquet Courts wrapped up their set at The Boulevard Stage, we re-crossed the Shaky Bridge of Death and spent the rest of the day in the shade of the VIP pavilion by the Peachtree Stage, enjoying the free beer and phone charging station and the good views afforded to the stage for 

St. Paul & The Broken Bones (Peachtree Stage)

St. Paul is a Birmingham, Alabama band who play old-school soul and R&B in the manner of James Brown and Otis Redding.  Based on appearance, that's about the last thing you'd expect from singer Paul Janeway, but driven by a horn section and a wailing guitar, he works himself and the audience into a stoned-soul-picnic frenzy.

St. Paul rocked the set hard, playing Motown and Stax classics, their own compositions, and even a cover of The Beatles' I Want You (She's So Heavy).  Janeway threw himself into the set, literally at one point, flying off the stage and finishing the song twitching spasmodically on the ground in the security aisle.

Photo from the Shaky Knees Instagram feed 
 He wasn't hurt, but he tore his pants leg (by the way, kudos for wearing a suit and jacket on stage in Georgia in May), and holy shit, check out those shoes! As the jazz musician David Murray once sang, "Look at his shoes, look at his clothes, and the apogee of his superpose." 

As their set wrapped up and the audience began to mill about, we got lucky and were able to snag two stools by the edge of the VIP pavilion.  Since this spot was such a comfortable and ideal spot to watch the next performance on the Peachtree stage, we declined crossing the Shaky Bridge of Death again to see The Black Angels, however fond we are of them, and sat through what we could hear of Houndmouth's set at the Ponce stage and waited by the Peachtree stage for the next set, which was by Seattle's 

The Head & The Heart (Peachtree)

We absolutely loved THATH's first, self-titled album and like most of their audiences, sang along with every line of every song when we saw them at Variety Playhouse and Athens' 40-Watt Club.  We liked their second album Let's Be Still much less, and were more than a little put off by their stage persona when they toured behind the second LP, coming off as they were like conceited, self-indulgent prima donnas.  When we left their set at the Buckhead Theater, we vowed we had been to our last THATH show.

Be careful of vows that you make, because if you're like us, once you vow never to do something again, you find yourself doing that exact thing in a startlingly short period of time.    

So there we were, watching The Head And The Heart, and noticed that the front lineup was different from shows of the past. The basic dynamic of a THATH show is the interplay between three featured singer-songwriters, guitarist Josiah Johnson, second guitarist Jonathan Russell, and violinist Charity Rose Thielen.  But Johnson was missing, and while we initially thought that Russell and Thielen had perhaps pulled some sort of coup and took over the band, we later saw this on their Facebook page:

The Head and The Heart
about 2 months ago
Hello from The Head and the Heart HQ. We have been working on a new album and are looking forward to getting back out on the road to do what we love, playing shows for our fans. We value our fans’ support, and in that spirit we wanted you to hear from us first that Josiah will not be joining us on stage this time around. Josiah is battling addiction and focusing on his recovery, with all of us (and all of you) providing him with love, support and the privacy he needs to be strong on his journey, for as long as it takes for him to feel solid and whole again. This is not an easy thing for us as he is very much a part of our family. Josiah continues to be a strong presence within the band, working with us to choose someone to temporarily fill in for him at the shows. We really look forward to seeing you on the road!With Love Always,
Jon, Josiah, Charity, Kenny, Chris and Tyler


But we didn't know that at the time of the show, and in fact missed most of the set as it was VIP feeding time (free BBQ!) and we spent much of the set on the incredibly long and slow line for dinner, although we could clearly hear the set.  They played songs from their cherished first album as well as their second, and even previewed some songs from their new forthcoming album.

However, we did make it back to our coveted seats in time to hear them perform their signature song Lost In My Mind.

The crowd was reaching peak size in anticipation of the headliner, but we held on to our choice spot and passed up the long walk over to go see Explosions In The Sky or the short walk to see Young The Giant, and fortified by free BBQ and what was left of the free beer (the good stuff, Sierra Nevada, was now gone and we had made the switch to Dos Equis), we settled in for

Florence + The Machine (Peachtree)

The first thing that became apparent well before Florence Welch even took the stage was that she easily had the most attractive stage set for any band of the festival.  With mahogany wood risers for the horn section, the backup singers, the drummer, and the harpist, not to mention that she even had a harpist, it was apparent that this was going to be a particularly spectacular set.

Florence did not disappoint.  She ran around the stage throughout her set in a flowing yellow dress, looking and acting like some sort of barefoot wood sprite, as her powerful voice belted out the songs. It's a testament to her singing prowess that she never sounded winded even as she twirled and ran and sashayed around the stage, and even when she ran down the security aisle that Paul Janeway (St. Paul & the Broken Bones, remember?) had earlier collapsed in and climbed up on top of the sound booth, she kept on singing without missing a breath.  

She was mesmerizing and it was impossible to take your eyes off her as she performed.

Her set list covered her career and left nothing out, other than Kiss With A Fist, her first single and not really a Florence + The Machine song anyway, or at least not what they sound like now.  While there's elements of pop, soul, and Baroque arrangements in her music, she balances the confessional, gossip-loving, genre-bending sounds of Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash, Adele, and Lily Allen with the moody, classic art rock sound of Kate Bush.  And kudos to her for having an all-woman horn section.

If there were any doubts about her ability to headline a major rock festival, or how her pop-rock hybrid would fit in with the rest of the rock, punk, and indie music, she dispelled those worries at the start of her set and carried her 90-minute set with poise and confidence.

It was a great headlining performance to cap off the festival, and even if she didn't come back for an encore, she gave the audience everything she had while on stage.

Closing note: in most of my reviews of shows in this blog, I tend to use the editorial "we" to describe myself, so as to include the reader in the narrative and to also avoid mentioning if I went to the show with a friend, or friends, or by myself.  But the "we" for this year's Shaky Knees was a very, very special companion, the lovely Britney, who came all the way down from New York to spend the weekend listening to music with this old man.  She was a great and supportive companion, sometimes bringing me beer and food while I waited for the next band to start at a stage, or holding down the fort while I waited on line and returned the favor.  Her presence at the festival was all the more impressive knowing that she was also down here in Atlanta visiting a new boyfriend, and the time spent with me was time spent away from the warm embrace of a new lover. So this last parting shot is a selfie, taken near our coveted spot on the VIP pavilion prior to Florence, and a shout out to a truly outstanding young lady ("today's music fan, out standing in the field").  Thanks for the company, Britney!

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