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The first Sunday musician was easily the most emotionally dense. Julien Baker, who we interviewed with "On Second Thought," gave an utterly gut-wrenching performance. Given the somber nature of her writing style and character, it was to be expected. But man, when you hear her voice in full force, it is something else entirely.
As was promised, Baker commanded a quietness from the audience through her melancholy and intensely despairing tone. This show, unlike most at this kind of festival, was not about having fun. It was about real, heavy feelings -- the kind that make you uncomfortable to talk about. Baker has a way of rendering the soul and tearing it to bits.
It was truly one of the most passionate performances I’ve ever seen, and there was more than one tear shed throughout the audience. This was a treat amongst all the rowdiness of Shaky Knees. Nothing against any bands this weekend, but this was real music. Please check out Julien Baker if you haven’t already…
Entirely different were Deftones, who have been destroying the earbuds of twenty-somethings for decades now. I’m happy to say we acquired photos without the need of hospital trips for bleeding ears.
That sentiment wraps up the gist of Deftones, who live in a peculiar genre between metal, emo and...pop. They definitely bring the heaviness, but their stage presence speaks something a little more finicky and naive.
I dig the grungy, distorted guitar riffs. They truly command thousands of straight laced concert-goers into becoming head-bangers. Many a short-haired college boy found themselves thrashing around like tribal dancers. And when it came to the real metal-heads, you can be sure there was more than one moshpit to speak of.
Even still, I’m not really sure what the Deftones schtick is, or what purpose it serves at Shaky Knees. They’re loud and obnoxious, and I suppose that can be enough. But it hides behind a superficial shell of glam and inauthenticity I had hoped music fans grew out of in the early ‘00s. Props to them for keeping on, but I get the feeling their appeal is wearing thin as more serious metal groups like Baroness take the reins.
Explosions in the Sky
After all the harsh wailing from Deftones, it was incredibly refreshing to kick back and watch Explosions In The Sky do their thing. The Texas-based group is almost entirely instrumental, but that in no way suggests they lack in their performance or production.
It’s easy to see how these guys are really just a jam band, but they’re what jam bands are properly supposed to be. They build soundscapes and thoughtfully constructed patterns, alternating instruments and focusing in on the precision of their sound. Every note is intentional, and every piece gives the impression of practice and masterful calculation.
The danger for good musicians is that it can be hard for them to pull a crowd or keep one. I admit a good deal of folks shuffled out during the long instrumental sagas, but still an impressive core of fans held out to give credence the band’s undeniable skill. If you need something to revive your faith in popular instrumental jam music, look no further than Explosions In The Sky.
Florence + The Machine
The big draw for Sunday was Florence + The Machine. Florence Welch came out in a neon bright yellow dress, barefoot and no make-up to speak of. Before hopping on stage, she walked through the crowd handing out roses to adoring fans.
Florence commands an audience like no other. She truly channels the pomp and energy of predecessors like Cher and Janis Joplin (NOT in terms of vocal timbre). She likes to gallop sideways across the stage, raising her palm to the sky. Upon reaching each end of the stage, she gets to her knees to reach out and raises roars from the crowd.
At one point, Florence asked out: “Atlanta! Do you want to get high with me tonight?” Of course, they surely did. She also ordered her fans to jump onto each other’s shoulders, raising up an army 9-foot tall humans throughout the audience. She's truly a master of showmanship, and she made for a beautiful wrap-up set for Shaky Knees.
With a heavy heart, I realize Shaky Knees 2016 is finished, and we must now go home. In my humblest opinion, the event was a success, having proven that Atlanta can put on a legitimate music festival. The weather was beautiful, there was tons of music for everyone, Centennial Park was well controlled and spaced out, and the organizers validated their capacity to over tens of thousands of people without much complaint.
Congrats to Tim Sweetwood and everyone else involved. It is no wonder Shaky Knees has grown so much. Surely this year proves the festival deserves every ounce of respect in the national music sphere.
Couldn't make it to this year's festival? We curated a Shaky Knees playlist just for you: