The Shaky Knees Music Festival rolled into Saturday with even better weather than the opening day. The threat of rain for Saturday and Sunday continued to drop, and there was just enough cloud cover to provide a bit of shield from the hot sun. Saturday tends to be the busiest day of the festival, and this year was no exception. While it seemed that attendance was down just a touch this year, there were still plenty of people spilling through the gates into Central Park looking forward to another solid lineup of artists from top to bottom.
We strolled down the hill and entered the park via the North Ave/Central Park Place entrance, which put us right around the corner from the Peachtree stage. This created the perfect opportunity to catch our first act of the day, Chicago DIY indie trio Dehd. Their upbeat reverb-soaked sound provided the perfect foundation for bassist Emily Kempf’s potent vocals. “Bad Love,” from their upcoming new album Blue Skies, was a definite highpoint and just the thing to get the crowd moving and the day started. After Dehd, it was a short walk across the field and up the hill to catch Chastity Belt on the Piedmont stage. The Washington-based indie pop rock outfit built on the euphoric mood set by Dehd, and mixed a rambunctious punk sound with lush hazy guitars. The hazy sound matched the air around the Piedmont stage, as the celebratory crowd were truly kicking up a dust storm.
In a pattern that would be set for most of the day, we walked back down the hill and returned to the Peachtree stage. Most of our Saturday was spent bouncing back and forth between the closely located larger stages. This time, it was Djo on the main stage. Djo is the performance moniker of actor and musician Joe Keery, best known for his portrayal of Steve Harrington in the Netflix series Stranger Things. It seems like Shaky Knees is becoming the unofficial home for Stranger Things cast members to showcase their musical talents, as last year included the Aubreys, featuring Finn Wolfhard. Having spent time as one of the guitarists in Chicago-based garage band Post Animal, Keery’s music is more than a Hollywood vanity project. His set was filled with a slightly warped and relaxed psychedelic rock sound with songs pulled primarily from his 2019 debut album, Twenty-Twenty. Full disclosure… We went into the Djo performance with a bit of a cynical outlook and no real expectations. However, we left very pleasantly surprised, impressed by Joe Keery the musician. Our chilled out blissful mood was a great springboard to launch us into a Saturday filled with highlights.
Guided By Voices. The iconic indie rockers fronted by prolific singer/songwriter Robert Pollard shifted the mood back to a lo-fi indie garage rock sound. Robert Pollard is truly the energizer bunny of indie rock, he seems not to have lost a step as he was high kicking and swinging his microphone throughout the high energy set. Having been around for 35 years, Guided By Voices could easily rest on their catalog, but Pollard seems both inspired and immune to writer’s block, having released more than 5 albums in the past 2 years alone! As this performance showed, they can still deliver the goods.
Phantom Planet. Los Angeles’ Phantom Planet, having endured an 11-year hiatus between 2008 and 2019, are still going. Their hooky melodic indie pop and garage rock was more than enough to tempt us to cross the park and catch their set at the tree-lined Criminal Records stage. It was definitely worth the walk. Another great performance that has us hoping for more new music from them.
Reignwolf. The gritty blues rock project of guitarist/vocalist Jordan Cook is a live experience that isn’t to be missed. So, we made sure to catch his set at the Ponce stage. Accompanied by a lone drummer, Reignwolf was one-man hurricane, playing frenzied fuzzed-out solos while covering every inch of the stage and even venturing out into the crowd. A Reignwolf performance is in a word, ferocious. His Shaky Knees set was no exception.
The Regrettes. What is it about the Ponce stage that brings out the intensity of the bands who perform there? Perhaps it’s the metal roof concentrating and reflecting back the energy of crowd and artist. Whatever it is, Frontwoman Lydia Night was definitely in the zone. She was a whirl of constant movement as she pogoed and danced around the stage, spinning her microphone cord, and occasionally pausing to lean over the front of the stage to close the gap to the equally charged crowd. The band matched the frenetic pace as they delivered the poppy garage punk that fueled the spirited performance.
Chvrches. The Scottish synth-pop trio fronted by the dazzling singer Lauren Mayberry are always a major draw. Playing behind their recent release, 2021’s Screen Violence, they delivered a performance that was a feast for both the ears and the eyes. Their big accessible synths, pounding beat, and anthemic melodies backed by a dynamic light show was a home run and showed they have headlining chops.
Closing out what is arguably the biggest night of the festival fell to Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. Only their second show in the last four years, and there was no rust to be found. Bathed in billowing smoke, and illuminated by powerful bursts of strobe lights, they put their foot down and slammed though a set pulled from across their vast catalog. They even managed to throw in the first performance of “Heresy” in more than ten years, and a cover of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans.”