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The 10 Best Acts We Saw at Shaky Knees 2019

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Another Shaky Knees has come and gone, and on the other side of the weekend we find ourselves a little sleepy, slightly dehydrated and completely content after 72 hours of live music at Atlanta’s Central Park. One of the best rock festivals in the country, Shaky Knees consistently brings in noteworthy big names and up-and-comers alike, and the 2019 lineup, one of the year’s best, was no exception. We got there early to catch folks like Julia Jacklin and Lucy Dacus, and headliners Tame Impala, Beck and Cage the Elephant capped off each night with stellar, career-honoring concerts. It was a weekend full of meaningful moments, the best of which we’ve included in our recap below. Keep scrolling to read about all our favorite acts, listed in alphabetical order, and keep an eye out for the 2020 lineup. Until next year, Shaky Knees!

1. FIDLAR

FIDLAR are easy to underestimate. The Los Angeles four-piece had the skater punk and party punk tags thrown at their band from the beginning, and songs like “Cocaine,” “40oz on Repeat” and “Wake Bake Skate” didn’t really help support a counternarrative. Now 10 years as a band, FIDLAR have mellowed out while still retaining their exceptionally fun live band status. Their new album Almost Free still addresses substance abuse and feelings of personal hangups, but FIDLAR seem unfazed by people still trying to pin them down as a shallow punk band. Judging from their Shaky Knees set, which featured fan favorites like “West Coast” and Almost Free cuts like “By Myself” and “Flake,” young fans still passionately cling to them in the way that kids did 10 years ago. Add a girls-only moshpit and a crowd-surfing panda, which frontman Zac Carper invited onstage to dance to “40oz on Repeat,” and I’m not sure how anyone could have walked away from their set without a wide, stupid grin. —Lizzie Manno

2. IDLES

Care for a mosh pit, anyone? You’ll get that at any IDLES show, but the one at Shaky Knees on Friday was particularly wild. I stayed towards the back of the Ponce stage and watched the insanity from afar, but assistant music editor Lizzie Manno did not: she was right in the midst of the action. She sent me a three part text after the show stating, “I” “AM” “SOAKED,” so I’ll take her word for it. As per usual, IDLES delivered their positive punk sermon, with frontman Joe Talbot spreading the word that sometimes, bad things happen to people, yes, but that doesn’t make someone a bad person. Give me positive, raucous, loud punk rock any day of the week. —Annie Black

3. Julia Jacklin

Julia Jacklin is a singer/songwriter from Australia who’s behind one of the best albums of the year so far, her sophomore LP Crushing. It’s a record of deeply affecting songs inspired by a breakup, but they’re much more than heartbreak tunes: songs about finding strength in autonomy and healing. Jacklin has one of the most of assured, steady voices, and on day two of Shaky Knees we discovered that voice translates more than smoothly in a live setting—it was absolutely pristine. Jacklin performed album highlights like “Head Alone,” “Pressure To Party” and, the wrecking ball of the bunch, “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You.” —Ellen Johnson

4. Lucy Dacus

Hearing Lucy Dacus perform songs from her 2018 album Historian only solidified my opinion (and Paste’s) that it was one of the best of the year, and perhaps even a modern classic. “Addictions” opened the set, “Night Shift” cut just as deep as usual and “Pillar of Truth” made me weep. Dacus wrote the latter for her paternal grandmother, and her dad also happened to be in the crowd on Sunday afternoon at the Criminal Records stage. She also saved a moment for her mom, playing her beautiful new tune “My Mother & I,” the second in a series of holiday songs. The first was a charged new take on “La Vie En Rose,” which Dacus also played Sunday. Édith Piaf never could have dreamed how much that song can rock. —Ellen Johnson

5. Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers was putting out some real Janis Joplin vibes Sunday on the Piedmont stage at Shaky Knees. Not in her sound, per say—her sound was what we’re learning to be the norm for Maggie, carefree and buoyant with insurmountable depth. However, in her look and movement, from her long sandy in-the-face hair and royal blue scarf right down to her groovy sways, Janis felt present in 2019. I like to imagine she was looking down on Maggie fondly that day, proud that today’s women in music are keeping the dream alive. —Annie Black

6. Oh Sees

Oh Sees (a.k.a. Thee Oh Sees, OCS, etc.) are a masterclass in all things psych, punk, metal and garage. Frontman John Dwyer and co. touched down at Shaky Knees the same way that you might expect an extraterrestrial aircraft to do—unassuming, slightly ominous and impossible to forget. Equipped with two drummers and guitar extraordinaire Dwyer, Oh Sees went so hard they blew a speaker mid-way into their set as they ripped through cuts like “The Static God,” “I Come From The Mountain” and the head-banging set highlight “Nite Expo.” It’s probably safe to say no Shaky Knees crowd this weekend will best Oh Sees in terms of crowdsurfers, especially considering the crowdsurfing panda mascot, to which Dwyer commented, “Don’t you dare drop that panda.” Whether it was a pole in the crowd, lit up and decorated like a Christmas tree, or the band’s blinding 20-minute spiralling psych outro, Oh Sees were sensory overload in the best possible way. —Lizzie Manno

7. Sharon Van Etten

It’s no wonder Sharon Van Etten played the main stage (a.k.a. the Peachtree Stage) at Shaky Knees. She’s an absolute powerhouse in a live setting, leading her band like a true frontwoman at the top of her game. It is curious she played so early in the day (3:40 p.m.)—her commanding set felt worthy of a twilight slot. But in the end, the time or place didn’t matter. Watching Van Etten play the songs from her bold new album Remind Me Tomorrow, a record that makes a clear, marvelously executed departure from her earlier folk-leaning material, felt like witnessing an artist fully come into herself. It’s not that her new music is better or worse than her first four albums (2014’s Are We There makes a convincing case for modern classic status). Rather, it’s Van Etten finding power in her new confidence, in her ability to change her sound, which is now frothy with synths and droning drum loops and cathedral-like choruses, and still maintain her gusto. On Friday, she seemed most fortified when playing with a guitar (which she did with her hit “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”). But then again, when her hands were empty, she seemed just as assured—when she sang (read: bellowed, or maybe wailed?) “I know what you’re gonna be” to her “Seventeen”-year-old self, I felt every hair on my body actively raise. That Springsteenian tune is often controlling song-of-the-year conversations (and it’s only May), and Sharon Van Etten is constantly reinventing herself in the best way. —Ellen Johnson

8. Soccer Mommy

Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison took the stage with a full band as day was turning into night and the cloudy skies were threatening to rain. I’ve never thought about there being such a thing as “dusk music,” but these mostly sad songs from her 2018 album Clean fit the bill, the perfect set for the end of a warm Atlanta day with her laid-back electric guitar melodies echoing through the tree-lined Criminal Records Stage. When the sun finally set and a misty rain began to descend, Allison sent her bandmates off for a trio of solo songs, including her haunting cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and the gorgeous new song “Night Swimming.” After playing “Still Clean,” she brought the band back out for “Scorpion Rising,” one of best songs from one of the best albums of last year. For those of us not willing to endure the rain for Cage the Elephant, it was a wonderfully satisfying ending to a day of live music. —Josh Jackson

9. Tame Impala

I first saw Tame Impala at another festival back in 2017, and what was true then is still true now: Kevin Parker and co. are one of the best live shows running. Maybe the Tame Impala act has a reputation for offering little more than vibes and a stoner’s live soundtrack, but that’s just not the case. The show is electric, and Sunday evening’s episode was a wholly captivating exhibition of Tame Impala hits—the existential smack of “Let It Happen,” thoughtful grooves of “Yes I’m Changing” and charged danceability of their biggest hit, “The Less I Know The Better,” which is as fun now as it was upon first listen of Currents in 2015. They left us with the perfect set closer, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” Stereotypes may abide, but Tame Impala are so much more than a space out. —Ellen Johnson

10. Tears For Fears

Hello, very big unabashed Tears For Fears fan here! It’s not every day you get to see New Wave legends in person, and it’s certainly not every day you get to see them perform your favorite New Wave song of all time. That happened Friday night for me in Atlanta at the Tears For Fears set on the Piedmont stage. They played “Pale Shelter,” along with all of their most-known tracks, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Shout,” “Mad World,” and more. They even blessed us with a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” which was a true delight. If you have a chance to see Tears For Fears, take it. Trust me. —Annie Black

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