Shaky Knees 2017 Day 2: X Ambassadors, The Revivalists, Nick Murphy and The xx light up the night

BY ZACHARY HANSEN and MELISSA RUGGIERI

(This story was originally filed on May 14, 2017)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The lineup is obviously completely different from the first day, but many things remained constant as the Shaky Knees Music Festival entered its second day.

For starters, the weather was equally as dramatic and equally as underwhelming as the threats for storms and rain never came to fruition — aside from about 10 minutes of rain around 4 p.m. Like Friday, Mother Nature bluffed, but those who headed to the festival called her bluff and came out the victors.

The noise bleed zone between the Peachtree and Piedmont stages also persisted, but it’s too far into the festival to fix now. All people can do is plan around it for Sunday’s shows. Next year, hopefully the festival will offer a solution, such as having the Ponce de Leon stage present overlapping acts since it’s far enough away. But that’s all speculation for now.

The quality of acts remained quite consistent with the first day, and audiences were treated to bands such as The Revivalists, Nick Murphy, X Ambassadors, Dr. Dog and The xx.

The Revivalists frontman David Shaw brought plenty of intensity to his vocal performance. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

Here is our recap of some of Saturday’s shows (and click here for a rundown of Friday night’s performances).

On Sunday, fans can expect to hear Ryan Adams, Phoenix, The Shins and many more.

The Revivalists

Don’t let the walk out song fool you, because this New Orleans rock band sounds nothing like Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.” However, both do pack their own punch. Lead singer David Shaw showed off his soulful and raspy pipes during the opener “It Was a Sin,” and he rarely let up. A few softer songs, such as “Wish I knew You,” offered a more reserved performance by Shaw, but when he toned it down, the band picked up the slack. Whether it was the lead guitar flourishes throughout the aforementioned “Wish I knew You” or the long trumpet and saxophone solos near the end of “Soulfight,” the band made their own impression separate from Shaw’s howl. Of the band’s three albums, 2015’s “Men Amongst Mountains” received the most attention, but with cuts such as “All In The Family” and “Stand Up,” the crowd definitely wasn’t complaining.

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Catfish and the Bottlemen singer Evan Van McCann made the girls very happy. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

Catfish and the Bottlemen

Hailing from across the pond, the Wales rockers injected some adrenaline into festival-goers’ system. The band rarely let up throughout their entire performance, mostly sticking to their faster songs with crunchy guitars and power chords. The energetic guitar solo near the end of “Soundcheck” was an early highlight, as guitarist Johnny Bond showed off his chops. Vocalist Van McCann held the most stage presence of the band, and songs such as “Kathleen” and “Pacifier” really leaned on his vocal performance. The group only has two albums so far in their young career, and while they played songs from both, their newer 2016 album “The Ride” carried the bulk of attention. Even though the set opener “Homesick” was from their debut album, the banner above the stage was an alligator eating its own tail, the cover image from “The Ride.”

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Dr. Dog singer/bassist Toby Leaman feels the groove. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

Dr. Dog

The indie folk-rockers from Pennsylvania have a special distinction at this festival – they’ve performed three out of its five years of existence. Shaky Knees founder Tim Sweetwood said it’s because, ‘They’re fantastic human beings and they put on a great show,” and the band proved that assessment correct (well, they seem like nice guys, so we’ll assume they’re fantastic human beings). Bassist Toby Leaman and guitarist Scott McMicken traded lead vocals on songs including “Broken Heart” and “Shadow People,” as the band maintained a languid, steady groove. While Dr. Dog became increasingly difficult to hear over the heavier sounds of Catfish and the Bottlemen on the neighboring Peachtree stage, McMicken commendably plowed through with ripe harmonica coloring the easy-swaying “Jim Song.” The band released its 10th album, “Abandoned Mansion,” last fall, and given their warm reception, it’s a safe wager that they’ll return to a future Shaky Knees lineup.

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Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath was a compelling presence. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

Sylvan Esso

The indie pop duo may have seemed dwarfed by the large Peachtree stage during their set, but they mostly utilized the space to their advantage. More accurately, front woman Amelia Meath did, since she was dancing around and hopped up and down whenever she wasn’t singing. To boot, she was wearing platform boots, which couldn’t have made dancing easier, but it didn’t stop her. Nick Sanborn, who is responsible for the bleeps, bloops and mixing, provided some powerful bass throughout the show, especially in “Kick Jump Twist” and “Could I Be.” The band struck a pretty good balance by playing plenty of songs from both of their albums. Tracks such as the off-kilter “Dress” represented the band’s 2014 debut, while the group’s 2017 offering “What Now,” gave the crowd dance-able tracks such as the radio-ready “Die Young.”

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Nick Murphy

The Australian singer-songwriter formerly known as Chet Faker came out swinging during his Peachtree stage performance. As Nick Murphy, he only has an EP to his name, but he pulled heavily from his past work to make it through the set. He performed favorites from his 2014 album “Built On Glass,” such as “Talk Is Cheap,” “1998” and “Gold.” His musical style could be described as the crossing point between electronica and soul, and his physical delivery definitely sold itself on emotion and pathos. During “Gold,” every word he sang registered a different emotion, not only in his voice, but in his facial expressions. This technique especially paid off during the slow burn tracks, of which “Fear Less” is the most potent example.

However, there was one production choice that hurt the overall performance -the overly loud bass in the mix. For those close to the stage, it was almost impossible to hear Murphy’s crooning, and halfway through the first song, many crowd members purposefully backed away from the stage for a more pleasant listening experience.

Songs such as “1998” and “The Trouble With Us” showed off great drum work, and they were full of tasteful uses of electronic percussion as well as syncopated grooves. These were the tracks that got everyone dancing, and the drum patterns accounted for most of the reason why.

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X Ambassadors lead singer Sam Harris. Photo: aLIVE Coverage

X Ambassadors

As on Friday, the Peachtree and Piedmont stages featured a lot of set overlapping, and partially helped and hurt X Ambassadors. On one hand, it was a surprise that the New York rockers were relegated to the smaller of the two stages considering their massive radio hits “Renegades” and “Unsteady.” This is where having Nick Murphy playing at the same time helped since it attracted enough people away from X Ambassadors’ show, keeping it from getting too overcrowded (even though it was obviously the more packed and popular of the two shows).

It hurt X Ambassadors during softer performances including “Gorgeous” and “Hang On,” and Murphy could be heard pretty easily from all parts of the crowd over X Ambassadors, which is definitely a problem. That’s not X Ambassadors’ fault though, and they threw an energetic concert for those who stuck around. The opener “Jungle” was a statement of intent, and it began with a blistering guitar solo from Russ Flynn and ended with the shrieks of frontman Sam Harris.

The band’s original claim to fame was the radio (and car commercial) hit “Renegades,” which they saved for last. Before a few of the songs, Harris spoke multiple times at length, including about self-esteem and depression before “Lowlife.” He seemed to continue that theme while talking about “Naked,” but it ended up leading into a joke. He said, “It’s a song about being vulnerable…it’s also about taking your clothes off, which is a beautiful thing.”

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London’s The xx headlined Day 2 of Shaky Knees. Photo: aLIVE Coverage

The xx

Ever since the London band released their first album in 2009, The xx has been one of the most critically acclaimed and successful indie pop bands. The trio’s mix of electronic elements, accessible melodies and the interplay of vocalist Romy Croft and bassist Oliver Sam are just a few of the reasons they headlined the second day of the festival. Fans undoubtedly went home happy after the group performed one of the most diverse sets and stage shows to hit Atlanta so far this year.

Their show was incredibly different from Friday’s headliner, LCD Soundsystem, in many ways. Most of The xx’s songs were shorter in length and many were more somber and had slower tempos. However, when The xx locked into a groove and wanted people to dance, they danced. Track such as “On Hold” immediately grabbed the crowd with a powerhouse of a melodic groove.

The interplay between Croft and Sam on vocals was great to see as well. As the lead vocalist, Croft received the most time to shine, but there were points in “Say Something Loving” and “Crystalised” where the duo alternated each line spoken or sang in harmony. That’s not to say DJ and producer James Smith (also known as Jamie xx) didn’t get his own time to shine. Near the end of the night, there was a stretch where he was the only member playing anything, crafting electronic soundscapes that kept the crowd invested – and dancing.

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