The Shaky Knees Music Festival descends upon Atlantic Station from May 9-11, filling up three days with performances by established and up-and-coming indie rock alike. From the wistful pop Americana of the National and Conor Oberst to the lo-fi indie rock of Modest Mouse and Minnesota garage-punk elder statesmen the Replacements, it'll be a weekend of music and sun on the asphalt. With so many acts gracing the festival's four stages, prioritizing who to catch and who to skip can be a juggling act. So this week, CL's music scribes lay out their top 10 best bets for the weekend marked by exuberance in the name of contemporary indie rock.
Jordan Lee's experimental pop project Mutual Benefit may not be the biggest name on the weekend roster, but his pastoral folk songs bring one of the most thoughtful daytime shows to the lineup. With a blend of vibrant strings (live shows include violin and banjo) and analog field recordings featured throughout his 2013 debut, Love's Crushing Diamond, Lee and his collaborators create uplifting, authentic swells of music to wash over a sunny afternoon. Fri., May 9, 12:45 p.m. Piedmont Stage. — Sonam Vashi
When the Whigs, who relocated to Nashville from Athens in late 2012, take the stage, the group will do so with its new album, Modern Creation, in hand. It's a melodic batch of 10 jangly garage-pop tunes recorded over two weeks with full-band live takes. The trio sounds less raw and nervy than on past albums, but more confident and comfortable. Fri., May 9, 2:25 p.m. Ponce de Leon Stage. — Chris Hassiotis
He's called "The Screaming Eagle of Soul," and once you've witnessed Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires' give-it-all performance, it's pretty damn obvious why that is. The man got his showbiz start years ago impersonating James Brown, and the Godfather of Soul's show-stopping stage presence informs much of Bradley's act. "My heart is overpowered. I just have to scream it out to get all that beauty in my heart out at one time," he told CL while passing through town last year. Impassioned, soulful, funky, sweaty, fiery, dramatic ... Bradley's show is not to be missed. Fri., May 9, 4 p.m. Ponce de Leon stage. — CH
If the National isn't the reigning king of indie rock, it's certainly a high-ranking member of the royal court. On albums such as 2007's masterful Boxer and last year's Trouble Will Find Me, the Brooklyn-based quintet displays a deft flair for mixing genres and crafting atmospheric textures behind singer Matt Berninger's baritone ruminations on regret, finding one's way in a complex world, and other heady themes. All of which make this set a strong, if somewhat melancholy, way to close out Friday night. Fri., May 9, 9:30 p.m. Peachtree Stage. — Kevin Forest Moreau
It's been a long and lonely five years since Modest Mouse released 2009's No One's First and You're Next. The indie rock stalwarts have been mostly silent since then with frontman Isaac Brock's focus on his own Glacial Pace label, signaling a looming hiatus. Yet the few details that have eeked out from the MM camp reveal exciting things to come. Even though the three core members of Modest Mouse are all approaching the death knell that is middle age, their consistent reputation for unpredictable live ferocity makes them the biggest must-see at Shaky Knees. Sat., May 10, 9:30 p.m. Peachtree stage. — Paul DeMerritt
A festival like Shaky Knees is made for a band like Phox — a band on its way up but still generally unknown around these parts. The Wisconsin act released its debut EP, Confetti, last year and it's a charmingly kaleidoscopic collection of nuanced pop songs. Both playful and heartfelt, the music, and Monica Martin's arresting voice, looks to folk, soul, and psychedelia, but creates its own identity in one of those interrupt-the-conversation-to-ask-hey-what-band-is-this ways. Catch 'em before the rest of the country catches on. Phox's self-titled first full-length hits next month. Sat., May 10, 5 p.m. Boulevard stage. — CH
Jenny Lewis has kept herself busy over the past few years following the demise of her longtime group Rilo Kiley. Since then, the California alt-country songwriter partnered with boyfriend Johnathan Rice on their collaborative record Jenny and Johnny, penned songs for several soundtracks, and toured with the Postal Service. Lewis has recently turned toward finishing up her first solo record in six years with the help of guest producers Beck and Ryan Adams. The untitled LP will likely be released in 2014, which means that Shaky Knees will be a ripe opportunity for testing out her latest batch of pop songs. Sat., May 10, 8 p.m. Ponce de Leon stage. — Max Blau
The Replacements were one of those influential bands that cast a shadow over the alternative/indie rock landscape far greater than its commercial footprint. Which means this reunion (singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson are the only original members) comes with heightened expectations. Of course, the band's greatest strength has always been subverting expectations, rambling through albums like Let It Be, Tim, and Pleased to Meet Me with a shambling, erratic grace. All of this is to say the group often sounded sloppy and/or drunk, while revealing moments of assured songcraft, buoyed by Westerberg's wistful yet scrappy lyricism. Sat., May 10, 8 p.m. Piedmont Stage. — KFM
"My father said if you're honest no one will complain," Kelsey Kopecky of Kopecky Family Band sings over the flirtatious, whistle-backed guitar riffs on "Are You Listening." There ain't much to bitch about when it comes to this Nashville six-piece. Along with co-founder and vocalist Gabriel Simon, the Kopecky's folk-rock jams are better experienced in the flesh. The group has been steady traveling and making tunes for the past seven years, but it was the exceptional 2012 debut, Kids Raising Kids, featuring the punchy "Heartbeat" and anthem-esque "The Glow," that caught the attention of fans and critics alike. While its members may not be connected by blood, Kopecky is a family band worth partying with when they hit the stage. Sun., May 11, 6:45 p.m. Boulevard stage. — Gavin Godfrey
Amid a massive bill of heavy hitters featured throughout this year's Shaky Knees lineup lies the Violent Femmes — a true American alternative rock classic. The Milwaukee trio harbors a spate of mid-'80s deep cuts, such as "Please Do Not Go," "Add It Up," and "Gone Daddy Gone," and when singer and guitarist Gordon Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie, and drummer Brian Viglione (also of Dresden Dolls fame) tear into the seminal "Blister in the Sun," it's nearly impossible not to do the whole clap-clap, clap-clap thing during the verses. When it comes to alternative rock, the Femmes are an institution, and after more than 30 years the group still puts on a must-see show. Sun., May 11, 7:45 p.m. Ponce de Leon Stage. — Kelly StrouP
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