U2–Live at Arena at Gwinnett

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U2 has been on my list of acts to see, but the price has always been high.  So, enter a U2 tour stop at Gwinnett, metro Atlanta’s rural option for a “big arena” show, and, well, they’re getting older  - I’m getting older – and it’s time to fork over the cash… literally a half year in advance.  Such begets front row tickets! (in the upper deck).


Staging should be less a mystery to me than this concert was.  A giant screen runs the length, obviously connecting two stages – the main stage at the end of the arena, and a circular stage nearest my seat.  Obviously, the band members would travel “the bridge,” and the reflective screen in the middle kind of makes sense for people on the sides to view projections.  However, it’s a beast that divides the stage for those in the opposite end.  Solution:  It rises.  Duh.  That explains the many people who sere lined up at the sides expecting to see something more than the video show… obviously.


So, we begin with images of Bono but no band in sight.  Then all the band, but no actual people. 


The grand reveal:


Further revealed.  My concert companion asked how much floor tickets were.  I don’t recall, but I’m no stranger to standing, and if I had known the design, the floor is definitely the place to be.


The screen comes down, the drum set goes up, and we find the band at the end of the arena where generally expected.


The screen also held sway in interludes of sorts, generally providing a visual for Bono’s concert motif, moving from innocence, to experience and back to innocence again, playing off the titles of their last two CDs.  The video board was imaginatively used and added a lot to the show, no less the effect for its unusual placement.


In an intermission of sorts, we followed a comic version of our intrepid super-band, presented in classic Marvel style. It led finally to hand-off of the below:


The band appeared on the circular “e” stage following this, for a better audience “experience.”  Or, it could be looked at more pragmatically, for a series of songs where Edge didn’t need his guitar pedals.  What followed was Bono singing to a special camera, where a graphical overlay of the devil was placed – it worked pretty well even in limited motion.


So, the “e” stage.  Note how close the crowd was able to get – better than festivals and many smaller indoor venues.


The concert was generally better, I thought, when the band played in proximity to each other – perhaps there was more energy, perhaps it was less scanning to figure out who was where.  Now, if, in addition the cleverly projected graphics projected from underneath the stage surface, if they might have designed a rotating stage as well… C’mon guys.  John Denver did it in the 70’s.


What the heck, let’s add a disco ball.


That’s the spectacle. On to the music.  Most notably, and surprising to me, was Bono’s voice, which sounded early 90’s – none of the occasional raspiness which appears in later recordings.

For song selection, I have to give the show a C+.  Giving a nod for turning the show into the equivalent of a concept album, I’d say it was all the wrong songs for all the right reasons.  Sure, they just did a tour last year celebrating The Joshua Tree, but there are those of us who don’t make it to every tour, or any of them.  To not have included any songs from the band’s centerpiece is subtracts a letter grade in and of itself, no matter how tired the songs may be to the band or some members of the audience.

The band played a generous setlist of 24 songs, but only nine of which I would have hoped to have heard if I could have drawn up my own list.  Some of the others were only vaguely familiar in that U2ish way.   Still, I was pleased for some of their very early work, particularly “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and the accompanying graphics show.

So, here’s where the songs came from:

Boy - 2
October - 1
War - 1
The Unforgettable Fire - 1
Joshua TreeZERO
Rattle and Hum - 1
Achtung Baby – 3
Zooropa - 0
Pop - 1
All That You Can’t Leave Behind - 2
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb - 2
No Line on the Horizon - 0
Songs of Innocence – 2
Songs of Experience – 8

I have to add that, while researching the above, I happily discovered that U2 did an album in 1995(!) under the pseudonym “The Passengers.”  It’s experimental, certainly, but there was more of it that appealed to me than No Line on the Horizon, for example.  (Try “Miss Sarajevo”)

As much as Bono has inserted himself on the world stage as a political mover and shaker, one can’t help but expect a dose of “We can do better.”  The political nod of this show mostly focused on women’s equality, which, having a daughter, I can’t argue.  That said, there were two statements that made me cringe:  1) Poverty is sexist and 2) No one is equal until all people are equal.   For either to be true, there are a number of assumptions that would have to be made, never mind contextual assertions that would require agreement to arrive at those conclusions.  If they’re posted to make people think, then, well done.

Elsewhere, Bono did a nice job of playing to the locals, with nods to Martin Luther King and a hint of REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” tacked onto “Vertigo.”  


The encore was “interesting.”  The first song was “One,” certainly a very good song, setting up what I thought might be a Joshua Tree tune or “Mysterious Ways” or such for a grand finale.  Instead, the band closed with two songs off of their latest release, both of which fit the “concept” but which do not qualify as musically invigorating.  The show was artfully concluded, certainly, with Bono having lifted a light for all the world to see, as it goes.  And, with the house lights slow to turn back on – suggesting there might be a little extra coming… Sorry folks! The show is over.  

All things said, I greatly enjoyed the show, and if anything, I’m interested in reexploring a number of their older CDs which I had set aside in U2 overexposure back in the day. 


  • Love is All We Have Left
  • The Blackout
  • Lights of Home
  • I Will Follow
  • Gloria
  • Beautiful Day
  • The Ocean
  • Iris (Hold Me Close)
  • Cedarwood Road
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • Until the End of the World
  • Desire
  • Acrobat
  • You’re the Best Thing About Me
  • Staring at the Sun
  • Pride (In the Name of Love)
  • Get Out of Your Own Way
  • American Soul
  • City of Blinding Lights


  • One
  • Love is Bigger than Anything in its Way
  • 13 (There is a Light)

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Shaky Knees–Day Three

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It probably sucks to be scheduled in the early hours on Day Three of a festival, though presumably money is involved.  Attendees are burnt out after two full days and are more likely to “sleep in” before arriving, if at all.  Smaller crowds, less opportunity to gain new fans.  This is unfortunate, because it doesn’t mean that the artists are worse than those featured later, just newer or less well known.  In fact, it was a similar time-slot that my concert buddy and I discovered Aaron Lee Tasjan last summer.

But we weren’t finding a new band this day.  There was the whole getting up thing, showering, eating lunch, driving an hour to get there, parking, walking a hilly mile to the venue and… a 4:00 start for Lord Huron sounded just fine.  They are one of those bands you’ve probably heard on the radio in a restaurant but found it too loud to decipher who it was with your favorite listening app, while noting they sounded different from the usual goo.  

I’ve seen Lord Huron before, and they were probably better this time around.  They mixed in some of their newer songs which didn’t distract at all from their more familiar songs, the new ones adding a recently discovered driving bass and a little electric punch to their mostly acoustic and heavily reverbed sound.  I’m a fan, and I may be motivated to write a CD review of their latest release once I get hold of their lyrics, which previously  was a joy. Live, their expanded band and a female backup singer worked great to present their songs.

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From there it was off to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, unfortunately appearing at the “Ponce de Leon” stage, covered by a metal shed which, while providing shade for their “creatures of the night” persona, also flattened their sonics.  They’re a band with many good songs scattered over the the past 17 years, enough that there is really no chaff during their shows.  Still, they hadn’t played “American X” their last two trips to town, and they let me down yet again.   Also, listening to this band when it’s sunny outside just doesn’t work, live or recorded...  Would Sinatra sing his “saloon” songs on an outdoor stage during the day?  I think not.  Different generation and music, but, same thing.

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I know I haven’t listened to Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats to give them a fair evaluation, and I didn’t once again even with the chance to see them live.  They didn’t sound bad; they just fill a niche that skipped me, if not my generation.  

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There is no formal break between shows, so skipping Rateliff also provided an opening for another fantastic green chile enchilada, a satisfying drink of reasonably cool water (I live on the edge), and a hillside to people watch.  A new strategy came to mind.  Amid the cool breezes and the occasional dust storms stirred from the nearby Piedmont stage, there were those who were observed to relaxing on the same hillside not on dirt, packed grass or roots, but in comfort.  Hmm.

I had seen this or something similar in a Kickstarter fundraiser a couple of years ago and thought it pretty clever.  It’s actually the same method used for dry storage bags in kayaks, though hopefully with a lighter weight material.  But as a single lounger or couch for two, I have to admire the compact simplicity employed by an appreciable number taking in the festival more restfully .  As I don’t actually need to “see” many of the bands, positioning one of these babies between two stages, listening to whichever one is active and enjoying a cool beverage could be just the thing.  In the context of the moment, a WindPouch might have even invited me to take a nap, given Vance Joy’s ho-hum set soothing me into sleep.  The young ladies seemed to swoon like him, though.

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After sitting on the roots for a time, the bones are ready for Tenacious D, a parody of a heavy metal band (dubbed “mockrock”) that if they took themselves seriously enough, might… well, no, they never will, and that’s okay.  They’re fun, know how to appeal to the Meat Loaf-gone-mad in all of us, and can improvise wildly.  They also have a legion of fans who know their songs word for word.  The whole show seems fairly effortless when your band leader is none other than actor Jack Black.

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It being a work night prior to an early morning flight out of town, I passed on Day Three closer, The National.  Passed right by, too, with my son, none the worse after hearing bits of their first two monotonous songs in the process.  I paused just long enough to capture my final high quality stage shot before walking the long mile back to the car.

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Overall, great venue, value and weather.  If they schedule a reasonably interesting line-up next year, I’ll be back.

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Shaky Knees–Day Two

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This being Saturday and the initial enthusiasm of a three day music festival behind us, it made sense to arrive a little later, settling for “less” in terms of the quantity of the bands.  We parked at the Ponce City Market and once again toted our Crowlers from The Tap on Ponce.   Here’s a hint, if you don’t like to pay for a $9 for a mass market “craft” beer, buy it elsewhere, bring it with you, and drink just outside the entrance to the festival. 

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Once inside, while others might race to the beer, my son and I raced to one of two free H20 stations, neither exactly conspicuous, but not overwhelmed with demand either.  Another hint borne from a fledgling two days at the festival:  Long line?  There may be taps on both sides.  My previous festival concert having provided a good lesson, hydration is important…

So, where do you draw the line between fledgling artists and those you’ve heard, or at least heard of, before?  Well, word of mouth can reign supreme, and that was the case this day with sufficient friends and acquaintances recommending Greta Van Fleet, a band name not likely to roll off the tongue.  This is the kind of advice that comes from, not hypothetically, a stranger at SingleCut brewery – AND the bartender, as well as a host of people wearing band logo T-shirts – not at all uncommon generally, but definitely so for a very, very young band.  If I were to say they were formed in 2012, you’d say – “good, they’ve matured and possibly worth watching by now if they’ve stayed together that long.”  Maybe you’re right. 

Regardless of others’ recommendations, if you hear the lead singer and guitarist are twin brothers – now 22 years old – and the bassist is a younger brother at the ripe age of 19, you may think it’s just another teenage wasteland…  Hanson, the Kings of Leon or similar dreck.  Greta Van Fleet’s future is uncertain, man… they are worth the price of admission today.  Imagine a young Robert Plant.


Not visually.   More specifically, imagine the guy in the center with a young Robert Plant’s voice.  If you have Spotify or another music service, try “Safari Song,” “Highway Tune,” “Black Smoke Rising,” or “Meet on the Ledge,” – the last covers and blows away the Fairport Convention song and suggests that GVF may not be a one trick pony, despite the studied posturing of its singer.   

Well, it’s a group project, and everything depends on what they do next.   The Led Zep approach has given them the stage; we’ll see how long the can keep it.   The clip below is worth it.

Circa Survive.  I liked what I had heard online before the festival.  Hard rock, mixed with a variety of influences, but sadly led by a singer who lacking an adequate vocabulary, uses the “F” not for effect but for filler to get him through dialogues with the audience between songs. 


From there, it was a short walk to catch Jacob Banks, an English singer who is much more compelling on record than live. 


So we ventured from this disappointment to see The Distillers, a punk-rock band from Australia, recently reunited and touring.  Plenty of people loved them. I hadn’t heard of them, and if I don’t again, that’s okay.  That’s the thing about music – there’s an audience for about everything.


Food trucks.  I enjoy trying them; I don’t always enjoy their food.  My son and I ended up at the The Pickle, which had a very tasty grilled chicken and green chile enchilada.  I ordered the crispy fish tacos to share between us.  This turned out to be a welcome rest while watching everyone else walk back and forth, something that, if not an obligatory thing to do, becomes a necessary thing to do.

Which brings me to tattoos.  I’m interested, but not in getting one.  Given all the phrases, symbols, icons, etc. to choose from, the what and why for permanent body art are interesting questions.  I recall a female bartender who had a Persian tale recorded on both of her arms, and she could recount the tale while pointing out the people and places.  Her heritage meant a lot to her, and she found a meaningful way to bring it close.  I have to say, the tattoos in sight throughout this festival seemed likely to be of the variety favored by drunks visiting a Tattoo 101 class with a “Buy one get one free” policy.   

We, literally had a passing interest in Atlanta’s own Manchester Orchestra, a band that I really ought to listen to more, but opted to find a place on a hill where a sore back and feet could find rest. 


This was good, because The War on Drugs was worth getting close, a band I had seen twice before and am prepared to see twice again.  It’s essentially one person, singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel, surrounded by musicians who do what they’re told.  It’s a formula sound.  The songs build, the guitar soars, and the brass makes it sublime, even if the vocals are hard to follow.  This is a band that anyone could enjoy listening to, with or without any comprehension of the lyrics.


Time to rest again.  Hey, about that band, Cake?  We caught a few songs before returning to the hillside.  I didn’t need to see them play their hit “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.”  Hearing it was enough.


Which brings us to Queens of the Stone Age, the day’s closer.  Not wanting to stand, but with my son intent on staying for the duration, we sat at the bottom of an embankment to the back and side.  This wasn’t ideal, per se.  It had rained briefly during Lord Huron, and the ground was wet.  No problem.  Having learned from Day One, I had brought a blanket.  However, a blanket does not stop a tumbling jug of water or (fairly overweight) people trying to descend the slope, twice into us and often into others. Humorous moment – three ladies trying to run up the incline and failing, yet trying again to a voice encouraging “Come on!  There’s whiskey at the top!”  They made it.

I’m not a fan of Queens of the Stone Age.  My son somehow grew up and became a fan without me knowing it.  It’s not surprising, as I think he learned about everything he knows overnight while his mom and I slept.  In any case, this was a pretty good performance.  He said they played most of the songs that mattered; I recognized one, “No One Knows,” and the others were decent. One photo below is from a coworker, who was close in; the second from me, zooming in from a farther distance with my trusty Canon G-16.  If you don’t love the music, it’s at least fun trying to time a shutter with a light show…

Shaky Knees 2018p-2


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Shaky Knees 2018–Day One

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Day One at Shaky Knees began as a test case.  Having not been to any event at Atlanta’s Central Park “venue” or to a previous Shaky Knees, questions ran the gamut from adequacy of restrooms, to how crowded it might be, to stage/sight/sound quality, and to whether any good beer might be found. 

Not to worry.  After a  cursory bag check, it was off to the Peachtree stage for the Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.  The stage was large, the crowd extremely manageable at this point, and the band sounded good both in style and outdoor sonics.  They’re Australian, happy to be there, and were a good start for hearing a band that I wasn’t familiar with.


The festival has four stages, two each in opposite corners of the park.  For most time slots, while one band is playing, the other stage is swapping staging, instruments, etc.  From this band, we hurried to the nearby Piedmont stage – just as big, but without video boards.

Hello rock and roll, as presented by Rival Sons.  The band’s lead singer, Jay Buchanon, enjoys the spotlight, as well as shredding his vocals in a raspy roar.  Kind of 70’s bluesy edge rock, with a Led Zep influence partially due to Buchanon’s vocals.  I later found that the title track from their standout album, Pressure and Time, was mysteriously already on my iTunes playlist.  A listen to that 2011 recorded version confirms his vocals are well beyond their half-life, but he wasn’t taking it easy on them then, either.  But rock and roll doesn’t have to last forever, unless you score enough fans for a reunion tour in your 60’s.  A good band to catch now, if you want loud, straightforward rock.  Imagine Bad Company’s music with Robert Plant’s swagger.


We weren’t near through, of course.  We hurried through trees, portable toilets, food vendors, roots and sidewalks to go the opposite corner to catch Ghost of Paul Revere at the Criminal Records stage.  They’re a folksy band from Portland with a fair number of fans that clearly knew their songs.  We didn’t.  Appropriately enough, they’re on the smallest stage but nestled in the hollow looking up to a grassy hill with plenty of tree shade.  They have similarities to the Avett Brothers, Mumford and Sons and the like…  I think the audio was fine, but I really just didn’t pay that much attention to their lyrics, which is key to this type of music.  As I didn’t hear something that I hadn’t heard before and dismissed them as an act to check out again, they’re therefore likely to be The Next Big Thing.  Hey, all it takes is one song in the right movie or TV show…


So, off we go to the other nearby stage, Ponce De Leon, to hear Waxahatchie.  This band’s original release was a favorite of many for 2017 music.  The all-female band was definitely worth the listen, prominently featuring lead singer Katie Crutchfield, who is essentially a solo artist with a backing band.  Their set lost some of the quieter charm of their last CD in favor of a more up front, rock sound.  That’s okay – concerts mixes aren’t managed like recordings.  That said, they’re fairly inanimate as a group, and the bassist was as firmly set as an Easter Island statue.  Her fingers moved, but that point on the horizon must have been fascinating.


My group consisted of my son, my concert buddy (and coworker), another coworker, and three music lovers that my company works with.  Regardless of age, standing around essentially all day begins to wear on the back and feet.  But there’s very little time to do so in a music festival when rushing from stage to stage or trying to grab a bite to eat or a drink.  It was perhaps at this point where Eric went to find a drink, or at least the beat of a different drummer. 


The above was the stage for Waxahatchie.  They’re in there in the dark end.  This “stage” was good in that it was shaded, but concrete wears on you after a time, and metal buildings do strange things with sound.  Many found an earthen bank to be close enough for the bands playing here, and I took note for future shows.

Meanwhile, it’s back across the park to Peachtree to hear Courtney Barnett.  She’s a curious artist, often with very humorous lyrics that don’t necessarily require a consistent lyrical measure or a hummable tune or much of an effort in vocalizing.  “Deadpan” is the term, but it’s essentially someone lacking vocal range or a great voice and therefore without much options.  Ba-da-bing – critic’s darling, and actually worth some attention.  Having seen her once before, I didn’t need to give her close attention as much as I needed to sit.  So…



She pretty much sounds in concert like she does on CD, or vice versa.  Nice set, my description notwithstanding.  Actually, below is where I was sitting after getting barely close enough to zoom for the photos above.


One of the biggest draws for this festival was David Byrne.  Many of the acts I had seen before, but not the Talking Heads – a rage when I was in High School and college – or its lead singer who has been a solo artist in the decades since.

Set the stage:  No musical equipment.  Grey streamers forming a drab “box” look.  And there he is, walking onto stage barefoot, then sitting at a desk.  Okay, this is something different.


And different it was, in all the right ways.  Is that a brain on his desk?  Is he singing to it?  Or about it?  Let’s check out the side-screen.  Hmm.


It was weird, but entertaining.  The guy has aged a bit, but he’s in tremendous voice.  I think I’m going to like this.  Indeed.  Other members of his troupe could be observed periodically behind the grey streamers, gradually entering to play instruments and/or provide visual entertainment.  Eventually, you get to this number.


So, there’s no “band,” per se, but the instruments are all there, a rather eloquent reconstruction of what used to be a four member band back in the day.  The entire set is choreographed, the players constantly moving  through each song.  Favorites… “Slippery People,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and “Burning Down the House.”  Most of the others were unfamiliar, and someday I’ll figure out if they sounded just as good as the rest or whether I was just won over by the performance.  In either case, this was the highlight of my Shaky Knees festival.

Next we race to Fleet Foxes, a Seattle band that I’ve seen before and greatly enjoy, finding the field already swamped with fans.  They were good, but it would be difficult for them to exceed my first encounter given the better sound for their harmonies in a proper building.  And, I’m not the biggest fan of their last CD…  Still, a great listen.


In the featured “clean up hitter” slot, we have Jack White for a two hour finale.  A critical favorite, a fan favorite, a “fantastic” guitarist.  Sorry.  The music just hasn’t connected with me, and a song or two into what another in our party would later refer to as “a great show,” my concert buddy, of like mind, and I were off on the long trek to the car.  Anyway, I can say I’ve “seen” him.  He’s the white speck in the lower center.


Day One – Long, enjoyable, but tiring enough that perhaps jumping into a three day pass might have been overambitious on the joints.  But I ain’t dead yet.

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