Bartees Strange Is Already Festival-Ready
Live Forever is the kind of album that’s built for loud, impassioned shoutalongs at shows, so it’s a shame that Bartees Strange’s debut album came out in the middle of a pandemic when all we could do was shout along to it alone. But Bartees Cox has finally been able to take his project on the road over the last few months. This year alone has seen him playing festival stages at Governors Ball and Pitchfork and opening for the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. Throughout his set at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees on Sunday afternoon — the first proper performance of the day — he exuded joy at simply being able to be on the stage.
Cox, at least in this iteration of Bartees Strange, hasn’t clocked much time on the festival circuit. But his set showcased an artist that’s adept at rolling with the punches, which is important when you only have so much time to make a lasting impression. He’s boundlessly confident up there, smiling and engaging with the audience and his bandmates. When he’s playing his guitar and gets to one of his songs’ show-offy solos, he spins his head around around in something of an ecstatic circle. He bounced around on stage for the vibey “Kelly Rowland”; during “Flagey God,” he laid down, mock exhausted while continuing to play the song.
His genre-agnostic music is a perfect match for a festival setting. Like his debut album, his set never stays in any one place for too long. From powerhouse indie rock choruses to bleating beats, he has a little bit of everything you’d want to hear at an event like that, all wrapped up into one package. He’s already got two sure festival firestarters under his belt: “Mustang” and “Boomer,” which came toward the beginning and at the end of his set respectively, both high-energy and invigorating. He’s got a National cover, “Lemonworld,” culled from his whole EP of radically reimagined National covers. And he’s got some new songs, too — including the recently-released “Weights” and one called “17,” a soulful strummer that explodes into a cacophony of noise at the end. These double down on what made Live Forever great and point to a promising future for the project.
It’s important to have newer bands at festivals that can absolutely rip it up live. And Bartees Strange is certainly one of those acts. As his catalog grows, there’s no doubt that he’ll be moving his way down the schedule soon enough, to bigger and better stages. Perhaps we’ll soon be seeing a Bartees Strange sunset set, or even a Bartees Strange headliner. His music is ambitious enough, and his stage presence is well-crafted enough, that he definitely deserves it.