Voodoo Experience 2008 (The Hidden Voodoo), New Orleans, LA
“ Away from the big stages in City Park, off to the sides of the festival area, less heralded acts plied their trade to dancing, screaming, smiling and enthusiastic fans. ”
Voodoo Experience: The Tenth Ritual
New Orleans City Park
New Orleans, Louisiana
October 24-26, 2008
Billed as the 10th Ritual, The 2008 Voodoo Experience in New Orleans featured top-shelf headliners Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, and the festival closer, REMeach a chart-busting superstar act that ostensibly delivered what the crowd expected and came to hear.
It was just like old times for Scott Weiland of STP as he shimmied across the stage dancing and gyrating and singing to the superb backbeat supplied by the DeLeo brothers and fill-in drummer Ray Luzier. Friday's closing night performance can be ranked as one of the best of STP's reunion tour concerts.
Saturday's closing performance by Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails (appearing for the first time in New Orleans since 2005's Voodoo Fest) was strong. Playing in front of a huge LED screen which projected the musicians as well as a spectacular light show, NIN held the audience in the palm of their hands with a set that included "Head Like A Hole," "Closer," "Terrible Lie," and "Echoplex" as well as the best of their old and new catalogue.
REM, the biggest name of the bunch, is an ageless wonder. Closing the festival on Sunday, their performance featured many of their best-known songs as well as some of their earliest hits, and they sounded at the top of their game. As with NIN, they used the huge LED screen behind them to enhance their performance. REM's projected video took honors as the most creative of the festival, featuring multi-layered close-ups of Michael Stipe and the band in both color and black and white along with faux animation.
Although the performances by these bands realized the potential of which each is capable, setting inspiring examples for the shows by Dashboard Confessional, Panic! At The Disco, Joss Stone and Lupe Fiasco, it was the less heralded acts that made this year's Voodoo especially memorable. Away from the big stages in City Park, off to the sides of the festival area and located on the WWOZ/SoCo Stage and in the Preservation Hall Tent, less visible acts such as former Cowboy Mouth guitarist Paul Sanchez with his Rolling Road Show Band, The Iguanas, Ivan Neville's Dumpstafunk, The Old 97s, Bonerama, The Leo Trio featuring Leo Nocentelli, John Boutte, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Irma Thomas plied their trade to dancing, screaming, smiling and enthusiastic fans. In fact, among the best performances at The Hidden Voodoo were those by Sanchez, John Boutte, The Iguanas, Bonerama, The Old 97s, Dumpstaphunk, and Cowboy Mouth (who appeared on one of the bigger stages).
Friday's performance by Sanchez featured new songs from his latest CD Exit To Mystery Street (Independent, 2008) and old (Cowboy Mouth) songs like the incendiary (pun intended) "Light It On Fire," which was introduced as a song he performed at his very first Voodoo Fest and was guaranteed to not be the last time it would be heard at the festival. Featuring former Cowboy Mouth bassist Mary LaSang, Glen David Andrews on trombone, Andre Bohren pounding the skins, Alex McMurray (of the Tin Men) on lead guitar and Sonia Tetlow on mandolin and guitar, the band was tight, fluid and clearly enjoying themselves. Their best performance was "Door Poppin,'" a song about a New Orleans tradition of popping one's nose into a neighbor's screendoor to just say "hello" and quickly socialize. Co-written by Sanchez, Vance Vaucresso and John Boutte, the song, as Sanchez explained after the performance, was not about his big sister but the famous jazz singer Lillian Boutte, who is something of a neighborhood gadfly. Also of note was the always relevant "Hurricane Party" and the rollicking yet poignant "At the Foot of Canal Street," which Sanchez introduced as a story about the similarities he and John Boutte shared while growing up in New Orleans in the Irish Channel (Sanchez) and in the 9th Ward (Boutte) during the 1960s.
Boutte's performance on Saturday was, as is every performance he gives, stunning. Born into a musical family, he's an accomplished singer whose work has been featured on compilations as diverse as Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box Of New Orleans (Shout! Factory, 2004), a 4-CD set, on which he appears with Sanchez, which details the history of music from the Big Easy, andMardi Gras Mambo: Cubanismo! in New Orleans (Hannibal, 2000). Additionally, Boutte has won numerous Big Easy Awards as best Male Vocalist. His performance was both electric and eclectic.
On Friday, The Iguanas, a bi-lingual rock group from New Orleans, rocked out at The Preservation Hall Tent. "Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart" from the album of the same name (Yep Roc, 2003), about listening to the radio as a child, and "A Donde Vas," as well as the performances featuring guest musicians Washboard Chaz and Alex McMurray had the entire tent dancing and boppin' to the beat.
Rhett Miller and The Old 97s ended their tour at Voodoo. Their music is a bit of blues, a touch of rock, some country sprinkled in. Some call it Alt-Country and others call it classic Americana. Touring in support of their latest CD Blame It On Gravity (New West Records, 2008), Miller, bassist Murry Hammond, lead guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Phillip Peeples delivered one of the best rock shows of the festival. Two stand-out performances were "Roller Skate Skinny" (possibly their most well-known song) and "Question," which Miller dedicated to a recently married friend from New Orleans.
Bonerama is a brass band of a completely different sort. They carry no trumpets or saxophones, but they do feature trombones, sousaphones, one electric guitar and drums. They not only have updated the sound, but they have redefined it. On Saturday, their version of "When The Levee Breaks" was done as if Led Zeppelin arranged it. Since the festival was at the edge of Bayou St. John in New Orleans (an area that experienced flooding after Hurricane Katrina), the presentation was completely surreal.
Immediately following Bonerama on the WWOZ Stage was Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk. Yes, he's one of those Nevilles. His band, moreover, is quite simply the best jazz/funk/rock fusion outfit to emerge from New Orleans since the Meters. Taking the stage at dusk, the band delivered a blistering set which included "Stinky," "Livin' In A World Gone Mad" and "Turn This Thing Around."
Though not appearing on the WWOZ Stage or in the Preservation Hall Tent, New Orleans' own high energy rock outfit, Cowboy Mouth, lit up the Playstation/Billboard.com Stage with their patented balls-to- the-wall Rock 'n Roll. Led by madman drummer/lead vocalist Fred Leblanc and guitarist John Thomas Griffith, the band tore through new songs such as "Fearless," old songs like "Joe Strummer and "Glad To Be Alive" and even older songs like "Jenny Says" and "Everybody Loves Jill." On Sunday, devotees and new fans alike spent the early evening on Sunday dancing and shimmying across the grass as LeBlanc led the worshippers in a religious conversion at the alter of the Church of Fred.
The Voodoo Experience has become a New Orleans institution. In the 10 years since its inception it has played host to a wide-ranging line-up of over 450 performers, including Rage Against The Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, The Pixies, Dr. John, The Meters, Green Day, 50 Cent and Marilyn Manson. Next October, the 11th Ritual will be in session and if it's half as good as this year's, it'll be fantastic.