The Voodoo Experience: New Orleans, USA, October 28-30, 2011
The Voodoo Experience
New Orleans, LA
October 28-30, 2011
Halloween in New Orleans can only mean one thing. Voodoo...a three day music festival, highlighted by a blending of high profile national and local musical acts representing many different genres. It also features food, amusement park rides, interactive art installationsincluding The Kinetic Voodoo Fountain, The Cone, and The Heroncorporate giveaways located within tents sponsored by Toyota and Garnier, retail therapy in the form of official festival merchandise, and band and artist merchandise, as well as local vendors. As always, the festival offers performances by a number of current chart-toppers, musical legends, emerging acts, and local heroes.
As in past years, The Voodoo Stage was home to the festival's headliners. From this stage, music devotees were treated to performances by Soundgarden, My Chemical Romance, Snoop Dogg, Boots Electric, Blink-182, Social Distortion, The Limousines, Band Of Horses, Odd Future, TV On The Radio, Mastodon, Mates of State, and a reunion of Jack White and The Raconteurs.
Band of Horses
In previous years, off to the side of the main festival stages fans could find less visible acts plying their trade on the WWOZ Stage, the Preservation Hall Stage and the Bingo! Parlour Stage. This year, these stages remained off to the side; however, with the elimination of the SONY Make.Believe Stage, they were populated by a mixture of well-known, extremely visible legends and up-and-comers. The incredibly large pool of talent that graced these stages included: Bonerama (featuring Dave Malone of The Radiators), The Static Jacks, The Wombats, Ray Davies (of The Kinks), Peelander Z, Fitz & The Tantrums, Ani DiFranco (with Ivan Neville), Fishbone, Gordon Gano (of the Violent Femmes), The Treme Brass Band, Ozomatli, Cheap Trick, The Soul Rebels Brass Band (with Cyril Neville), Glen David Andrews, The Sheepdogs (winners of Rolling Stone's "Choose The Cover" competition), Givers, Bobby Rush, Dr. John and The Lower 911 (with special guests Irma Thomas, Cyril Neville and Walter "Wolfman" Washington) an amazing reunion performance by the original Meters and Portugal, The Man. Each of these bands plied their trade to dancing, screaming, smiling and enthusiastic fans.
A fourth stage, Le Plur, played host to dance/electronic and DJ sets from an eclectic group of artists. Fatboy Slim, Girl Talk, Mike Relm, The Bangerz, Daedelus, DJ Swamp, A-Trak and Jackmaster all got the crowd dancing to the electronic beats..
With the demise of the SONY Make.Believe Stage, festival promoter Stephen Rehage filled the space with amusement park rides: a Ferris Wheel, The Orbiter, The Yo Yo, a Tilt-A-Whirl, Blades of Fire and a few others that would make a carnival jealous. The kiddie playground area known as Vooboo had a sandbox, a Haunted House, a face painting and crafting tent, smaller rides and a massage tent for the overtaxed parents.
In addition to the acts appearing on stage, a marching bandthe Noisican Coalitiongave numerous performances while roaming the grounds each day, providing the attendees with a New Orleans-influenced second line played on homemade instruments, modified horns, household objects, self-made percussive instruments and drums. The funky ensemble was a treat that caused festival veterans and newbees alike to stop, take notice and snap pictures. Gawkers were also drawn to the fire-breathing The Bull & The Beat Bot that second lined up and down the festival area's paved roads to a funky techno beat.
The first day of the festival got off to a rousing start with Natalie Mae & Her Unturned Tricks. The Michigan-born singer/songwriter woke-up the Preservation Hall Stage crowd with her unique blend of bluegrass-infused folk music. Mae then joined the Mississippi Rail Company on the WWOZ Stage, where the highlight of their bluesy set was a rousing version of Muddy Waters' "Got My Mojo Working."
The Static Jacks, whose debut album, If You're Young (2011) was released on Fearless Records in August, arrived at precisely 12:45 and proceeded to tear the roof of the small Bingo! Parlour Stage. The New Jersey band's sound is very reminiscent of early '80s New Wave, with a garage band aesthetic. The set was highlighted by "a medley of songs from our home state," which included "Born To Run." At the end, lead singer Ian Devaney Exclaimed, "Wish we had rehearsed that. We said we were going to do it and we did'nuff said."
Other highlights from the first day included The Wombats on The Bingo Stage. According to the band, and members of the Static Jacks (with whom they were touring), after spending the past few nights on Bourbon Street and at One Eyed Jacks just off Bourbon Street they were drunker than they had been in years. The British boys played an electric set, their banter engaging, though rambling. "I Like Girls" was introduced as being "off of our new long playing record. It's available in most better record stores and a lot of shittier ones. It's also available on most illegal download sites."
The Preservation Hall Stage was alive with energy when The Honey Island Swamp Band gave the crowd a taste of local flavor. The group's short set of funky blues, southern rock, jazz, and swamp pop was one of the most exciting shows at the festival. As the Swamp Band rocked the festival, its eclectic gumbo, blending many genres, caught the attention of passersby as well as hardcore fans.
Punk group Peelander Z was up next on The Bingo Stage, with an Intense set that began with a bang as bassist Peelander Red crowd surfed as he played. The band is known for its crazy personas and even zanier stage antics and hard almost-punk rock. The set was so raw, so rocking and so reminiscent of early punk and new wave that the audience members would not have been surprised had the Japanese group covered The Sex Pistols' "Anarchy In the U.K."; it would have fit in nicely.
Toward the end of Peelander Z's set, Mates of State took the main stage. Husband and wife duo Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel performed a great set of harmonious pop songs from their extensive canon, as well "Palomino" from Mountaintops (Barsuk, 2011).
As afternoon gave way to early evening, Band of Horses on the Voodoo Stage and Fitz & The Tantrums also delivered excellent sets. Band of Horses' tight set was fueled by "Cigarettes," "Wedding Bands," "No One's Gonna Love You," "The Funeral," "The General" and "Is There A Ghost." Fitz & The Tantrums were absolutely amazing. This young, Los Angeles-based pop/soul band is on the verge of superstardom. Its hour long set relied heavily on songs from Pickin' Up The Pieces (Dangerbird, 2010), delivering the goods on "L.O.V.," the new "Wake Up," covers of The Eurythmics and Raconteurs hits ("Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)" and "Steady As She Goes"), and "Moneygrabber." The smoking hot, high energy set did a lot to warm up the cold crowdas the evening set in, City Park got progressively chilly with the occasional spritz of rain.
The evening ended with two of the festival's biggest acts gracing the Voodoo Stage. My Chemical Romance appeared onstage dressed for Halloween, decked out in a Medieval/fantasy theme with costumes as knights, wizards and elves. The Voodoo Experience was the last stop of the group's tour and it went out on a high note, with front man Gerald Way (who had died his shocking red locks black) toying with the audience by licking his fingers and blowing kisses into the crowd. The high octane set included dazzling versions of "Give 'Em Hell, Kid," "Teenagers," "Mama," "Famous Last Words," "Destroya," "S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W" and "Welcome to the Black Parade."
My Chemical Romance
My Chemical Romance was followed by Soundgarden. By the time Soundgarden went on many in the crowd were chilled to the bone. City Park is located right off Bayou St. John and has other bodies of water nearby. With the winds gusting and the temperature dropping, the air was not only crisp but damp. As the crowd huddled together the band overcame the initial speed bump created by muddled sound for the first few minutes of its set by following it with two hours of heavy, psych-infused rock 'n' roll . The Seattle grunge outfit reached back into its catalogue for "Spoonman," "Black Hole Sun," "Fell on Black Days," "Loud Love," "The Day I Tried To Live" and "Outshined," closing with the double-fisted encores of "Beyond the Wheel" and "Slaves and Bulldozers," leaving audience, hoarse from cheering, completely drained but satiated.
A warmer and sunnier second day was highlighted by The Soul Rebels Brass Band, with Cyril Neville's and Ozomatli's appearances on the WWOZ Stage, X playing its classic Los Angeles (Slash Records, 1980) on the Bingo! Parlour Stage. The Treme Brass Band and Gordon Gano (of The Violent Femmes & The Lost Bayou Ramblers) graced the Preservation Hall Stage with amazing shows. Attended by a huge crowd, Girls Talk's performance on the Le Plur stage included an amazing mix of songs, with snippets of "The Monster Mash" and "Pumped Up Kicks," while on the big stage, Boots Electric, Mastodon, Social Distortion, Snoop Dogg and Blink-182 set the festival on fire.
The Soul Rebels' set included a musical gumbo melding a myriad of genres, delivering brassed-up versions of many different hits from a variety of artists and genres. Thr set was punctuated by a stand-out performances of "Turn It Up," The Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)," and Stevie Wonder's "Living For The City."
The crowd at the Preservation Hall Stage slowly gathered as The Treme Brass Band with Uncle Lionel Batiste gave a top-notch performance, as always. As with past Voodoo performances, the band remained stationary. Also, as in past years, there were some uninitiated spectators (most likely viewers of HBO's Treme television series) who expected the band to march. A small piece of New Orleans history and tradition, The Treme Brass Band never disappoints; its set was astonishingloud, bombastic, contemporary, classic jazzy, funky and, above all else, superb.
Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom, John Doe and DJ Bonebreak turned back the clock as X, rocking hard, as the audience at Bingo! Parlour Stage was treated to a show that had many wondering if there would be a full-fledged reunion tour and album.
Eagles of Death Metal front man Jesse Hughes led his side project, Boots Electric onto the main stage in the mind afternoon and proceeded to treat the audience to a wonderfully out there and eccentric performance. Featuring new songs from the band's debut, Honkey Kong (Dangerbird, 2011), as well as some choice covers of songs originally done by his original band, Hughes appeared, at different times, to adopt the personas of revivalist preacher, southern rocker and garage rocker. Regardless of which persona was in charge, the performance was riveting.
Gordon Gano and The Lost Bayou Ramblers was much more a Lost Bayou Ramblers set. The band played many of its songs, with Gano on fiddle. Toward the end of the performance the musicians played classic songs from the Violent Femmes catalogue, the unabashed highlight of the performance an amazing set-closing version of the Violent Femmes' biggest hit, the modern rock anthem "Blister In the Sun."
Voodoo is famous for featuring acts from all musical genres. Mastodon's set on the main stage will undoubtedly gain the group new fans. While its riff-heavy set was, by Mastodon standards, a bit subdued, it provided the crowd an opportunity to hear the band's lyrics and see its musicianship. The Atlanta-based alternative metal outfit played songs from its The Hunter (Reprise, 2011), as well as a nice smattering of both old and new songs. While some of the bombast may have been lost, the energy was there and the crowd responded by getting as close to the stage as possible.
In early 2011, Social Distortion released Hard Times and Nursery Crimes (Epitath), a wonderful return to form, and the band began to tour. By the time it reached Voodoo, the band was a well-oiled machine and was riding high. Beginning its swagger-filled set by roaring through a rocking and rolling version of "Bad Luck," with guitars blaring and a slamming backbeat, Mike Ness and his band played hits and new songs, including "So Far Away," "Story Of My Life," "Bakersfield," "Machine Guns Blues," "Six More Miles," its trademark hard-rocking, breakneck, cow-punk version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," and the song rumored to be Ness' favorite, "Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown."
Hip Hop/rap superstar Snoop Dog's love for New Orleans was evident by his appearing onstage wearing a Saints football jersey (wide receiver Marques Colston's number 12 to be exact). Clearly in a good mood, Snoop told the crowd of his love for New Orleans, gave a shout-out to the guys in the crowd dressed as Krusty The Clown and Spongebob. He and his posse of rappers, dancers and musicians performed a mix of old and new material that had the audience dancing, bopping and joining in as he functioned as both star attraction and cruise director. The highlight of Snoop's set was the closing medley of "Jump Around," "Drop It Like It's Hot" and "Who Am I (What's My Name)."
A newly reformed Blink-182 closed out the second day with a bang. Blink's Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker and Tom DeLonge opened a dynamic set with an electrifying version of "Up All Night," and continued to gain momentum as "Feeling This," "Down," I Miss You," "Stay Together For The Kids," the anthem "What's My Age Again?," "The Rock Show," "Man Overboard," "Ghost On The Dancefloor" made their appearances. The crowd was whipped into a frenzy when the song that the casual fans came for and stayed around to hear"All The Small Things"was played. Blink-182 also debuted a new song, "Wishing Well," announcing that, "We've never played this next song before; why don't we do it in front of thousands of people."
The final day, Sunday, was anchored by Ray Davies, The Original Meters and Cheap Trick, as well as festival closers Fatboy Slim, The Raconteurs and to a slightly lesser extent Bonerama, featuring Dave Malone of The Radiators.
Sunday's lineup also featured TV on The Radio, The Limousines and Odd Future on the main stage. In addition to The Meters and Bonerama, The WWOZ stage was home to outrageous performances by The Stone Foxes, The Sheepdogs, Givers and Dr. John. The Bingo! Parlor Stage featured Fishbone and Portugal, The Man as well as Cheap Trick. While Ray Davies was undoubtedly the main attraction on the Preservation Hall Stage, Glen David Andrews, The New Orleans Klezmer All Stars, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band with The Del McCoury Band and Ma Maison, with the Trey McIntyre Project and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, all gave amazing performances.
Glen David Andrews (Trombone Shorty's cousin), a veteran of the Olympia, New Birth, Treme and Lil Rascals brass bands, set the tone for the day with a funky jazz-funk/fusion set from the Preservation Hall Stage. Andrews, who is sometimes called The King of Treme, and is accomplished trombonist in his own rite, stuck mostly to singing, as his high-powered ensemble ran the gamut of musical styles ranging from funk, traditional jazz and gospel to rock, blues and back to funk during its show. And the audience definitely heard him scream.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. When people look back on the past, it is easy to identify key momentsthat point where, for good or for bad, things change. For The Sheepdogs it was winning the Rolling Stone "Choose The Cover" contest during the summer of 2011. Since that time the previously unknown band has signed with Atlantic Records, appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, has been on a whirlwind tour, played Bonnaroo, and has now appeared at Voodoo. Its southern rock-meets-funk-and-country sound served the group well at its midday set on the WWOZ stage. Attendees who knew the band's history were impressed, while those unfamiliar were pleased that they stayed for the set. One older member of the crowd was overheard saying, "They sound a bit like Dave Mason [Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer and founding member of Traffic] when he rocks." Heady praise.
Another "new" band making its Voodoo debut was The Limousines. The group's early afternoon The Voodoo Stage set is sure to get them an invite to perform at a future festival. The duo was in the Halloween spirit, performing dressed in skeleton costumes. Admitting that the band had performed in Houston the previous night at a private party, lead singer Eric Voctorino and the band's energy was turned up to eleven. Victorino did his best Mick Jagger impersonation, as he raced around the stage while the band played its most well-known songs "Internet Killed The Radio Star," "Very Busy People," and other songs from Get Sharp CD (Dangerbird, 2011), as well as a cover of New Order's "Temptation."
Lafayette, LA's Givers is yet another up-and-coming band that made an excellent impression on the Voodoo Experience crowd. This young soul-pop collectiveKirby Campbell (drums/samples/vocals), Taylor Guarisco (guitar/vocals), Tif Lamson (vocals/percussion/ukulele), Josh Leblanc (bass), and Nick Stephan (synths/samples/vocals)is a band to watch, and should be very big very soon. Appearing in the early afternoon, the crowd around the WWOZ Stage grew as the "ya gotta hear these guys" word and vibe spread through the festival area. The Givers' fantastic set was punctuated by "Up Up Up," from its debut, In Light (Glassnote, 2011).
Fishbone played its customary funky set on the Bingo! Parlour Stage. Leaning heavily on Crazy Glue CD (DC Jam, 2011) the band delivered a set filled with its distinctive and eclectic brand of alternative rock. The goofy sense of humor was never more evident than on its psycho-funk version of "Date Rape" and a new song, "DUI Friday." Introducing the next song, "Crazy Glue," saying, "They say that crazy is someone or something out of the norm. Crazy is good. You get to create somethingmusic, art...I want to be crazy. I want to be a crazy motherfucker. 'Crazy Glue.' Hmmm...'Crazy Glue...'Yeah." With that Fishbone launched into the song.
Many fledgling and lesser-known bands were ushered onstage, sandwiched between more established acts while playing at the same time as another established performer. One such act was Morning 40 Federation, which appeared on the Bingo! Parlour Stage between Fishbone and Portugal, The Man, and opposite Dr. John's show on the WWOZ Stage. The set was loud and tight, as the group performed songs from its self-titled 2004 BRG Records release and Ticonderoga (M80, 2006). The performance was top-notch, with the hysterical "Dumpster Juice" the highlight of the set.
Dr. John & The Lower 911, along with special guests Irma Thomas, Cyril Neville and Walter "Wolfman" Washington, brought a little of old New Orleans to the Voodoo crowd. The spot-on insanely funky set opened with "Iko, Iko" and also featured "I Been Hoodooed," as well as "Right Place Wrong Time," but it was The Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas singing her classic "Don't Mess with My Man," that stole the show.
Ray Davies, who was famously shot in New Orleans while chasing a mugger a few years ago, performed a mixture of Kinks and solo material on the Preservation Hall Stage to an initially small crowd. Shortly after the opening "I Need You" and "This Is Where I Belong," it was during the opening strands of "Where Have All The Good Times Gone" when the crowd began migrating over from the WWOZ stage, where Dr. John's set had recently ended.
Dressed sharply in a sports coat and an open collar button-down shirt, Davies performed "Dead-end Street," an acoustic version of "Sunny Afternoon" on which he elicited sing-along help from the audience, "Long Way From Home" (another acoustic performance) and a rockin' version of "20th Century Man." Davies peppered his set with stories about his life and the creation of the songs, the best being his description of the creation and evolution of "You Really Got Me." As Davies explained it, "We had a piano in the living room. My brother Dave heard me picking the chords on the piano'bop, bop-bop-ba-bop-bop' and in his inimitable way looked at me perplexed and said 'what the fuck is that.' I explained that it was our new song. He shrugged and walked away."
With that the band launched into what is arguably The Kinks' greatest hit. The show ended with "Low Budget," which Davies explained was "written in rhyming slang and might at times be difficult to understand." During the tour de force performance of the songnot only appropriate for our fiscal times, but need to translationsDavies changes one of the verses to "Excuse my shoes, they don't quite fit/I bought them at Winn Dixie and they hurt me a bit..."
The original Meters performed together at Voodoo in 2006 and, not long after, the band members again went their separate ways. For some reason the reunion fizzled; at the time, the group sounded good, just not great. Five years is both a short time and a long time. For the members of the group, who are all growing older, it was a long enough time for them to set aside their differences and set out to offer up the funk to the massesmany of whom are not old enough to remember the band in its heyday. Guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter, Jr., keyboardist Art Neville and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste took to the WWOZ Stage during the last afternoon and was immediately a magnetizing force as the small stage was immediately surrounded by a huge crowd that would have been more at home and less pressed together had it been on the Voodoo Stage.
Introduced with the statement of, "The moment you've all been waiting for...," The Meters did not disappoint. The sounds of "Fiyo On The Bayou" and "Hey Pocky Way" filled the air and the party was in full force. Early in the show the crowd was promised a surprise, and were told, ..."you all, when you see it, it's gonna mess you all up," and the surprise was monumental. Cyril Nevillea member of the band in the late '70scame onstage with the Bonerama horns to perform "No More Okey Doke," and the performance, which was already a dream come true for many, got even better. The band fed off the energy from both the special guests and the crowd during "People Say" and "Ain't No Use." It was magical. If the band decides to continue with its reunion, it would be a wise move to include Cyril on all other dates.
At Voodoo, Portugal, The Man played to an exuberant and excited crowd, while easily showing why it is one of the most-hyped new bands. The Bingo! Parlour stage set was a loud and joyous psychedelic rock jam session. Having recently released its first major label album, In the Mountain in the Cloud (Atlantic, 2011), the Alaskan-born group did not forget its indie roots, playing tracks from its entire catalogue. Guitarist/vocalist John Gourley, along with the other band members, cast a spell over much of the audience. The people in the crowd were either lip-synching the words to the songs while bopping, dancing and swaying to the music, or were completely awestruck, staring at the stage in astonishment. This is a special band.
Cheap Trick, who flew in specifically for the show and immediately flew out afterward, sounded fantastic on The Bingo! Parlour Stage. Opening with the crowd favorite and quite appropriate "Hello There," its loud, fast and rockin' set featured excellent solos over killer riffs and included "Dream Police," "She's Tight," a cover of The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour," "Surrender," and "Out In The Street," also known as the theme song to That 70's Show.
TV On The Radio put on one of the best shows of the festival. The Brooklyn, NY-based group played many of the songs from its 2006 Interscope release, Return to Cookie Mountain, and only "Caffeinated Consciousness" and "Second Song" from Nine Types of Light (Interscope, 2011). The band was amazingly tight, with guitarist Kyp Mallone leading the way as they blended many musical genres.
For those not interested in either Cheap Trick, TV On The Radio or The Meters, Ma Maison, with the Trey McIntyre Project and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, delivered a show consisting of classic New Orleans music featuring trumpet sousaphone, trombone, saxophone, piano and drums. The music was accompanied by a stage performance in which skeletons danced across the stage while acting out the lyrics. Highlights of this set included: "Everybody Looking For The Short Dress" and "Heebee Jeebee Dance."
The Raconteurs took the stage to some of the loudest cheers and applause of the festival. Former White Stripes front man Jack White and co-leader Brendan Benson delivered call-and-response blues riffs throughout the thundering show, and especially on "Level." The band's tight set also featured "Consoler of The Lonely," "Old Enough," "Broken Boy Soldier," and "Rich Kid Blues." The smoking encores, which had everyone in the crowd on their feet were "Salute Your Solution," "Steady As She Goes" and "Carolina Drama," which featured Benson on slide guitar and White on acoustic guitar. For some reason, the band ended its set a bit earlyplaying for only one hour and forty minutes of the allotted two hours. However, as the completely sated festival-goers made their way of City Park and toward Carrollton Avenue, there was nary a complaint.
While The Raconteurs was the closing headliner for the festival, Bonerama and Dave Malone (of the Radiators) were the local heroes who put the final exclamation point on this year's festival. Bonerama opened its short set with "Close The Door" and "Mr. Go," after which Dave Malone joined the band and the show took a turn into Radiators territory. In a stroke of musical genius, the band played Radz favorites such as "Like Dreamers Do," "Never Let Your Fire Go Out" and "Confidential," as well as "Indian Red" and The Allman Brothers' "Whipping Post," in a mash-up style that mixed the best of Bonerama with the best of The Radiators sound. It sounded even better that expected.
By the end of the festival, the tens of thousands of revelers got exactly what they came forthree days of music, madness and fun and an opportunity to "Worship The Music."
In the thirteen years since its inception, The Voodoo Experience has become a New Orleans institution, playing host to a wide-ranging lineup of multi-generational and multi-genre musical artistswell over 600 and counting. Stephen Rehage has gone on the record as saying that he's always looking to bring the "best of the best" to Voodoo. When asked about creating a dream bill, he responded, "We have been privileged to work with many of the artists that Ias a tone-deaf, untalented, wanna be musiciangrew up listening to and idolizing. But I would have to admit; I am still waiting on [David] Bowie and [Tom] Waits." Perhaps in 2012, at the fourteenth ritual, these two icons will be headlining.
All Photos (and additional contributions): Christine Connallon