Words & Images by: Wesley Hodges
Voodoo Experience ::
City Park :: New Orleans, LA
See the full gallery of Voodoo 2010 pics here!
Day One :: Friday, October 29
A picture perfect fall day brought a surprisingly massive crowd to the generally smaller scale first day of Voodoo. It's hard to pinpoint the mission behind Voodoo when it comes to artist selection except perhaps as an attempt to bring in many of the alternative artists who sadly skip New Orleans on their general touring routes and provide a platform for local artists to gain more national exposure. Headliners Muse remarked that this was their long overdue debut trip to the Big Easy and I'd be shocked if it wasn't Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi's first performance in South Louisiana as well. Also, Voodoo announced this week that the fest will remain in City Park through 2019 and offered unspecified plans for some permanent festival infrastructure. This year's edition was a marked improvement over last year on every level, with the addition of the Le Plur Electronic Tent, new, better looking tents, amazing weather, and a generally cleaner environment (although the bathroom shortage remains a big issue). It also didn't hurt to have Janelle Monae, MGMT and My Morning Jacket closing it down on Halloween Sunday.
1. Muse :: 9:00 p.m. :: VOODOO Stage
As a buddy put it, there's just not much smaller bands can do to compete with the rock spectacle Muse put on for the main stage crowd of about 30,000 people on Friday night. The new stadium anthem "Uprising" opened an 80-minute set sparse on dull moments. The visual display was a mere accent to the bulldozing music onstage, with a nice mix of older songs like "Supermassive Black Hole" and "Starlight" and tracks from 2009's huge release The Resistance. Muse is not your father's traditional power trio. Instead, they carve their own niche, mixing club beats with Matthew Bellamy's metallic guitar heroics and somehow making it work. The blatant LED imagery calls for a cavalry, with lyrics displayed in large caps recruiting a modern revolution.
The English band has been a big deal across the pond for quite some time now and it's easy to see why major festival promoters over here are starting to take note. Green lasers, heavy smoke and giant eyeballs floating around the crowd gave the show some added flair without coming off as cheesy. Chris Wolstenholme's impressive harmonica solo segued into the closing "Knights of Cydonia" to cap off a solid first day in City Park and put a satisfying stamp on the best performance of the day.
Muse Setlist -- October 29, 2010
Uprising, Supermassive Black Hole, Resistance, Hysteria (w/ Star Spangled Banner intro), MK Ultra, Citizen Erased, United States of Eurasia, Feeling Good, Undisclosed Desires, Starlight, Time Is Running Out, Plug In Baby.
Encore: Stockholm Syndrome, Knights of Cydonia
2. Stanton Moore Trio plus Anders Osborne and Robert Walter :: 2:15 p.m. :: Preservation Hall
Bright skies beckoned the early comers and Stanton Moore Trio at the Pres Hall Tent was the perfect introduction to a whirlwind weekend in City Park. A 14-minute instrumental fittingly opened the show before Anders Osborne commanded the stage with a set heavy on tunes from his 2010 release American Patchwork. Osborne's sheer talent and pop sensibility is of a star quality and the mix between driving, razor-sharp Fender workouts and upbeat pop tunes like "On the Road to Charlie Parker" rewarded the demographically diverse crowd. Lyrically, Osborne reads like a man who's been through the ringer a time or two, with naked confessions on Katrina, down-on-his-knees substance abuse, and desultory escapism adding depth to the tunes. However, the flip side presented itself on the breezy reggae love song "Got Your Heart," showing Osborne's mainstream awareness (he's written songs for Tim McGraw and Johnny Lang) and a surprisingly contented vibe. Next year, I vote for the Stanton Moore Trio as the daily Voodoo house band.
3. Hot Chip :: Le Plur :: 7:00 p.m.
A trip down to the pondside Le Plur area of the festival was an event in itself. Voodoo focused the stage on electronic-leaning DJs, MCs and whatever Die Antwoord is, and from the looks of the youthful crowd, many probably didn't leave the area for the duration of the day, lapping up the array of electronic artists at the newly-restored area. Hot Chip's Friday night show was a pleasant surprise and comparisons to LCD Soundsystem are unavoidable. A hypnotic wash was bolstered by thumping live drums (including steel drums), and armed with the bawdy choruses of the group's new album One Life Stand like "Over and Over," these once electro-heavy artists seem to be squaring with the rockers at their own game and the extraordinary sounds stirred up one of the wilder crowds of the weekend.
4. Rotary Downs :: 6:15 p.m. :: BINGO! Tent
Comparisons to 90s bands like Pavement and Weezer were unavoidable and their use of trumpet evoked Cake, but Rotary Downs meshes the sounds of that formative decade well, and the early evening show before a smaller crowd was one of the surprises of the weekend.
5. Dead Confederate :: 4:30 p.m. :: VOODOO Stage
Confined to their usual existence in smoky, intimate clubs, the impact of Dead Confederate's guttural, psychedelic hard rock show generally hits like a ton of bricks. In the beaming sunshine and wide-open space, songs like the Floydish burner "Wrecking Ball" were lost on some. However, Dead Confederate delivered a strong set on what was surely one of the largest stages they've played in their still short career. Also, the opening cover of Officer May's "Smoking In A Minor" was definitely of the strongest songs of the day.
Best Cover on Friday: Big Sam's Funky Nation doing Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" (they also covered Lady Gaga and "Hard To Handle). Big Sam also demanded that the entire crowd get down on the ground at one point.
Best Headdress: Jonsi
Galactic recorded the live follow-up to 2001's We Love ‘Em Tonight with a slew of very special guests before a packed house at their longtime haunt Tipitina's Uptown. The original plan was to check out a portion of the show and attempt to get a little bit of rest before Day Two. Plans like that are destined for failure. Cyril Neville (who has one of the best voices I've ever heard) made an appearance along with guest spots by Trombone Shorty, Shamarr Allen and Ivan Neville (who stopped in for The Meters' "Africa"), all of which kept the close attention of the raucous crowd until the bright house lights told us it was time to hit the dusty trail around 3:45 a.m. Galactic at Tipitina's Uptown is about as home game as it gets for the insta-funk stalwarts, and this performance was just another example of why they are the city's finest overgrown rhythm section.
Voodoo Experience :: Day Two :: Saturday, October 30th
1. Buckwheat Zydeco :: 6:45 p.m. :: Soco/WWOZ Stage
Just a good old-fashioned foot stomper. The king of contemporary zydeco emanated and incited exuberance that was a nice contrast to the awful Die Antwoord performance moments before down at the Le Plur tent. Almost wholly unfamiliar with the genre, all I can really say is that Buckwheat's jubilation-inducing brand of swamp rock was a stellar and unique form of dance music and the Lafayette, LA native represented the local genre very well. Also, a nice version of "Bourbon Street Parade" served as a nice reminder that Mardi Gras is only 125 days away.
2. Florence and the Machine :: 6:00 p.m. :: Sony Make.Believe Stage
Frontwoman Florence Welch floated around on a flowery stage like a whirling dervish, and the set was quite simply an hour showcase of Welch's amazing vocal instrument and theatrical wherewithal. It was abundantly clear from the first song that we were in the presence of a true freak of nature, a beautiful oddity and a rising superstar. Her band is no machine, but the redheaded singer is a force to be reckoned with, evoking comparisons to the soul-blues-pop divas of the Motown era. Watching her highly choreographed and assured performance, you would think she's been at this for decades, but Welch is still young and armed with a creative mind. It'll be interesting to watch where she goes from here. The elegant and confident Machine made a lot of new fans in City Park on Saturday, including this writer.
3. The Whigs :: 4:00 p.m. :: Sony Make.Believe Stage
The Athens, GA natives are already veterans of the festival scene, and after opening for Kings of Leon this summer and fall, they are no longer a stranger to the big stages and amphitheatres. Parker Gispert's familiar grungy growl and amazing flexibility (Gispert's leg kicks and stretches never cease to amaze) on older songs "Like A Vibration" and "Already Young" accented the frantic pummeling of drummer Julian Dorio throughout the high energy performance. As per usual, Dorio went through enough drum sticks to tear down a shady grove, and it was nice to see The Whigs haven't abandoned some of the deeper tracks from their excellent first two albums Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip and Mission Control. Gispert's tireless enthusiasm ensured that the crowd remained actively involved throughout the performance while keeping the between-song chatter to a minimum and focusing on maintaining a feverish pace throughout the set.
4. Street Sweeper Social Club :: 8:00 p.m. :: Sony Make.Believe Stage
As lead singer/rapper Boots Riley said, SSSC's guitarist sounds a whole lot like the guy from Rage Against The Machine (Voodoo headliners in 2007). This is probably helped by the fact that the axe man for the uniformed social club - Boots insists they are a social club not just a band - is none other than Rage's Tom Morello. Unsurprisingly, the same sort of bombastic, fiercely polemical music is the end product, and a heavy take on M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" was a conscious nod to another artist refusing to conform to normative views and behavior. It was only a matter of time before the sloganeering banter against Big Brother, mixed with the thrash happy hip-hop pummeling, made it's appearance, and Riley didn't miss the opportunity to comment on the current political climate.
Best Random Festival Quirk on Saturday: The moving techno robot down the main spine of the festival - the only mobile party on the grounds. Bring it back next year, mysterious trance master, whoever you are.
Most Unexpected Cover on Saturday: Paul Sanchez & The Rolling Road Show doing Kanye West's "Heartless"
LATE NIGHT: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue's midnight set at Tipitina's Uptown.
Voodoo Experience :: Day Three: Sunday, October 31
The air is so thick with magic.
Sunday was just one of those perfect festival days, where everybody plays with added gusto, the sets don't overlap, the weather couldn't be better, and everyone leaves satisfied and already looking forward to next year. Seeing Pres Hall and MMJ trade guest spots at each other's sets, a performer with the ability to propel her show to stratospheric proportions (Janelle Monae) and the Scooby Doods of MGMT playing dreamy, make believe music on a (Sony) make believe stage on a make believe day was a surreal whirlwind that blew by in the blink of an eye. People will be talking about this day at Voodoo for a long time. I know I will. Halloween transformed City Park into a masquerade freak show and a dreamland for fans of people watching. Cookie Monsters, Frank the Donnie Darko rabbit, and a couple dressed as local Senate candidate David Vitter and his mistress coexisted for the day in the beautiful scenery in City Park, a space accented by oak trees and Spanish moss, setting quite a visual scene on this celebration of all things macabre. Not even going to attempt to rank performances here; on Sunday it was ALL good.
Janelle Monae :: 2:15 p.m. :: Soco/WWOZ Stage
One word review: Wow.
Slightly longer review: An artist like Janelle Monae is of a rare quality, and when one of the band members told the crowd to get their texting/Facebooking/Tweeting out of the way before the show starts, he meant it. Monae commanded the crowd's attention in mesmerizing fashion and displayed an unparalleled awareness of her mannerisms, bodily movement and facial expressions, all the while dodging and taking down zombies, painting pictures – yes, actually painting - and singing during the Funkadelic-style guitar monster "Mushrooms and Roses", and even clearing a swath through the audience during the show's final song. However, it wasn't all a dance party, as Monae took a breather from pure dramatic domination to show her amazing range on a cover of the Charlie Chaplin standard "Smile." Like MMJ later, fans left this one wanting a whole lot more.
This was quite possibly my favorite midday festival performance I've ever had the chance to see. While it's too bad her buddies in Outkast haven't toured together in years, after Sunday's dazzling set, she's filling that void in the space-funk world in grand fashion, and an opening slot for Prince in New York at the end of the year should garner even more believers. A quick ascent to superstardom is only a matter of time for Monae. To say she's ahead of her time would be an insult. She's light years ahead and quite possibly not of this Earth.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band :: 3:30 p.m. :: Pres Hall
What was planned as a brief step back in time after the future sounds of Janelle Monae to check out the authentic jazz of PHJB turned into a good 35-minute stop once Yim Yames appeared for a guest spot on "Louisiana Fairytale" and a couple other traditional tunes, providing a great opportunity to see the MMJ leader up close in front of a small crowd. The rest of MMJ was checking out the show out in the crowd, not something you generally see from a festival headliner.
MGMT :: 5:30 p.m. :: Sony Make.Believe Stage
The best costume of the day award goes to the five members of MGMT. Singer Andrew VanWyngarden wore a flowing orange wig and tights as Daphne. Keyboard player Ben Goldwasser went as Velma. Guitarist James Richardson wore the full-body Scooby-Doo costume, a tough task I'm sure with guitar in tow. And finally, drummer Will Berman and bassist Matthew Asti were a little more subdued as Shaggy and Fred. As a huge fan of this year's excellent Congratulations record, it was exciting to finally hear "It's Working" and the epic "Siberian Breaks" live. Like the studio take, "Siberian Breaks" drifted on past the ten-minute mark, oscillating between catharsis and disorientation with far-out vocal effects as the only constant. It's kind of like a condensing Atom Heart Mother into one multi-phased song. The big jams like "Electric Feel" and "Time To Pretend" from the more pop-conscious Oracular Spectacular got the massive crowd going way more than any of the new singles, and perhaps these guys have hit their peak as far as mainstream popularity goes. The still-young band put on a solid performance and showed signs of musical progression and the ability to rock a big stage without the smoke and mirrors of a big, flashy light display.
My Morning Jacket :: 7:00 p.m. :: Voodoo Stage
I have been a huge fan of MMJ ever since the release of 2005's Z album, and as a result I've attended some of the best concerts I've ever seen in the years since. Seeing the band closing out and headlining a major music festival in town like New Orleans on Halloween night was a surreal experience after some of the smaller venues I've been able to catch them in over the years.
The band floated out on stage dressed as some kind of moon wizard gods and opened the show in interpretive dance - a bizarre and comical introduction for what I am sure was a large contingent of young fans attending their first MMJ show. The boys stayed in costume for the first couple songs, opening with "Wordless Chorus" and "Anytime" before reverting to plainclothes for a pulverization of "Off the Record," a tune showcasing the Kentucky-bred band's pop awareness and serious musical abilities. As the band emitted retina-scorching white strobes, Two-Tone Tommy's swirling bass locked in with Jim James and Carl Broemel's two-headed guitar onslaught before tapering seamlessly into the achingly slow burning outro suite. The only low point of the show was the 15 minutes or so run through "Golden," "I'm Amazed" and new tune "Circuital," which hasn't won me over as a song befitting a festival appearance yet. Once the band hit "Touch Me Part One," the last 75 minutes or so blew by as James and Broemel more or less put on a guitar clinic, highlighted by the "Dondante > Smokin From Shootin' > Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Part 2 > Lay Low Jam" accented by a host of glow sticks and a huge crowd-surfing stuffed rabbit.
As he did at JazzFest, James again remarked on the spiritual connection he feels with the city of New Orleans, saying, "I feel like there's no other place on Earth to be. Every song, my molecules get more pulled out into the ethos," after pointing out that the band has always dreamed of doing a show in the Big Easy on Halloween. Towards the end, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined the band for four songs, which included a visceral take on Black Sabbath's theme song and a celebratory spin on the Al Johnson Mardi Gras standard "Carnival Time." Unfortunately, a couple songs were cut from the set due to time restraints ("Dancefloors" and "Move On Up") and James remarked that this was the band's final performance for some time (so MMJ can return to the studio to wrap their sixth album). It's safe to say they left their mark, ending with "One Big Holiday" to send people on their way to the downtown Halloween madness or home to catch some badly needed rest.
This is where MMJ belongs, at the top of the heap at a major music festival, putting on their highly personalized and borderline peerless performances for the masses. On Sunday night, My Morning Jacket only grew their legacy and lived up to the lofty reputation bestowed upon them by critics and fans alike. It's just a shame they can't come here and do this every Halloween.
My Morning Jacket Setlist -- October 31, 2010
Wordless Chorus, Anytime, Off the Record, Mahgeetah, Gideon, Circuital, I'm Amazed, Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 1, Dondante, Smokin From Shootin > Touch Me I'm Going to Scream > Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 2 > Lay Low Jam, Phone Went West, Black Sabbath* (Black Sabbath), Evil Urges, Highly Suspicious*, Carnival Time*, One Big Holiday
* w/ Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Best Cover on Sunday: A tie between Janelle Monae doing Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" and Jacket's take on "Black Sabbath" with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Best Sit-In on Sunday: Yim Yames with Preservation Hall Jazz Band singing "Louisiana Fairytale".
One last round at Tipitina's for British funk band The New Mastersounds, who were joined by the very special guest keyboardist Art Neville in the second set. One could have just gone to the late night offerings at Tipitina's all three nights and had themselves one hell of a weekend at New Orleans' hottest music venue.
The New Mastersounds Late Night Halloween '10 @ Tipitina's Uptown
Top 5 Shows of the Weekend
1. Janelle Monae
2. My Morning Jacket (a toss up with Monae)
5. Buckwheat Zydeco
Halloween weekend in New Orleans, more fun than Mardi Gras? Who's to say…
Worship the Music.