By Seth Mattei
In its first year partnership with Live Nation, the fifteenth annual Voodoo Experience attracted over 100,000 music fans, but the festival’s smaller perimeters caused music to bleed over to other stages more than usual, and some scheduling decisions could have been more well thought out. However, a wide variety of great music and clear skies throughout the weekend made the event an overall success.
The first day of the fest was all over the place in terms of audio quality and performance variety. The sound on the Ritual Stage (Voodoo’s main stage) was consistently bad throughout the day. The electronic music smorgasbord that is Twenty One Pilots’ audio quality was decent enough, but the music left some substance to be desired.
Rise Against followed, and had the same problem that killed their set at House of Blues two years ago: crisp guitar and great vocals, but a very muddy bass and drum sound. The Chicago punk rockers managed to play a spirited set, pleasing fans old and new. And the sound was much better midway through their performance.
Action Bronson is one of the leading voices in the modern rap scene. His sound was consistently great on the Carnival Stage throughout the weekend, and Bronson’s beats sounded great, but his set was a bit unfocused, with him cutting off songs midway through, then stalling by scrolling through his Mac trying to decide which song to play next. His set gave the weekend one of its more bizarre juxtapositions when a young couple kissed while Action Bronson rapped vividly about defecation.
Melvins’ guitarist/singer Buzz “King Buzzo” Osbourne is a pioneer of alternative music, and constructs riffs that encompass everything that rockers love about sludge metal. A slowed down take on punk rock and heavy metal, the Melvins’ sound teeters between Black Flag and Black Sabbath. The fact that they shared a set time with Slayer was upsetting, as they basically share a fanbase with the legendary speed rockers, but their energetic set was good enough to make me forget my disappointment momentarily.
OutKast followed Slayer on the Ritual Stage, which is about the most jarring musical transition I can think of, but hey, that’s part of what New Orleans, and Voodoo, is all about. However, with one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, their delivery left something to be desired because they sounded horrible. Andre 3000 and Big Boi were delivering their lines successfully and performing hits galore, but their vocals were practically inaudible. My eardrums were squinting trying to hear lyrics, and the bass threatened to rip the ground from beneath my feet. One flubbed bass note at a show is usually no big deal, but in this situation, it was devastating.
Death from Above 1979 are an electronic punk duo from Toronto, featuring Jesse F. Keeler on bass and backing vocals and Sebastien Granger on lead vocals and drums. Their music is noisy yet danceable and their energetic performance kept the crowd moving for the entirety of their pre-dusk set.
Peelander-Z are a Japanese punk band based in New York City. Their stage show consists of costumes, wrestling, signs depicting lyrics and enthusiastic encouragement of audience participation. With song titles like “Mad Tiger” and “So Many Mike,” and a strange version of limbo being imposed on the crowd, they are a must-see for anyone who likes humor and energy with their rock’n’roll.
Lauryn Hill managed to show up 45 minutes late to perform at Voodoo this year. Twice. She arrived on the Ritual Stage at 6:45 Saturday evening (she was scheduled to perform at 6:00) and led her band in “Killing Me Softly.” Making up for lost time, Hill and her ensemble played a scorching set, until festival staff shut them down at precisely 7:15, when her set was scheduled to end. It was later announced that her performance would be allowed a conclusion at 10:00 on the Flambeau Stage, a small stage mainly reserved for indie rock bands and smaller acts throughout the weekend. She showed up for that performance at 10:48, forcing fans to wait in the cold. This time, she was not cut off, and performed until 11:10, taking time to snap orders at her band and the sound crew between lines. Fans seemed to get what they wanted in terms of songs, but the delays were extremely frustrating.
World/Inferno Friendship Society are a cabaret punk band from Brooklyn who perform an energetic set while wearing suits. Their lyrical content ranges from political to outright campy. They ended their Sunday afternoon Carnival Stage set somewhere in between, with the anthemic “Pirates and Bank Robbers, Not Lawyers and CEOs.” Singer Jack Terricloth sat on the edge of the stage at one point, donned his sunglasses and said, “I don’t mean to play up the vampire theme, but this is the first time in a long time that I’ve been in the sun.”
Trombone Shorty brought the sun down on the Ritual Stage, playing his soulful blend of rock, jazz, hip hop and funk to a large, enthusiastic crowd. He is a local treasure and brings a fresh approach to jazz fusion that translates well to this generation of music fans.
Manchester Orchestra are an Atlanta-based indie rock band with melodic punk leanings. Their sound is similar to that of early Weezer, and their songs are hook-filled, palm-muted guitar-driven sonic bliss. Their 5 p.m. set at the Flambeau stage caused many passersby to stop and listen enthusiastically to a band they may not have planned on seeing.
Gogol Bordello triumphed over soundboard issues that delayed their set by 10 minutes. The gypsy punk powerhouse started playing, only for singer Eugene Hutz to stop the band in the middle of the first song, demanding that the soundman “fix the bass!” Hutz then stood on the side of the stage, arms folded and frustrated. He stormed off and came back smiling moments later, telling the audience, “Hey, this kind of thing happens all the time in show business.” He then grabbed his classical guitar and played with the accompaniment of violin and accordion while the sound kinks were gradually worked out. What could have been a train wreck turned out to be a perfect set for the raucous, unpredictable band.
Foo Fighters were a great choice for the weekend’s headlining act. For the second year in a row, Steve Gleason was brought onstage to introduce the festival’s final headliner. Singer/guitarist Dave Grohl seems to be in love with New Orleans at the moment, and said he was out walking the French Quarter hours before hitting the Ritual Stage for the band’s 6:30 performance. “We’re just going to play until they tell us to stop,” Grohl said. The band played for two and a half hours, treating the crowd to what seemed like an endless supply of hits, some of them bonafide alt-rock classics. They brought Trombone Shorty onstage for a trombone solo in the middle of “This is a Call,” the lead single from their 1995 self-titled debut album. They also treated the audience to covers of Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love,” Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” and Queen’s “Under Pressure.” They ended with “Everlong,” arguably their most-loved song, and the crowd went wild, enthusiastically singing along and revelling in nostalgia and catharsis.