Best and Worst from the Voodoo Experience
The long U.S. festival season approaches the finish line with a wet and wild Halloween weekend in New Orleans
Worst Supernatural Powers: Alejandro Escovedo
He’s been through a lot in the course of a 30-year career, from opening for the Sex Pistols (with the Nuns) to triumphing over hepatitis C. On the opening day of Voodoo, his set was positively blistering, as he led a black-clad band through a fierce hour of True Believers, Rank and File and solo alt-country-punk volleys of fire. The afternoon was warm, sunny and humid till he tore into “Castanets” – a cold wind sliced through the crowd as he started the closer, Bowie’s “All The Young Dudes.” As soon as the (other) man in black was gone, the sky turned black and cold pellets of rain started to hammer the crowd. If a gale-force guitar can control the weather, then his may well have.
Best Music For Giving In to the Rain: Black Keys
When icy rain is pouring down on your head and you’re up to your ankles in frigid, stinky mud, the Black Keys’ weighty garage-blues sounds as dragged-out, fuzzy and distorted as you feel.
Best Fusion: Lil Brian & The Zydeco Travelers
Zydeco isn’t just for heritage fests; up in North Louisiana, the traditional Creole hybrid sound is getting mixed with soul, R&B and hip-hop till it’s straight pimping. Lil Brian and the Zydeco Travelers are one of the best of the neo-zydeco acts, strutting with washboard and accordion through songs like Parliament’s “Up For The Downstroke” reworked as “Up For The Zydeco.” Aieeeee!
Worst Misogynistic Rabble-Rousing: Eminem
Em’s set otherwise revealed him as 110 percent back in fighting form after his long hiatus. His lightning flow made more than a few of us remember that way back before Weezy claimed the title of Best Rapper Alive, there’d been another heavyweight contender in the game. But did he really have to exhort thousands of fans to grab their nuts, pump their middle fingers in the air and yell, “Bitch, you make me hurl,” as a lead-in to “Superman?”
Worst Audience Rapport: the Knux
This New Orleans-born rap duo moved to Los Angeles after Katrina and got pretty hot pretty quick, thanks to video-game beats, old-school hip-hop appeal and craftily constructed songs like the NOLA-rap-flavored “Fire (Put It In The Air)” and “Bang Bang.” They played a kickass show at Essence Fest in New Orleans earlier this year. At Voodoo, though, they wavered in the face of the crappy weather and came through with a stage presence on the WWOZ/SoCo stage that was like a primer on unpleasant ways for a band to act: 1) Don’t refuse to start the show till the audience yells your name and puts their hands in the air to your satisfaction, when they are already standing in freezing rain for you and your stage is running an hour late. 2) Don’t ask chicks to take off their tops in that same freezing rain. Because no women will, but that drunk fat guy with huge man-boobs thinks it’s a good idea, and now look what you did. 3) Don’t get into a standoff (which stops the already late show) with the security guard who’s telling you that audience members can’t come up onstage. 4) Don’t talk about how much the festival you are playing right now sucks because you’re mad at the security guard. If you’re being a cranky bitch, nobody will yell, “Fuck the police” with you when you ask them to. See? They didn’t. 5) Oh, and don’t try to force the crowd to yell your band name when your band name sounds like “nuts.”
Best Unexpected Guest Appearance: Jello Biafra
These days Jello’s live performances, heavy on the spoken word, feel like getting an hour-long lecture from a whiny schoolmarm. So I didn’t cry over missing his scheduled set in order to catch all of Jane’s Addiction. Good thing I was in the Bingo Parlour tent for the reunion gig of the New Orleans alternative-brass dirty funk band the Morning 40 Federation – Jello, in a Carpenters T-shirt, turned up onstage and busted out with “Too Drunk To Fuck.” Apparently, what it always needed was a trombone.
Best Reason To Move My Car: Kiss
Everyone parked in Lot B, which was half the media and all of the performers from the Bingo Parlour tent, had to suddenly move their cars halfway through the day to make way for Kiss’s pyrotechnic setup. Said lot is a full quarter-mile away from the Voodoo stage, where Gene and the boys were playing Halloween night. My car was now a long, long muddy walk away from their two-hour closing show, and by time they came on and asked me – yes, I very much wanted the best, the hottest band in the world. The set didn’t disappoint – green jets of flame, stacks of video screens, platform boots taller than me, Gene’s tongue and lots and lots of fog. Paul Stanley tawked through the whole predictable set all the way through the passable recent Sonic Boom stuff into the explosive – predictably so, sure, but explosive nonetheless – combination closing punches of “Rock N’ Roll All Nite,” “Love Gun,””Shout It Out Loud” and “Detroit Rock City.” In a feat never before seen at Voodoo, he rode an aerial rig out over the crowd to a platform above the soundboard. As the band walked offstage behind a screen that sweetly read “Kiss Loves You New Orleans!” rumbling was audible; soon, an Independence Day-worthy fireworks display spurted across the sky, originating about where I had parked ten hours ago. The entire festival grounds, underneath the spidery explosions of color, was forced to be part of the Kiss show.
Best Surprise: Brother Taisuke Mass Choir
What do you call 50 Japanese people in black who barely speak English converging en masse in the Bingo Parlour tent to sing raucous, Southern hand-clapping tent-meeting gospel? Something I’m glad I didn’t miss.
Best Sucking Up To Locals: March Fourth Marching Band
The massive brass/funk/rock/circus ensemble played a nasty jam to accompany an acrobat dressed as a Dia de Los Muertos-style rag doll doing pole tricks on a length of pipe held up by a stilt-walker. They also covered a classic by the local Rebirth Brass Band, “Do Whatcha Wanna,” and donated part of the proceeds from their latest album, Rise Up, to the charity Sweet Home New Orleans, which provides housing assistance for musicians.
Worst Sucking Up To Locals: Jane’s Addiction
The original lineup of Jane’s Addiction, with Eric Avery back in the fold, pulled off a killer set on the Playstation/ Billboard.com stage complete with writhing dancers costumed a la the Ritual De Lo Habitual cover art, a super-slow, heroin-dream “Jane Says,” Perry Farrell in a sparkly black cape and a closing version of “Chip Away” that featured a trio of drummers pounding spookily away in unison on huge floor toms. The appeal to locals started okay, if awkwardly, with Farrell declaring he had consulted a Ouija board to see if the New Orleans Saints would win during Monday Night Football. (Sure, great.) Then he reminisced about being bitten by giant spiders and dive-bombed by palmetto bugs while working in town with Tom Morello on Katrina recovery efforts. Then he led into a squealing “Ocean Size” by saying, “You guys know better than anyone, when the ocean takes over, there’s nothing you can do.” (Um. I get the general reference, but it was not the ocean that was a problem for New Orleans in August ’05.)
Worst Stage Assignment: Down
Down had an opening tour with Metallica last year, for God’s sake! And they’re from New Orleans! And you put them in a tent that only holds 300 people! We all could have died of metal! People spilled out of the Bingo Parlour several dozen feet on all sides during their grinding stoner-metal set. Also, Phil Anselmo threatened to kick all of our asses right before the de facto NOLA headbanger anthem “Ghosts Along The Mississippi,” and I believed him.
Worst Chest Hair: Dan Dyer
When K’naan cancelled his planned set, hippie piano man Dan Dyer was bumped up to the rapper’s afternoon slot on the big Voodoo stage. His McCartneyesque ballads (with occasional Badfinger-style harmonies) were sunshiny and soulful, filled out lushly by a bassist who did double duty on cello – perfect afternoon dreamtime music for a warm afternoon in a verdant field. Or it would have been if not for the Jumbotron shots of his sweaty chest forest revealed to an Al Goldstein-like extent by a shockingly plunging V-neck T-shirt. It was warm, he was sweaty, his man-fur was swirling in damp, hirsute Rorschachs and it was 30 feet high for all to see. (Runner-up Worst Chest Hair: Paul Stanley. I’m not saying you’re too old to rock n’roll all night – I bet you never will be – I’m just saying you’re too old to wear a vest with no shirt underneath. Look at Gene. Gene wears a shirt and nobody thinks any less of him. Really!)
Best Unexpected/ Expected Extras: Flaming Lips
When the Flaming Lips play Voodoo (or anywhere, really), watching the big toys come out is a tremendous part of the fun: balloons, confetti cannons, Wayne Coyne’s plastic stage-diving bubble. Sunday night, there was an unanticipated extra visual treat. After the Lips were joined onstage by 30 or so dancing fans wearing furry white costumes (polar bears? Yetis? Bunnies?), a female polar bear/yeti/bunny divested herself of her white fur suit during “Silver Trembling Hands” and ran, stark naked, straight to Coyne’s arms. He went with it till security escorted her away.
Best Ass-Shake Inducer: Katey Red
Q: What do you say to a six-foot-plus transgendered bounce-rapper out of New Orleans’ Melpomene Projects with ten years of diva-hood under her belt and a side job teaching baton twirling to marching band majorettes? A: Whatever she tells you to. And with bounce, which is raggedy, hard-driving New Orleans ghetto party hip-hop with a call-and-response pattern, that comes up a lot. (FYI, the correct answer, in the song, to “Katey Red is a…” is “dick-sucker.”)
Best Manners: Brand New
Angsty emo-punkers they may be, but Brand New – at least frontman Jesse Lacey – is decorous and friendly to a fault. Before ripping into the buzzing three-guitar assault of the closer, “At The Bottom,” Lacey – appearing sincerely concerned he’d offended someone – consulted with the audience about the appropriateness of a joke he’d told the night before at a Houston show. (He’d referred to those not in costume as fun-haters.) Reassured, he told the crowd, “I know it’s hot, and I really appreciate you coming… I hope you all have a really good day, and I hope you all have everything you want!”)
Best Reason To Never, Ever Drink Again: The Pogues
The original-lineup Pogues (minus bassist Cait O’Riordan) have obviously had practice working around the back-in-the-fold irascible boozer Shane MacGowan, because even with all his lurching, stumbling, slurring and wandering offstage, the band sounded absolutely vicious. Age has not dimmed their Irish snarl or their energy level (nor has a bout with cancer, even, tamed Phil Chevron’s fierce guitar.) Tin-whistle player Spider Stacy handled most of the vocals while assistants handled MacGowan – he spent most of the set resting on one of the Flaming Lips’ road cases while fans backstage handed him drinks and smokes, and snapped pictures. (Thanks, enablers.) He managed to grumble his way through the closer, “The Sickbed of Cuchulainn,” (“There’s devils on each side of you, with bottles in their hands.”) when led to and placed on a chair near the mic stand, but when he attempted to say goodbye to the audience, the rest of the band was already back in the trailer and they’d turned off the PA.
Best Breakfast: MC Trachiotomy
Local psychedelic weirdo band MC Trachiotomy [sic], who often open for the Butthole Surfers – a major influence and longtime buddies – had sidemen cook waffles and serve Bloody Marys onstage during their bizarro-funk set. It was a 10:45 a.m., the first show of the day after a long, cold, wet weekend, and it awful was nice of them.
Best Accompaniment To Your Acid Trip: A giant, dancing light-up bug
This year’s Voodoo Experience was retitled the Voodoo Art and Music Experience because of a partnership with the local gallery group the Life Is Art Foundation. Their curator, Kirsha Kaechele, carefully selected 19 huge installation projects from artists based all around the country for what appeared to be their appropriateness for pairing with LSD – including huge glowing cloth orbs, shadow-puppet dancers under a tree, a 20-foot-high neon sign that read “OK” planted in the grass and a hammock big enough for 30 people. But the far and away winner – as a trip toy – was a piece by artist Mr. Jellyfish, titled Mantis. It was a tower of glowing green wire with pink eyes, shaped like a praying mantis and strapped to the artist via backpack harness, which also housed controls for its buggy limbs. It stalked the festival grounds with the apparent artistic goal of frightening people on drugs. (Runner-Up: Flaming Lips. Duh.)