Louisiana Hell Ride

WRITTEN BY
Chuck Klosterman

If werewolves controlled the House and vampires ruled the Senate,New Orleans would be our nation's capital. It is a citywithout conscience. The bars never close. You can drink on thestreet. Everything smells like a combination of puke, donkeys,shrimp scampi, Victoria's Secret, and lawlessness. Citizenswalk the alleys and boulevards with human skulls nestled undertheir arms. The air on Bourbon Street is 21 percent oxygen and 26percent sex. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting astripper who's also a prostitute (and I'm 99 percentcertain you can buy a dead cat here, if you're so inclined).There are people who move to New Orleans in order to die? Thosepeople know what they're doing.

Allof this makes New Orleans an ideal location for a rock festival,particularly when said festival falls on the weekend of All Saints Day(the vigil of which is referred to as Halloween by godless pagans).That's the premise of the fifth annual Voodoo Music Experience, acollision of arena rock and decadence in pastoral New Orleans City Park(complete with live alligators!). This year's voodoopalooza wasexpanded from one to three days and featured 62 acts scattered amongthree venues (one for rock, one for hip-hop and jam bands, and onegoofball circus tent for goofball dance DJs). If you ever wanted to jaba needle into a Jack White voodoo doll, this was your chance.

FRIDAY (DAY ONE): Though the festival officiallystarted just past noon (with local rave DJ Tony Estrada spinning in thedance tent), the first artists anyone really noticed were Kill Hannah,the gutter-glam Chicago rock boyz who wear socks on their arms likeBritney Spears and sing songs like "Is Anyone Here Alive?" Looking andsounding like a well-mannered, Generation-Y Faster Pussycat, KillHannah were generally received as "not altogether bad" by the fewhundred kids who cut school to watch rock music at two in theafternoon.

While Urine napped, Ludacrisunleashed his rapid-fire delivery on an audience that seemed moredehydrated than hungry for chicken (or beer). "I see a lot of whitepeople out there," Ludacris said after his first song. "Why don't youwhite people make some noise?" Across the park, the Supersuckersdealt with a similar problem: An inordinate percentage of theiraudience didn't even face the stage -- including several guys in thefirst row! The 'Suckers did, however, triumphantly end their show witha killer version of Thin Lizzy's "Cowboy Song" and their own minor 1995hit, "Born With a Tail."

Frontman Eddie Spaghetti also mentioned that he wanted to finish the set early in order to see 50 Cent,and I don't think he was kidding. Yet the most entertaining part of50's much-anticipated appearance occurred before the music started.Behind the stage, 50's entourage (which appeared to number in thethousands) showed up ten minutes early and waited for their main man.The van that supposedly contained 50 drove toward the stage but theninexplicably turned around; this happened at least three times (alwaysfollowed by several of his Starter-clad cohorts whipping out thecoolest cell phones I've ever seen). At the last possible moment, 50arrived via golf cart, looking as though he were in some kind ofBuddhist trance. But when it was time to light up the sky, good ol'Curtis Jackson sprang to life like Roy Horn's tiger. The minute hisshirt disappeared, he was prowling the stage and imploring us to putour motherfucking hands in the motherfucking air. "What up, blood?" 50asked. "What up, gangsta?" These are valid questions. He also ranthrough a version of Missy Elliott's "Work It" that was just aboutimpossible not to adore.

The evening concluded with a three-hour tour de force from George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars (who performed with a puppy) and performances by earnest n?-metallers P.O.D. and Godsmack(who unironically jammed on the other side of the park). Oh, and "MachoMan" Randy Savage appeared in the Slim Jim promotional tent and wasintroduced as "wrestling legend and Slim Jim advocate." I was so veryproud to be there.

SATURDAY (DAY TWO): The one problem with staging arock concert in New Orleans is purely atmospheric -- it's profoundlyhot in Louisiana, and the sun seems to hover a mere 12 feet aboveEarth's surface. When Mos Def went on at 3 p.m., the crowdappeared to be preoccupied with trying to find (a) an inch of shadeand/or (b) the score of the Georgia-Florida football game. Even Rootsdrummer ?uestlove's DJ set was remarkably underattended.

Better Than Ezra hit the rock stage at 3:45, shockingtheir critics by continuing to exist. Since they're local N'awlinsboys, they drew a decent crowd, but this was generally a disquietingsonic experience. Songs like "Good" and "King of New Orleans" were onthe radio constantly only eight years ago, but it felt like I hadn'theard those tunes since the Bronze Age. In stark contrast, the Roots' 4:30 set felt almost futuristic in its tightness.

However, when speaking of the past or the future (and, Isuppose, the present), there was really only one act at Voodoo thatneeds to be mentioned: Iggy and the Stooges. After an afternoon of some of the worst music anyone could imagine (Fuel and Staind),the Stooges imploded in a way that -- honestly -- I did not think waspossible. It was probably the greatest live performance I have everseen by any band anywhere. And I know that makes no sense, because Iggyhas to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 years old, and I don'teven like punk rock. But what this concert illustrated was not onlythat the Stooges were the first punk band (as rock historians like tosuggest) or even the best punk band; this concert proved that theStooges were the only punk band that ever existed. The first punkrecord was their 1969 debut, the last punk record was 1973's Raw Power, and the single greatest non-Beatles, non-Guns N' Roses album ever recorded was 1970's Fun House. Live, the music seemed to be moving in three directions simultaneously.

Now, this is not to suggest that the Stooges' shtick doesn'traise a few questions (for example, Iggy's overt hatred of televisiondefinitely makes me wonder why he participated in an episode of VH1's Behind the Music).There are several things he does (particularly his hyper-spastic stagemoves) that should seem idiotic, especially this late in the game, butthey make sense somehow. And I think this is because no other artist sodeftly fuses the complexity of reality with the simplicity ofperformance: At one point, Iggy stopped and said, "I need somelove...some intelligence...some money...and some sex." Isn't thatpretty much everything? I mean, is there anyone else who could describethe totality of the human experience in 11 words? Moretrenchant, he also pointed at an especially enthusiastic fan in theaudience and expressed the paradox of self-loathing and self-adulationin eight words: "You suck, just like the bands you like." Think about that for a while.

SUNDAY (DAY THREE): The festival's final day included music by Cypress Hill, Queens of the Stone Age, A Perfect Circle, jam hams the String Cheese Incident, funkoids Galactic, DJ Shadow-style turntablist RJD2, and Rusted Root.Don't quote me on this, but I suspect some members of the audience mayhave been smoking marijuana. In fact, I'm pretty sure Sunday afternoonwas the first time City Park ever levitated to about sea level.

Since I'm a "rock journalist," I used Sunday afternoon toget "the inside scoop" on "the rock'n'roll lifestyle," which means Italked to the guy who cooked the musicians' meals. "Staind ate the mostfood," said chef Josh Katz. "Aaron Lewis ate more chicken than anyoneI've ever seen. B-Real from Cypress Hill also ate the shit out of somechicken. 50 Cent is mostly a vegetarian, so he enjoyed my barley pilafdish a great deal. But he also ate one sausage!"

Judging from their affable demeanor backstage, the membersof Queens of the Stone Age and A Perfect Circle are friends. QOTSAmastermind Josh Homme and girlfriend Brody Dalle of the Distillers(looking much softer than usual) drank Coronas with new Perfect Circlemembers James Iha and Jeordie White. Both bands put on serviceable,workmanlike sets. "This is the end of our two-year tour," Homme saidbefore playing "No One Knows" to the sun-soaked crowd, "so this is thelast Queens of the Stone Age song you'll hear for a while. Now go getdrunk and fuck somebody." That certainly seemed to be his intention, at least.

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