All words: Cherie LeJeune — All photos: Julia Pretus, Cherie LeJeune
New Orleans’s Voodoo Experience is an absurd, eclectic mixing pot of music, culture, and costumes. It’s treated as a weekend-long Halloween party, and people-watching becomes a show of its own right. As strange and diverse as the people may be, the lineup is always a little bit weirder, straying from whatever “norm” music festivals tend to find. Where else can you catch Treme Brass Band and Metallica in one day? Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Skrillex (below)?
Voodoo gives local music a fair share of lovin’, making it a point to incorporate New Orleans favorites and big name acts alike. Smaller stages bring in Cajun and jazz artists, bluegrass folk musicians, music usually heard in the New Orleans Bywater’s tiny venues. Called the “Russian Mafia Band,” Debauche played rowdy Russian street songs to an early morning crowd. C.C. Adcock and the Lafayette Marquis, whose blue rock music has been used in popular television series True Blood, also took to the Voodoo stage this weekend as well.
Cajun band Lost Bayou Ramblers brought out the ole’ accordion and fiddle, and Teddy Lamsen of GIVERS hopped in their set a little later on. But I’d never seen a crowd respond the way they did to the New Orleans Bounce Azzstravanganza Dream show (above). And I’d never seen anyone shake their body the way those bounce dancers could. This wasn’t a band, or a DJ. This was a dance party, and the crowd looked to Katey Red and Cheeky Blakk for the right moves.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Metallica, and Jack White were the huge names on the lineup this year. Young played a spot-on Friday night set, with a guitar tone that would make any grunge-rock guitarist envious and a steady vocal that hasn’t changed a bit. Crazy Horse made the set less folk-oriented than I expected, a true rock show. My fascination with his Voodoo show stems from the fact that the man just hasn’t stopped creating. He’s a musician who fell in love with music early on, and even into old age, hasn’t fallen out of it. Old material and new from his latest Psychedelic Pill filled the set list that night, and the crowd stood in awe of every second of it.
The following night, Metallica put on an entirely different show. First off, pyro was involved: fireworks and flame bursts. But this couldn’t come as a shocker to anyone watching the hard-rocking metal band tear up the Voodoo stage. “We’re Green Day except taller,” they told the roaring crowd. They’d filled in only a few weeks before the festival when Green Day last-minute cancelled, and brought an entirely different set of adoring fans to Voodoo.
My only complaint against some of these Metallica-loving metalheads is that they didn’t know how to act at a rock show that isn’t metal. When Silversun Pickups (above) took the stage beforehand, they yelled “Boo” and “We want Metallica” at the band, surely an insult and difficult to take onstage. But Silversun Pickups wasn’t fazed, or at least didn’t show it. They played an incredibly tight, sure-in-their-sound rock set, and vocalist Brian Aubert’s distinguishable croon didn’t waver once. “Panic Switch” absolutely soared, unfurling into a huge, dynamic monster of a song live. Same goes for “Lazy Eye” (that riff gets me every time). It was my first time catching the Los Angeles-based band, and I was thoroughly impressed.
Those who caught Jack White’s Sunday night set with The Raconteurs at last year’s Voodoo heard a few of the same songs twice as he closed out Voodoo again. White pulled out tracks like “Steady As She Goes” and “Top Yourself” on a stage glowing in blue light, dressed up in a pinstripe suit and with a signature fedora on his head. But it wasn’t Brendan Benson at his side this time— instead, an all-guy backing band. The overlap with last year’s festival didn’t matter, because the songs had undergone a change in sound, differing from the original, recorded versions. His four projects— The Dead Weather, The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and his solo work— became one hell-of-a-sound under the name Jack White. And I think I can speak for all White Stripes fans when I say we left happy after hearing favorites like “Fell In Love With A Girl” and “Ball and Biscuit.”
Now aside from the music, I was in awe of the sheer amount of trendy combat boots, skinny jeans, and cropped tops at the festival this year, especially when only a handful of “indie” bands were on the lineup. If anything, the electronic stage brought in the younger audience, with names like JFK of MSTRKRFT, Skrillex, and Justice turning one corner of the park into an all-out rage fest at every hour of the day. Skrillex wins hands-down for most thrilling DJ set. Smoke and fire within the first five minutes? You can’t get a crowd going much quicker than that. Loud shouts, hundreds of hands waving, dozens of fans slammed against the front grate and wishing to get closer- this reaction was the perfect example of the Voodoo mantra, “Worship the music.”
The outskirts of the electronic stage became a favorite people-watching spot of mine, too. It usually contained very dazed individuals asleep, either stumbling around or asleep on a stuffed animal they won earlier from Voodoo’s carnival area. Yes, a carnival area. Another favorite part of the park. For a few dollars, you could catch a ride on the Ferris Wheel, or play a few games at the carnival booths and win a real, breathing bunny rabbit as a prize. Fun? Sure. Practical? Hmmmm.
Aside from the electronic names, it was difficult to catch anything remotely “indie” at Voodoo. I couldn’t care less, but others might’ve. Acts like AWOLNation and Gary Clark Jr. could fit into that niche, perhaps. Vocalist Andrew Bruno of AWOLNation certainly knew how to get a crowd going with a record number of crowd surfers during the extent of his set. He encouraged it, and even threw his own surfboard into the sea of faces and had a quick ride near the end of the show.
New Orleans electro-pop band Royal Teeth started breaking into new territory recently with the track, “Wild” getting airplay on stations like Sirius-XM’s Alt Nation. They performed their optimistic, high-energy music on Sunday afternoon, including an exceptional cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats”. Heavy on floor toms, the six-piece brought forward a pop sound that’s less bubble gum and more alt-rock.
All in all, a gorgeous, sunny weekend in New Orleans for Voodoo (temperatures stayed in the 60’s, y’all). I caught a few other terrific sets throughout the three days from Say Anything, Nas, Thomas Dolby, and Coheed and Cambria. And now, I’m recovering, sick with a cold from a weekend of non-stop music. Hey, worth it. I’d do it again.
- Julia’s shots:
DJ Qbert & D-Styles:
Toots & the Maytals:
- Shots by Cherie:
Mike Patton of Tomahawk (Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, etc.)
Coheed & Cambria
Lost Bayou Ramblers
Gary Clark Jr.
CC Adcock & Lafayette Marquis