Words by: Wesley Hodges | Images by: Dino Perrucci & Adam McCullough
Voodoo Experience :: 10.30.09 - 11.01.09 :: City Park :: New Orleans, LA
"Worship the music." It's Voodoo Experience's tagline and the sentiment seemed to sum up the New Orleans festival. Referred to as Jazz Fest's "much wilder" cousin by local WWOZ DJ and festival performer DJ Soul Sister, this year, the calendar presented a perfect storm for a spectacular freak show weekend with Halloween falling on Saturday night and All Saints Day hitting appropriately on Sunday. With a heavy lineup curated for thrill seeking rockers, featuring such delectably bizarro acts as Ween, The Flaming Lips, Jane's Addiction, Eminem, Widespread Panic, Gogol Bordello, and KISS, even the casual fan would be hard pressed not to embrace their dark side and celebrate the spirits of the season.
| The New Orleans Bingo! Show - Voodoo 09 by Perrucci|
City Park is an ideal natural setting, giving everything "a very beautiful and mysterious looking aesthetic," as Soul Sister put it. The city of New Orleans has a celebrated tradition of embracing all things macabre and doesn't really need an excuse like Halloween to throw a masquerade, but toss in a music festival with a bunch of freaky bands (and fans) and it's on.
The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach welcomed the early comers to Voodoo, appropriately telling us, "Strange times are here," while pouring through a Thickfreakness heavy set. Day one of Voodoo Experience was an orientation of sorts. With many patrons having spent little if any time in City Park, it took a little while to hit the proverbial stride as incessant rain further incited some improvisational re-planning. The oak-laden grove seemed unbothered by the masses of people invading the lush sanctuary, and day one was far and away the most poorly attended, but you didn't hear anyone complaining.
Walking in the gates, many went straight for wild child artista Janelle Monae, an exuberant and stylin' young artist from the school of Outkast, who put on a dramatic performance as an ominous storm system approached from the western skies. Monae's brash, bouncy style is akin to Santigold and the cosmic production was reminiscent of a Gnarls Barkley show. With her hair coifed into something of a sideways beehive, Ms. Monae didn't look to be an earthling. Musically it would be hard to put in any kind of box, with some tunes rolling well past the six-minute mark. Guitarist Kellindo showed serious range wailing on some Hendrix flourishes while Monae melodically shouted, "Voodoo-doo-doo-doo-doo," during the appropriate opener "Many Moons."
| The Black Keys - Voodoo 09 by Perrucci|
As the skies turned increasingly violent, it seemed like a good idea to head to the big yellow carnival tent we spotted down at the far corner of the festival grounds to check out whoever was playing, just in order to stay dry. Sure enough, within two minutes of getting inside the Bingo! Parlor, the skies opened. Local Happy Talk Band was playing inside and most people only stuck around for a few minutes until the rains subsided. Rain or shine, it was time for The Black Keys, so we high-tailed it back up to the Playstation/Billboard.com Stage to catch the Akron, Ohio blues rock duo. Once again the rains came with a vengeance. Just like it did at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza this year, the first day of this festival turned into a mud bowl by night's end. Much of the crowd headed for cover as the duo blazed through the old favorites "Hard Row" and "Set You Free" to the scattered hardcore fans before bangin' out a few tunes from their newest effort Attack and Release. Guitarist Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have developed a nearly unparalleled tightness over the years and manage to impress more and more on the live stage as the years go by.
The washy sound coming from the Voodoo Stage certainly didn't help, but Silversun Pickups bored the hell out of me, synthesizing '90s rock into a homogenized, boiled down sound for the lowest common denominator. Bassist Nikki Monninger looked ready for prom night in a flowing green dress flanking lead singer Brian Aubert in a leather jacket, whose smoky voice kind of just bothered me. Maybe the rains had temporarily dampened my spirits, but I found myself asking, "What decade is this?" and "Where are we?" Confused and befuddled, it was time to head elsewhere.
| Preservation Hall Stars - Voodoo 09 by Perrucci|
The vendor street is the backbone and spinal center of the Voodoo Experience, adding some local color and the "Voodoo Eats" area was an olfactory overload of Cajun goodness beckoning the streaming crowds to come sample. Nearby local bluesman Little Freddie Davis was preaching about a bad women who done him no good, so we dropped in for a minute. In a 180 you could only pull off at a festival, after a few minutes singing the blues with Little Freddie, it was time to leave the Preservation Hall Tent to check out the Euro club scene ensuing at Justice. With lots of smoke and a surprisingly stripped down stage set up (No LED screen, video board, lasers or anything you'd expect at a DJ set) featuring four turntables, the French duo got the weekend going at full speed with "D.A.N.C.E." as massive white balloons bounced around amongst crowd surfers in the notably youthful crowd.
Back at Preservation Hall DJ Soul Sister was spinning classic vinyl, heavy on the Jackson 5, as her Booty Patrol raved on. The nearby WWOZ Stage was affected the most by the rain and was operating on over a half-hour delay. Unfortunately, as a result, Ween did not go on well before Eminem as planned, and the sounds of "3 AM" beckoned us over to catch Shady's first full concert performance in over four years at the Voodoo Stage before Ween had a chance to start.
Rap shows are inherently a hit or miss thing, so it was great to see Mathers flanked by a full band, all dressed in skeleton jumpsuits, rocking around the hi-tech video walls as he spit his way through a hits heavy set spanning his ten year career. His sardonic, acerbic manner is what has made him such a controversial and popular figure throughout his career, and he seemed genuinely grateful to be playing for the good people of New Orleans on the eve of Halloween. D12 supplemented all guest rap spots from the records and contrasted well with Mathers' intense, rebellious style. Shady skipped a lot of verses and let the P.A. do a decent portion of the work, but you gotta know to take a rap concert with a grain of salt, throw your hands up, and just dig it for an hour or so. His presence itself was electrifying and the crowd joined in, rapping along to "Without Me" and bouncing along to a medley of D12 songs. Say what you want about the man, but he's an incredible talent and proved it on this night, showing us who The Real Slim Shady is. After a brief exit, the skeletal band returned to the stage to close down the show with a spectacular apex encore moment, doing an aggrandized version of "Lose Yourself," with a tension buildup before dropping into the intense track, Mathers' most commercially successful single of his still young career.
| Fleur De Tease|
Voodoo 09 by Perrucci
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it. You better never let it go
You only get one shot. Do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime
Luckily, Eminem's set ended about 15 minutes early, affording some time to catch the tail end of Ween's set. The sounds of "Roses Are Free" reverberated through the grove and fans sloshed through the mud hurrying to catch a peek. The band legged this one out towards the end and for a moment Ween connected us with the people in Indio at Festival 8, playing their classic that Phish has helped popularize. A cheeky "Fiesta" sent us packing and you could tell fans and band alike both wanted more, but the local ordinance prohibited anything past 11, so it was time to close the books on day one.
More photos from Friday at Voodoo available here.
Continue reading for Halloween coverage at Voodoo...