Voodoo Experience | 10.30-11.01 | NOLA

Words by: Wesley Hodges | Images by: Dino Perrucci & Adam McCullough

Voodoo Experience :: 10.30.09 - 11.01.09 :: City Park :: New Orleans, LA

The New Orleans Bingo! Show - Voodoo 09 by Perrucci
"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.

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.

Friday, 10.30

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.

The Black Keys - Voodoo 09 by Perrucci
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."

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.

Preservation Hall Stars - Voodoo 09 by Perrucci
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.

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.

Fleur De Tease
Voodoo 09 by Perrucci
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.

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...

Saturday, 10.31

Patterson Hood (DBTs)
Voodoo 09 by Perrucci
"All your sanity and wits they will all vanish/ I promise, it's just a matter of time." As Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz puts it best in "Start Wearing Purple," this Halloween Saturday would be a time to check normalcy at the door and take the day as it comes.

I made sure to head down early to catch K'naan, only to find that he had cancelled last-minute and subsequently axed an upcoming tour with Maroon 5 due to fatigue. I took the schedule change as an opportunity to wander around the vendor avenue, where a huge marching band was coursing through, and do some quality Halloween costume watching; I spied lots of banana costumes, green men, an Old Gregg, milkmaids, and male cross-dressing burlesques among other things.

Mates of State provided a great opportunity to lay in the grass for a moment and take in the likeable husband and wife drums-and-keys duo's chill midday set before easing on over to catch a bit of Irvin Mayfield. Mayfield was cruising through a heavily improvisational version of the Miles classic "So What," allowing each member to take center stage for some impressive soloing. Still obviously peeved over last year's cancellation (festival producers dropped the ball and forgot to provide Mayfield with a grand piano as requested in his rider), Mayfield used the chance to take a cheap shot at producers Rehage Entertainment, sarcastically thanking them for providing a piano this time.

Perhaps the surprise of the weekend, local band MuteMath showed off some serious chops, especially bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas, who was dropping some chunky runs on the stand-up during "Armistice" that would've made Colonel Claypool proud. Their brooding synth-heavy sound was well received and the band clearly felt right at home playing in City Park. Lead singer Paul Meany dedicated "Reset" to his recently deceased grandfather, who had joined the band onstage at previous Voodoos, and MuteMath delivered an inspired version in his honor.

MuteMath - Voodoo 09 by McCullough
Gypsy punk warriors Gogol Bordello followed on the Billboard Stage. Always embracing and encouraging chaos, wild man Eugene Hutz rambled around the stage while the über-talented caravan blasted through "Ultimate" to kick off the dub-heavy set. The set's apex was reached during "Start Wearing Purple," Hutz' anthemic bi-lingual anthem, working the crowd into a mosh-happy frenzy. This is a remarkably talented band that needs to be experiences up close and person to truly appreciate.

After arguably the most fun set of the weekend, it was time to see the new and improved proto-metal revivalists Wolfmother, who were rockin' through the familiar "Woman" when we rolled in. The nocturnal "White Unicorn" got straight Sabbath and gave Andrew Stockdale a chance to showcase his much improved guitar talent. The new songs weren't particularly mind bending, but the band's eponymous debut is a tough act to follow. People were going bananas as the band played "Joker and the Thief."

As the sun set on Halloween, hordes of fans packed into the park by the time Jane's Addiction hit the stage. Dave Navarro's visceral power riffs contrasted in an odd way with Perry Farrell's flamboyant, attention-starved style. Farrell managed to connect with the people of New Orleans, sharing a story about an unfortunate spider bite incident and riling up the crowd talking about the undefeated Saints. Metallic on the edges and danceable at its core, Jane's Addiction put on an aggressive and memorable show that proved somewhat similar to previous festival appearances this summer.

Gene Simmons - Kiss - Voodoo by Perrucci
Back at the WWOZ Stage, George Clinton's noisy space funk collective tore the roof off while the weathered legend groaned into the mic during "Red Hot Mama." It was a sight to behold seeing a band where every member's sole mission is to get funky with it, and the crowd was gettin' down and dirty in the mud pit in front of the stage. Before long, commotion in the distance and bright lights shining in the sky meant it was time for KISS.

It is a truly surreal experience to watch KISS in concert for the first time. I'd always viewed them as one of those iconic, canonized bands that only existed in the movies (and on reality TV) until this show. Perhaps the most appropriate band to ever close Halloween night, the Detroit rock heroes didn't disappoint, with their stage production highlighted by the word "KISS" blazing behind them in big white lights and a generous pyrotechnics display. The band looked great in their classic face paint and leather, though the music was fairly secondary and hard to focus on amongst everything else transpiring onstage. However, the fist pumping ensued as KISS played the hits and laughably played into just about every possible rock cliché with their stage banter. But, I would expect, and hope for, nothing less from my first KISS concert.

More photos from Halloween at Voodoo available here.

Continue reading for Sunday's coverage of Voodoo...

Sunday, 11.01

Widespread Panic - Voodoo 09 by McCullough
At 2:15 p.m., The Pogues' lead singer Shane MacGowan looked like he still hadn't turned in from Halloween night. Slurring, incomprehensible and unabashedly brash, MacGowan's drunkenness dragged down the rest of the band and had people in the crowd laughing and confused ("What's wrong with him?" "Is he okay?"). While they pressed on through such songs as "Thousands Are Sailing" and "If I Should Fall From Grace With God," MacGowan took about 10 cigarette breaks, sat down during and between songs, and looked about to incite an inter-band altercation at one point. The closer was appropriate and sadly autobiographical as MacGowan slurred the lyrics of "The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn," spitting out, "There's devils on each side of you, with bottles in their hands," before calling it a set.

Shortly after The Pogues finished, Widespread Panic picked up where they left off in Austin the previous two nights, playing the kind of to-the-point, no frills rock show fans have come to expect from the Georgia boys. This was not your typical, phone-it-in, jam band festival set, and the guys showed no signs of a post-Halloween letdown at any point. After finishing their marathon Halloween show in Austin a mere sixteen hours earlier and bussing it to NOLA, it would've been understandable if WSP showed weariness, but these guys are consummate professionals and no strangers to the road and festival circuit. Having seen Panic countless times around the country in various arenas, festivals, and theaters, it was extra special to see them playing a midday outdoor set on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. From the first notes of "Thought Sausage" it was clear that Panic was in their mid-tour stride. Songs like the lustrous "Blue Indian" were extra powerful in this setting as the sun beamed down on the band and Voodoo faithful.

Tab Benoit's Swampland - Voodoo 09 by Perrucci
Jimmy Herring added some extra muscle to the always epic Vic Chesnutt cover suite "Protein Drink/Sewing Machine." The overall blue ribbon for the day would have to go to keyboardist JoJo Hermann for tearing through "Greta" on the upper deck synthesizer and delivering a tasty "All Time Low." The final forty minutes or so of the show were particularly heated with a "Driving Song" > "Diner" > "Pilgrims" > "Driving Song" combo followed by a couple vintage Panic covers to close down a monster set. Playing an inspired and fresh-sounding cover is perhaps what Panic does best and their spin on Dr. John's "I Walk On Guilded Splinters" was another example of Panic killing someone else's song while making it all their own. Robert Randolph could be seen watching from the side of the stage towards the end and fans hoped he'd come sit-in for a tune. Also, one of the band crew's three-year-old son added extra entertainment value bobbin' up and down and spinning out of control during "North" in a way-oversized WSP shirt. Finally, the set closed with "Fixin' to Die" as the sun fell on the final day of Voodoo.

With Panic in the books and The Flaming Lips circus about to unfold across the lawn, we took the short walk across the field to the nearby Billboard Stage to see what Mr. Wayne Coyne had in store for us this time. As usual, Coyne floated around the crowd in his hamster ball underneath a full moon, and you could tell that for a large portion of the crowd this was their first Lips experience as evidenced by the sheer number of dropped jaws and "WTFs?!" being uttered around the grounds.

The Flaming Lips - Voodoo 09 by McCullough
Returning to stage, Coyne and the Lips blasted off into a particularly inspired "Race for the Prize," the crown jewel of the band's now-legendary 1999 album The Soft Bulletin as confetti rained throughout City Park for the second straight night. As he's done before, Coyne took a great deal of time to preach and talk to the crowd, whether trying to incite people to "go fucking crazy," sharing a story about chatting with Gene Simmons backstage (who he described as "not usually a very nice person") or continuing to lambaste the 43rd President about Katrina, the war, or whatever else was on his mind. New tune "Silver Trembling Hands" from the Lips' latest release, Embryonic, came shortly thereafter and one of the dancing wild thing chicks stripped down to her birthday suit to dance with Wayne for a moment. The slowed down sing-along "Fight Test" was a snoozer miss, and the same goes for "Yoshimi," as the weary Sunday crowd was not playing along for the most part. It was a shame to not hear the full effect of these two songs, and the stripped down versions just didn't do it for most. It was not until "Pompeii am Gotterdammerung" that the music finally fit in with the spectacle. Coyne genuinely looked moved to the verge of tears while graciously thanking the organizers of Voodoo for having them back. "Do You Realize" was a fitting closer and undoubtedly the most powerful moment of the 75-minute set.

Dog-tired, we walked out of the gates as Lenny Kravitz played a beautiful version of "It Ain't Over 'til It's Over." It would've been nice to stick around for Kravitz as his lights display was amazing and the band sounded great, but it was simply time to hit the dusty trail. Voodoo Experience was a like a three-day vacation in one of our nation's finest cities, and I'm already looking forward to seeing what's in store for 2010. The Big Easy was the place to be for Halloween, and the Voodoo organizers did an admirable job of assembling a wildly diverse, bizarre lineup that'll stick out in the ole memory bank for years to come as one of the zanier, most rockin' Halloweens ever.

More photos from Sunday at Voodoo available here.

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