The Preservation Hall Jazz Band collaboration that many anticipated never materialized, but Arcade Fire still managed to treat New Orleans right when they closed out a much-improved Voodoo Fest’s Altar Stage with one of the best sets of the weekend on Sunday night. Over the course of 19 songs, the American/Canadian rock band explored every corner of their four album catalog, juxtaposing rhythmic, dance-worthy powerhouses like “Reflektor,” “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” and “Here Comes the Night Time” with grandiose compositions like “My Body is a Cage” and “Wake Up.”
Frontman Win Butler and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Regine Chassagne have called New Orleans home since their last Big Easy festival set at Jazz Fest 2014, and the husband-and-wife pair have done their best to add to the city’s cultural milieu during that time. Their David Bowie second line with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band drew thousands to the French Quarter back in January, and Butler has been known to spin tunes around town from time to time under his DJ Window 98 moniker.
However, the band’s displays of love for New Orleans reached an apex this weekend when they took over Voodoo’s biggest stage just one day after debuting a number of new songs at a secret and cell phone-free performance at Secondline Studios. Butler wasn’t shy about declaring that love from his perch overlooking the Voodoo crowd, either. At one point the frontman explained that the city has provided him with plenty of inspiration, and that he was proud to be an American in New Orleans. He added that we “have to fucking protect what is sacred and beautiful about this city.”
While Arcade Fire shied away from playing any of the new material they debuted at Saturday’s intimate gathering, they did make an attempt to incorporate the Voodoo crowd into their new album. Butler requested that everyone join him in a melodic, a capella “na na na” that he said the band hoped to utilize on their forthcoming record. It took a few tries and a little bit of encouragement (“You’ll thank me when you’re older,” Butler noted after an underwhelming first go from the audience), but the band eventually seemed satisfied with the city’s ability to sing in unison.
Yet if Arcade Fire are to be commended for anything, it should be the impressive display of musicianship. It’s easy enough for 10+ musicians to get lost in the shuffle—especially when you’ve got violins and hurdy gurdys paired with hand percussion—but Arcade Fire masterfully wove their various layers together in a way that few other acts could pull off in a live setting. Things got even more cluttered toward the end of the show, when dancers wearing oversized, paper-mache replicas of the band members’ heads funneled on stage for the night’s penultimate song, a confetti-laden “Here Comes the Night Time.”
No Arcade Fire show would be complete without a couple of political musings from Butler and co., and last night’s were, for the most part, geared for the New Orleans audience. “No more private prisons in the state of Louisiana. Fuck private prisons!,” Butler exclaimed as the show came to a close. It was a tad more abrasive than his earlier declaration that BP didn’t pay 1/10th of the price they should have for the oil spill, but it was a well-received point nonetheless (Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the United States, with an inordinate amount of its inmates being housed in private, for-profit prisons).
Arcade Fire may have closed out the fest to the smallest Altar Stage crowd of the weekend, but they did so with grace and style. The audience was as respectful as they come, in no small part thanks to the fact that forgettable EDM superstars, The Chainsmokers, performed at the same time. The duo managed to siphon off the wilder, party-chasing half of the crowd with an hourlong set that struggled to meet the minimum requirements for what constitutes “live music,” leaving plenty of dancing room and fantastic sight lines available to fans of Arcade Fire.
Arcade Fire’s set was preceded by comrades-in-indie-rock Band of Horses, who delighted the Altar Stage with laid back reverb-drenched favorites like “The Funeral” and “Great Salt Lake.” The low-key nature of the band’s material gave the crowd time to sit down and chill out before the night’s big headlining act.
Chilling out isn’t for everyone though, and STS9 made sure that festivalgoers had plenty to dance to in the run up to Arcade Fire’s performance. The electronically-inclined jam band dove into new material from their recently-released album, The Universe Inside, during their South Course stage-closing set, while also saving time for exciting versions of old favorites like “Moonsocket” and “Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist.”
Additionally, Tool fans got to experience a Maynard James Keenan aftershock earlier in the day when Puscifer—a more restrained project from the Tool frontman—brought their atmospheric industrial rock to the Pepsi Stage. The band was joined by a number of lucha libre wrestlers, who spent the duration of the show performing increasingly impressive moves on one another, both inside and outside of an on-stage wrestling ring.
The final day of Voodoo Fest also featured sets from Anderson .Paak, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Gramatik, Beats Antique and many more. A review of those acts can be found here.
All photos by Kim Welsh and Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee.