It’s tempting to think about Muse’s massive light show as a lot of hamburger helper, particularly after the low-tech Weezer set that preceded it, but it’s not. In England and Europe, they play to 100,000 or more at stadium and festival shows, and in such environments, lighting and lasers on an epic scale aren’t just exciting; they’re necessary. Musically, one friend said it’s what Queen would sound like today if a Queen hadn’t already existed (one interesting, mind-twisting way to think about it); for me, it was the sound of teenage love, heavy on the overwrought angst and drama parts. That explains why the audience under 25 was enraptured while many who were older were a bit non-plussed—real drama caught up to us and made our earlier teenage angst harder to take seriously.
Weezer did more or less what you’d expect, and a little you didn’t. The band cranked out great guitar pop leaning heavily on older albums—”Undone (the Sweater Song)” second in the set—but honoring the recent Hurley as well. But singer Rivers Cuomo committed to visiting the audience in ways that few previous Voodoo main stage singers have. Iggy Pop worked a catwalk that went part way into the audience, where he berated a security guard who started to nod off and a fan who looked bored while waiting for Marilyn Manson (“You suck like the bands you like!,” Iggy said.); Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips walked on the crowd in his space bubble, but Cuomo went to the soundboard and beyond. He climbed the scaffolding onto towers for the video cameras and sang from there, and when that wasn’t far enough from the stage, he worked his way to the two port-a-lets behind the soundboard and climbed them to sing to the back half of the audience. As is so often the case with audience stunts, there’s really nowhere to go after that, and the little set that remained was anticlimactic. When they finished with a rocking medley of MGMT’s “Kids” and Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”—the latter in a bad blonde wig—the crowd was migrating to the other end of the field for Muse. And boy does Rivers Cuomo remind me of Rick Moranis. Take off, eh.
Other highlights—great Voodoo stories. One staffer watched when security asked people to empty their pockets when entering the grounds and a guy took out his dope and set it on the table. He didn’t deserve his dope. And a bartender at one of the beer booths told the story of two middle-aged women taking him to Bourbon Street and Rick’s Cabaret after Voodoo closed last year. Those things actually happen?
Other musical highlights—British dance music subdivisions emerge and become passe in the time it has taken me to write this sentence, and by the time they get to America, we might as well be learning The Hustle. But I got dubstep during British DJ Rusko’s set in the new Le Plur tent. The broad, loping basslines mimic those of dub reggae, and despite the chattering percussion, the groove is actually mid-tempo. At 3 in the afternoon, he likely had the largest—and certainly the most engaged—audience on the grounds at that point. I hope to get back to that stage today or tomorrow after dark.
I didn’t see them, but everybody who saw Los Angeles’ retro R&B band Fitz & the Tantrums told two people, and they told two people, and so on. They were the act that people kept asking, “Did you see…?”
Portland’s MarchFourth Marching Band played the Bingo! Parlour, taking up every square inch of stage space with horns, drummers and dancers as they played a world of dance music, all filtered through the marching band concept. A guy with a cool, oversized robot mounted on his shoulders was into it.
This year, Voodoo added a Rock ‘n’ Roll Karaoke stage, where fans can sing in front of a live rock ‘n’ roll band, but there’s no monitor so you have to know the song. A woman committed to singing the parts of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” that she could remember was more present than the poor dear from Metric was.
There are fewer art installations this year. I like the bridge made of recycled water bottles (the artist said it wasn’t as easy to collect enough bottles as you might think), the oversized paper airplane and the field of tubas that invite you to write in their bells. The clear winner, though, is the mushroom car. In the daylight, it looks like it could be the MGMTmobile, the one the band drove to the studio to record Congratulations. At night, the mushrooms light up and the garish color palette is more muted and oddly integrated into the Voodoo landscape in a way that a parked Mardi Gras float isn’t.