Saturday was beautiful at the Voodoo Experience in City Park, so hot in the middle of the afternoon that audiences worked to stand in the shade. At the Bingo! Parlour, that became funny as the crowd stood not in front of the stage but in front of a speaker as tent’s shadow fell that direction during Rock City Morgue’s powerhouse set. Rock City Morgue has never got the attention it merits for a host of prosaic reasons—some the band’s fault, some the city’s—but in the last year or so, it’s figured out how to pull all its musical threads together into a seamless set. Rik Slave’s love for Nick Cave at his most cabaret now sounds of a piece with songs that draw from two or three species of punk and hard rock.
We’re used to the spectacle of a brass band parading in the streets, but not members of the Treme Brass Band scurrying, shirts untucked, down the Roosevelt Mall to the Preservation Hall Stage, where they were five minutes late to perform. Didn’t see Uncle Lionel at that point; I can’t imagine him hurrying.
The Whigs were perfectly agreeable and started a day of redheads on the main stages (their Shawn White-look-alike drummer Julian Dorio, Cage the Elephant’s Matt Schultz and Florence and the Machine’s Florence Welch). Parker Gispert had the odd habit of hopping on one foot while playing, which looked a bit like a rock ‘n’ roll version of the hokey pokey, but they rocked. Still, no song stayed with me even for the duration of its running time.
Cage the Elephant drew on 20 years of hard rock history, but unlike Rock City Morgue, it sounded like it. The unifying factor seemed to be on Matt Schultz’s T-shirt—the musically omnivorous Sonic Youth, but SY’s sound is more distinctive. Still, Schultz one-upped Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo in that he crowd surfed to the camera stand by the soundboard, then tried to climb the sailcloth roof covering the soundboard. Unfortunately, the band’s time was up and the power was cut mid-climb, so he slid back down to the camera perch and dove onto the hands of the crowd six-or-so feet below. They caught him, but Florence and the Machine was coming onstage so the audience didn’t have the patience or density to pass him back to the stage. They put Schultz down near the soundboard enclosure, where a security behemoth casually and impressively hip-tossed over the barricade.
Halfway through Cage the Elephant, a crowd started forming for Florence and the Machine, the British band whose stature in North America has changed drastically since their appearance this year on the MTV Video Music Awards (Who knew it still had that kind of power?). The set was the first of the day on the main stages that had star time charisma and coherence. At three or four points during the show, pockets of young women bounced excitedly—obviously “their song” had come up. That the band has three or four “their song”s on the debut album Lungs is a testament to the album. Like so much British pop these days, Radiohead and Coldplay are in the DNA somewhere, but Florence Welch was sufficiently intriguing as to make the band’s lineage a secondary concern. Some around me tried to liken her to Kate Bush, but that was the red hair and wardrobe—long, diaphanous black dress with no shoes—talking. She also, like Bush, has the air of someone who reads for pleasure, but she wasn’t too bookish to complain when her drink wasn’t strong enough.
A festival first? Helen Gillet had a harpist onstage and so did Florence and the Machine. Has a rock festival ever had so many harps? When I asked that question on Twitter, Ron Rona at the Bingo! Parlour said MC Sweet Tea would have a harp as well today. Someone call Guinness!
Drew Hinshaw’s excellent piece on Die Antwoord scratched the surface of the South African hip-hop duo’s complexities, but it didn’t convey how much fun they are. DJ Hi-Tek’s beats come more from techno than crate digging, but they start the party on their own before Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er bounce across the stage like cartoon versions of the macho rapper and his airy-voiced diva. The set at the Le Plur Stage was raunchy without seeming to be, largely because of the cartoonish personas and the exoticness of the show. A chorus built around a “Yo Mama” joke is easier to listen to over and over if the reference to her ladyparts comes in another language (though not so different as to leave you wondering), and the prong-centric nature of “Evil Boy” was signaled by a photo of a Sambo totem with a giant schlong. I have to admit, my one moment of did-you-see excitedness came when someone who looked like Ninja was walking with his kid toward the food booths. I was too far back at the show to be sure it was him, but who else would rock that haircut willingly?
New Orleans’ Supagroup played the Bingo! Parlour with its new rhythm section—Brian Broussard on bass and Leon Touzet on drums—and in this case, change is good. In recent years, the song tempos had sped up to the point where song hooks whipped by too quickly and the lyrics became a sonic blur. Saturday night, the songs had shape and crunch, and one new song—”Bull in a China Shop,” maybe—moved with a satisfying subtlety that I don’t think would have registered at higher speeds.
Jakob Dylan sounded great, but is it possible that his voice is more limited than his dad’s? Melodies have rarely been rendered more imperceptibly.
Ozzy Osbourne’s solo career has never registered for me, so it was hard to imagine how he would be the sort of draw that would pack a festival field. Color me wrong. I’m sure the beautiful weather helped, but perhaps only the Rage Against the Machine reunion drew a crowd to rival Ozzy’s. Actually, across the board the festival has bet right this year, and a lineup that mystified those over 30 drew well Friday night and even better yesterday, with the last five bands on the main stages playing to at least a half-full field, and from Drake on, crowds better than Kiss drew as a headliner last year.
… and one last Friday reflection. Glad I hadn’t heard Diplo’s dubstep compilation Blow Your Head before seeing Rusko Friday; otherwise, I’d have been waiting the whole set for “Cockney Thug (Caspa Remix).”