This post will be continuously updated throughout the festival weekend, October 27 through 29
On October 27, City Park once again transformed into a haunted, debaucherous haven for music fans. Voodoo Music + Arts Experience’s first day included all the usual earmarks: carnival rides, haunted houses, roaming zombies and tens of thousands of bedazzled, costumed and intoxicated festival goers. The music lineup of Voodoo Fest 2017, as always, provided something for vans of a robust selection of genres. Le Plur (named after the rave’s “peace, love, unity and respect” mantra) had the electronic music on lock, while the three remaining major stages – South Course, Wisner, and Altar – held a smattering of rock, hip-hop and sprinkles of the weird and fanciful.
Alfred Banks warmed up the first day on the Le Plur stage, performing his high-energy set of rap for a gleeful, receptive audience and backed by E.F. Cuttin. The New Orleans native fittingly opened his set with “Homecoming” before launching into “Uptown,” “Kicks,” “Vice” and “The Funeral of Orlandas Banks,” all tracks from his 2017 album The Beautiful. In the middle of the set, the self-proclaimed sneakerhead gave away a pair of autographed Vans, inspiring a playful fight in the crowd between eager fans by throwing them into the audience. His Voodoo Fest debut, the performance was one of the only put on by a local artist at this year’s festival.
“This is my last festival performance of the year!” Bibi Bourelly revealed midway through her Voodoo Fest debut Friday afternoon. The rising star can definitely breathe a sigh of relief that she ended things on a high note with her high-powered set. Somehow the 23-year-old singer/songwriter managed to power through about a dozen songs during her 45-minute set. Decked out in a floral sundress and a pair of white sneakers, she effortlessly engaged the audience between songs with her dry wit. At times reflective, but always defiant, she let the crowd in on the inspiration behind her songs. “It’s about being a broke ass b*tch,” she said before launching into one of her most popular singles, “Ballin.’”The assembled audience danced and sang along as Bourelly breezed through other songs like “Love Me Fair,” “Poet,” “Flowers,” and “One Way.” She elicited even more cheers from the crowd as she performed a song that she revealed had been conceived while drunk in a bar right here in NOLA. As she neared the end of the set, repeating the bold refrain, “You won’t bring me down” from 2015’s “Ego, one couldn’t help but feel like the only direction Bourelly will be heading in is up.
The crowd started gathering long before Kehlani hit the Alter stage, as people positioned themselves to take in the GRAMMY winner’s set Friday evening. Bounding from the sidelines, flanked by her dancers, a DJ, and her band, the Oakland native kept the party going from start to finish during her nearly hour-long set. The blue skies provided the perfect backdrop for her and her crew’s colorful attire: Kehlani wore a fuschia vintage-inspired romper, while her dancers and DJ donned similar jumpers in red, yellow, and red. The crowd eagerly sang along as she performed a mix of both old and new material, including “Down for You,” “I Wanna Be,” and her newest single, “Touch.” She also covered songs she was featured on with other artists, performing her verse from G-Eazy “Get Away” before launching into the Chance the Rapper-assisted “The Way.” Her Voodoo Fest performance marked her second time taking the stage in New Orleans after making a stop in the city back in May during her SweetSexySavage World Tour. Although she had to restart one song after a minor technical issue, it did little to halt the good vibes emanating from the stage.
Benjamin Booker, with whom OffBeat spoke for the November 2017 issue, performed a rollicking set on the South Course stage with his three-piece band. His signature mélange of influences ranging from punk to blues rock was present, which he showed off in part by performing tracks from his most recent album, Witness. “Right On You,” which he recently performed on Conan, elicited a palpable wave of energy from the crowd, but it was definitely 2012’s “Have You Seen My Son?” that felt like the most thoughtful inclusion for this particular set. The song, off his self-produced EP Waiting Ones, was, as he informed the crowd, “written right here, in New Orleans.” He ended his set with with “Violent Shiver,” the single that originally propelled him to success in 2014.
Not many groups can nab a slot closing out the Wisner Stage on the opening night of Voodoo Fest only one month after the release of their debut studio album. However, most groups also don’t consist of members from some of the most game-changing musical acts in history. Although Prophets of Rage only came together last year, when the members took the stage, they brought along with theme decades of musical influence thanks to the partnership of Public Enemy’s Chuck D; Cypress Hill’s B-Real; and Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave’s Tim Commerford, Tom Morello, and Brad Wilk. The group’s rap-rock sound electrified the far-reaching crowd as they performed songs like “Testify,” “Take the Power Back,” and “Bullet in the Head.” They held nothing back as they made their opposition to the current administration heard loud and clear. Chuck D’s signature booming delivery balanced well against B-Real’s more sing-songy flow. It wasn’t just about Prophets of Rage’s new material, however, as the band worked the audience into a frenzy as they took on material from their respective pasts. Chuck D breezed through Public Enemy classics such as “Can’t Trust It” and “Bring the Noise,” while B-Real revisited such classics as Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain” and “Shoot ‘Em Up.” However, it was his popular verse from House of Pain’s “Jump Around” sent the thick crowd’s energy through the roof as they jumped and sang along at the top of their lungs. Morello paid a touching tribute to Audioslave’s late frontman, Chris Cornell, by shredding through an instrumental of “Like a Stone.” The audience eagerly sang the song’s hook, with many wistfully looking towards the sky in honor of the fallen artist.
It’s rare that a reunion tour showcases a band at the top of their game, but LCD Soundsystem is no ordinary band. The Brooklyn-based pioneers of existential dance-rock are a lot more popular today than they ever were during their late 2000s heyday, which is itself a testament to their influence on modern music. So it was no surprise when—following a five year “break up”—the group reconvened for a nostalgic run of shows in 2016. The bigger surprise came a few months ago with the release of their newest album American Dream, a formidable collection of aging hipster anthems whose layered rhythms and cynical worldviews sound as current as anything out there. Friday night’s 90-minute set, LCD Soundsystem’s first New Orleans appearance since their resurrection, found the band careening between favorites from their classic catalog and new material off American Dream. The James Murphy-led outfit opened the night with a rousing rendition of the new record’s lead single, “Call the Police” that was followed by the This Is Happening pillar “I Can Change.” Like many of the group’s best songs, these tracks slowly pile on the layers while building toward sustained climaxes that sounded extra-crisp through the festival’s state-of-the-art speaker system. This organized chaos kept coming over the course of 11 more tunes, each of them more anxious—about the past, present and future—than the last. Of course, this wasn’t the kind of anxiety that gets in the way of a good time. LCD Soundsystem’s seemingly endless onslaught of both computer and human-generated polyrhythms made for some seriously dance-worthy grooves. At times, this multi-national assortment of middle aged hipsters (who hail from “New York, London, Berlin, Los Angeles and Lafayette, LA,” according to Murphy) had the crowd raging hard enough to put Voodoo’s EDM-heavy Le Plur stage to shame. After all, what else are you supposed to do with a giant strobe-lit disco ball, a cover of Chic’s “I Want Your Love” and an indie-rock masterpiece that commands you to “Dance Yrself Clean”?
Kendrick Lamar, arguably the most important rap artist of his generation, brought his DAMN. tour to New Orleans and ignited the Altar stage. Performing many of the album’s singles – “HUMBLE.,” “DNA.,” “ELEMENT.,” “YAH.,” “LOYALTY.,” “XXX.” and “LOVE.,” he also gifted throngs of fans with some throwback cuts. From his 2015 magnum opus To Pimp a Butterfly he included “King Kunta,” and from 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, “Money Trees,” “Backseat Freestyle” and “m.A.A.d City.” Lamar also injected his set with his verses as a guest artist on the works of others, lacing the crowd with the remix to Future’s “Mask Off” and his verse from fellow Top Dawg Entertainment signee ScHoolboy Q’s “Collard Greens.” His set was punctuated with the conceptual framework of DAMN., heavily influenced by martial arts in the form of a mock kung-fu film starring himself as Kung Fu Kenny. Be “fore closing his set, Cornrow Kenny said to the crowd “I think New Orleans might be the livest city, do you agree?” Yes, we do.
Day two began with a low-fi, intimate set from November 2017 cover artist Pell in the Toyota Music Den. The New Orleans native began with a tribute to Fats Domino, tackling “Walking to New Orleans” with his guitarist, Dom. He then performed some of his original work including “Lately” and “Fresh Produce” before performing his second set of the day, this time on the much larger Wisner Stage. Backed by singers and live drums, the LIMBO rapper, singer and songwriter was visibly thrilled to be performing on such a large platform in his hometown, engaging the audience by asking them to cheer if they were locals. There, he performed original cuts like “Full Swing,” “Money,” his verse on Jay IDK’s “Nudes 4 Cash,” “The Never,” “Queso” “Runaway,” “Patience” and more. His set included nods to Boyz Noize’s “Birthday,” ostensibly in homage to the celebratory occasion this performance represents for him; and an interpolation of John Legend’s “Heaven Only Knows.” When he spoke with OffBeat, he expressed feelings of slight anxiety about his performance, saying ““It’s my first time in a while performing in New Orleans, so that’s really huge for me, more than anything else in the world. The fact that I’m going to be around my friends and family and thousands of people is nerve-racking.” It’s clear he had nothing to worry about, as the crowd eagerly chanted “Pell Yeah!” throughout the performance.
On day three, The sunny skies provided the perfect backdrop for rapper Aminé’s afternoon set. Taking to the Wisner stage, the L.A.-based artist kept the energy levels high as he spread his message of self-love and acceptance. “You’re beautiful,” he reminded the audience frequently. When he wasn’t busy drenching everybody within earshot with good vibes, he was keeping the party going while zipping through fan favorites like “Caroline,” “Hero,” “Spice Girl,” and “Yellow.” Though much of songs he performed were taken from his debut studio album Good for You, he also embraced other artists’ work with a fun cover of Frank Ocean’s “Novacane.” His seemingly boundless energy was enough to keep the festivalgoers going as Voodoo Fest 2017 neared its final hour. Aminé rounded out his nearly hour-long set with the Kehlani-assisted “Heebiegeebies,” “Dakota,” and “Yellow.” Meanwhile, popular collabos like “Heebiejeebies” featuring Kehlani, “Wedding Crashers” featuring Migos’ Offset, and “Dakota” featuring singer Charlie Wilson proved to be equally as fun even with Aminé carrying the song on his own. Whether you were familiar with his music or not, it was hard not to give in to the feel-good party emanating from the stage.
The death of one of the world’s most influential artists, Fats year’s Voodoo Fest. In fact, the weekend’s final performer, The Killers, opened their act with Domino’s “Walkin’ to New Orleans” blaring over the speakers before taking the stage with an electrifying performance of their hit, “Mr. Brightside.” The homage didn’t stop there as band frontman Brandon Flowers shared a story about riding around with his father while listening to oldies before launching into a spirited version of Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame.” Only at Voodoo Fest could an audience be treated to The Killers, joined onstage by The Dirty Dozens Brass Band, cover one of the late legend’s most well-known hits. Early on, it was clear why the Las Vegas-based band was the perfect choice to close out another successful festival. After three days of non-stop acts, festival goers happily perked up as they danced and sang along to “All These Things That I’ve Done,” “The Way It Was,” “Human,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” and “Run for Cover.” Speaking about the band’s first performance in New Orleans since the 2004 Voodoo Fest, Flowers told the crowd that it felt like a family reunion before surmising, “It could go two ways. We hope we leave a good taste in your mouth.” Judging by the contented smiles on the crowd’s face as they filed out of City Park’s Festival Grounds, The Killers’ had accomplished their goal and then some.
Check out our full, frequently updated album of photos from Voodoo Fest 2017, taken by Willow Haley and Corey Anthony.
Reporting by Sam D’Arcangelo, Ivory Jones and Amanda Mester