This year’s Voodoo came as close as it ever has yet to realizing the idea of integrating the larger rock/pop world with New Orleans music. While some missed the firepower that is lost when there’s one fewer main stage, the gap between acts meant that the people who used to spend the day camped between stages went to the other stages more. Because of that, the crowds were generally better and more generationally mixed than in previous years at the Bingo! Parlor, the WWOZ Stage and the Preservation Hall Stage. On Sunday afternoon alone, you could go from GIVERS to Morning 40 Federation to Odd Future to Ray Davies to A-Trak to the Meters to Cheap Trick to the Raconteurs, who took the main stage back to 1969 for a raw, distorted cover of Terry Reid’s “Rich Kid Blues.”
This year’s art installations also had a level of ambition and substance that demanded attention. Christian Ristow’s “Fledgling” was a human-powered robo-bird that looked down on Le Plur, the tent-like “Teradactyl” brought the carnival atmosphere to an otherwise dead spot on the festival grounds, and “Heron” was a flaming, mechanical crane that dangled aerialist performances from its beak. Unfortunately, the wind made lighting the wings impossible on Friday, and Saturday I only saw the wings partly on fire. Still, it was very cool, and performer Sarah the Bobcat said it was a great place to work.
Stepping up the spectacle generally applied to the stages as well, particularly Le Plur. Last year’s white sail-cloth structure was an ideal canvas for a light show that didn’t exist. This year, there was a video wall behind the stage and on the front facing of the DJ table, and at night, the white cloth that framed the stage became a screen on which video was projected. Although it wasn’t on the same scale, the lights and patterns projected on the underside of the WWOZ Stage gave that stage additional life and character. The production on the main stage was scaled back this year, but it was refreshing to see rock ‘n’ roll shows that looked like rock ‘n’ roll shows instead of Broadway musicals. The simple drama of lights and smoke better suited the no-frills nature of the headliners as well; what would Soundgarden do with a rear projection system if that had one?
Not everything worked as well. Tents that last year separated the Preservation Hall and WWOZ and Bingo! Parlor stages were removed this year, and while that opened up the space nicely, it also produced some pretty tough sound bleed. During Social Distortion’s set, Mike Ness groused about the insistent thump from Le Plur or Deja Voodoo that he heard from the stage between songs. That sound bleed wasn’t so bad as to screw up shows, but it made standing between stages a little unsettling and sometimes distracting. Harder to deal with was the main stage sound, which was noticeably better between the speakers than it was outside of them. I stood on the track for Odd Future and was unable to hear anything but the bass; when I stood in front of the sound board, the sound was remarkably different and much better. For Mastodon, I had to move up and in to feel the sonic weight.
Friday: The Bangerz working “Searching for the Perfect Beat” into their mix; Peelander-Z namechecking the Dixie Tavern in the singer’s relentless shout before being joined onstage by Cheeky Blakk; Major Lazer showing the value of a hype man in dance music; all of Red Baraat‘s set of bhangra brass go-go funk; and a surprisingly talkative Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, who observed, “This is the first time I’ve been in New Orleans when I wasn’t in a blackout.” Later, he told the story of being on the Ultramega OK tour and being stopped outside Lake Charles by DEA agents who took all their money after finding a crew member’s small amount of weed. “Then we played a show at Tipitina’s and made all our money back and it was amazing.”
Saturday: Hurray for the Riff Raff making me care about Americana by connecting to the lyrics’ emotions instead of their historical roots (download their version of “My Sweet Lord”); the Revivalists opening the main stage with “Concrete (Fish Out of Water),” Boots Electric perplexing everybody at the main stage with a show that was as much gesture as music; Mastodon being ridiculously heavy; Lost Bayou Ramblers owning the crowd and their increasingly interesting rock/Cajun synthesis before Gordon Gano walked onstage; Katey Red‘s voice having so much reverb on it that she created her own polyrhythms rolling on the consonants on “Ugly Buggin’ Me”; Z-Trip working the theme to Halloween into his mix, then breaking up Vincent Price’s opening narration for “Thriller” until it’s actually disturbing; X being as punk as ever, but with better musicianship that made their songs’ odd starts and stops even more dynamic; and Girl Talk tailoring his mix to the occasion, also using “Halloween” and “Thriller,” as well as “Ghostbusters” and “Monster Mash.” In the latter case, he juxtaposed Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s backing vocalists singing, “He did the mash” with the Three 6 Mafia singing, “but I’d rather get some head.”
Sunday: Odd Future‘s insular brattiness (more on them in a minute); Ray Davies pulling out a few pleasant surprises, including “20th Century Man” and “Low Budget”; the Meters‘ keeping the song lengths tight and reuniting with Cyril; Cheap Trick‘s endearing pop exuberance (their website has photos of them with Ray Davies and Steve Zahn from Voodoo); and the Raconteurs channeling early 1970s British blues rock.
Finally: It’s really discouraging to read about Odd Future physically going after photographers in the pit, and it highlights the danger of making controversy your calling card. At some point, it becomes hard to be convincingly disaffected and unloved when you win awards, get acclaim and have people show up for your shows. As one member said, “I fucking hate photographers,” it struck me and those around me as puzzling. What had one of them done to cause such hostility? It seemed like calculated outrageousness because it’s too easy to avoid photographers if they really didn’t want them. Artists close or limit photo pit access all the time. The incident doesn’t diminish the chaotic energy of the Odd Future show, but either way you frame it – meanness or posturing – going after photographers makes the band look cheap punks (in the negative sense of the word).
Odd Future’s official statement:
There simply is no truth to the accusation floating around the internet. Its no secret that Odd Future has a love/hate relationship with photographers at shows simply because sometimes they are given access the group wishes their fans would have instead. After telling the photographers to clear out multiple times (as they’ve done before) Vyron (Leftbrain) took a swipe at a few cameras, NOT people. To manipulate the situation to insinuate an attack on a woman specifically is careless and manipulative.
Steve Rehage and Voodoo’s official comment:
The Voodoo Experience does not in any way condone the behavior of Odd Future towards the approved media assembled in the photo pit during the band’s set yesterday (Sunday, October 30). Festival organizers would like to apologize to their media guests who experienced and/or witnessed this abusive behavior.