Halloween in New Orleans can only mean one thing. Voodoo…a three-day music highlighted by a blending of high-profile national and local musical acts representing many different genres. Featuring food, amusement park rides, interactive art installations (The Kinetic Voodoo Fountain, The Cone, The Heron and others), corporate giveaways located within tents sponsored by Toyota and Garnier, retail therapy in the form of official festival merchandise, band and artist merchandise as well as local vendors and, of course, the music. As always the festival offered performances by a number of current chart-toppers, musical legends, emerging acts, and local heroes.
As in past years, The Voodoo Stage was home to the festival’s headliners. From this stage, music devotees were treated to performances by Soundgarden, My Chemical Romance, Snoop Dogg, Boots Electric, Blink-182, Social Distortion, The Limousines, Band Of Horses, Odd Future, TV On The Radio, Mastodon, Mates of State, and a reunion of Jack White and The Raconteurs.
In previous years, off to the side of the main festival stages fans could find less visible acts plying their trade on the WWOZ Stage, on the Preservation Hall Stage and at the Bingo! Parlour Stage. This year, these stages remained off to the side; however, with the elimination of the SONY Make.Believe Stage, they were populated by a mixture of well-known, extremely visible legends and up-and-comers. The incredibly large pool of talent that graced these stages included: Bonerama (featuring Dave Malone of The Radiators), The Static Jacks, The Wombats, Ray Davies (of The Kinks), Peelander Z, Fitz & The Tantrums, Ani DiFranco (with Ivan Neville), Fishbone, Gordon Gano (of the Violent Femmes), The Treme Brass Band, Ozomatli, Cheap Trick, The Soul Rebels Brass Band (with Cyril Neville), Glen David Andrews, The Sheepdogs (winners of Rolling Stone’s “Choose The Cover” competition), Givers, Bobby Rush, Dr. John and The Lower 911 (with special guests Irma Thomas, Cyril Neville and Walter “Wolfman” Washington) an amazing reunion performance by the original Meters and Portugal, The Man. Each of these bands plied their trade to dancing, screaming, smiling and enthusiastic fans.
A fourth stage, Le Plur played host to dance/electronic and DJ sets from an eclectic group of artists. Fatboy Slim, Girl Talk, Mike Relm, The Bangerz, Daedelus, DJ Swamp, A-Trak and Jackmaster all got the crowd dancing to the electronic beats.
With the demise of the SONY Make.Believe Stage, festival promoter Stephen Rehage filled the space with amusement park rides: a Ferris Wheel, The Orbiter, The Yo Yo, a Tilt-A-Whirl, Blades of Fire and a few others that would make a carnival jealous. The kiddy playground area known as Vooboo had a sandbox, a haunted house, a face paining and crafting tent, smaller rides and a massage tent for the overtaxed parents.
In addition to the acts appearing on stage, a “marching band,” the Noisican Coalition gave numerous performances while roaming the grounds each day providing the attendees with a New Orleans-influenced second line played on homemade instruments, modified horns, household objects, self-made percussive instruments and drums. The funky ensemble was a treat that caused festival veterans and newbees alike to stop, take notice and snap pictures. Gawkers were also drawn to the fire-breathing The Bull & The Beat Bot that Second-lined up and down the festival area’s paved roads to a funky techno beat
Day 1: Friday, October 28th
The first day of the festival got off to a rousing start with Natalie Mae & Her Unturned Tricks. The Michigan-born singer/songwriter woke-up the Preservation Hall Stage crowd with her unique blend of bluegrass-infused folk music. Mae then joined the Mississippi Rail Company on the WWOZ Stage where the highlight of their bluesy set was a rousing version of Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working.”
The Static Jacks whose debut album, If You’re Young was released on Fearless Records in August 2011, hit the Bingo! Parlour Stage at precisely 12:45 and proceeded to tear the roof of the small stage. The New Jersey band’s sound is very reminiscent of early ’80s New Wave with a garage band aesthetic. Their set was highlighted by “a medley of songs from our home state” which included “Born To Run.” At the end lead singer Ian Devaney exclaimed, “Wish we had rehearsed that. We said we were going to do it and we did—’nuff said.”
Other highlights from Day 1 included: The Wombats on The Bingo Stage. According to the band themselves and the members of the Static Jacks (with whom they were touring), after spending the past few nights on Bourbon Street and at One Eyed Jacks just off Bourbon Street they were drunker than they had been in years. The British boys played an electric set. Their banter though rambling was engaging. “I Like Girls” was introduced as being “off of our new long-playing record. It’s available in most better record stores… It’s also available on most illegal download sites.”
The Preservation Hall Stage was alive with energy when The Honey Island Swamp Band gave the crowd a taste of local flavor. Their short set of funky blues, southern rock, jazz, and swamp pop was one of the most exciting shows at the festival. As they rocked the festival, their eclectic gumbo blending so many genres caught the attention of passersby as well as their hardcore fans.
The Japanese punk group Peelander Z was up next on The Bingo Stage. Their Intense set began with a bang as bassist Peelander Red surfed the crowd as he played. The band is known for their crazy personas and even zanier stage antics and hard almost-punk rock. Their set was so raw, so rocking and so reminiscent of early punk and new wave that the audience members would not have been surprised had they covered The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy In the U.K.” It would have fit in nicely.
Toward the end of Peelander Z’s set Mates of State took the main stage. Husband and wife duo Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel performed a great set of harmonious pop songs from their extensive canon as well “Palomino” from Mountaintops (Barsuk, 2011).
As afternoon gave way to early evening, Band of Horses on the Voodoo Stage and Fitz & The Tantrums also delivered excellent sets. Band of Horses’ tight set was fueled by “Cigarettes,” “Wedding Bands,” “No One’s Gonna Love You,” “The Funeral,” “The General” and “Is There A Ghost.” Fitz & The Tantrums were absolutely amazing. This young Los Angeles-based pop/soul band is on the verge of superstardom. Their hour-long set relied heavily on songs from their 2010 Dangerbird Records release Pickin’ Up The Pieces. They delivered the goods on “L.O.V.,” the new song “Wake Up,” the covers of The Eurythmics and Raconteurs hits (“Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)” and “Steady As She Goes”) and “Moneygrabber.” The smoking hot high energy set did a lot to warm up the cold crowd—as the evening set in, City Park got progressively chilly with the occasional spritz of rain.
The evening ended with two of the festival’s biggest acts gracing the Voodoo Stage. My Chemical Romance appeared on stage dressed for Halloween. They were decked out in Medieval/fantasy theme with costumes as knights, wizards and elves. The Voodoo Experience was the last stop of their tour and they went out on a high note with frontman Gerald Way (who had dyed his shocking red locks black) toying with the audience by licking his fingers and blowing kisses into the crowd. Their high-octane set included dazzling versions of “Give ‘Em Hell, Kid,” “Teenagers,” “Mama,” “Famous Last Words,” “Destroya,” “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” and “Welcome to the Black Parade.”
They were followed by Soundgarden. By the time Soundgarden went on many in the crowd were chilled to the bone. City Park is located right off Bayou St. John and has other bodies of water nearby. With the winds gusting and the temperature dropping, the air was not only crisp but damp. As the crowd huddled together the band overcame the initial speed bump created by muddled sound for the first few minutes of their set by following it with two hours of heavy, psych-infused Rock ‘N’ Roll . The Seattle grunge outfit reached back into their catalogue to offer “Spoonman,” “Black Hole Sun,” “Fell on Black Days,” “Loud Love,” “The Day I Tried To Live” and “Outshined.” They closed with the double-fisted encore of “Beyond the Wheel” and “Slaves and Bulldozers,” leaving the hoarse-from-cheering audience completely drained but satiated.
Day 2: Saturday, October 29th
A warmer and sunnier Day 2 was highlighted by The Soul Rebels Brass Band with Cyril Neville’s and Ozomatli’s appearances on the WWOZ Stage, X playing their classic 1980 album Los Angeles (Slash Records) on the Bingo! Parlour Stage. The Treme Brass Band and Gordon Gano of The Violent Femmes & The Lost Bayou Ramblers graced the Preservation Hall Stage with amazing shows. Girls Talk’s performance on the Le Plur stage included an amazing mix of songs with snippets of “The Monster Mash” and “Pumped Up Kicks” (to name just a few) was attended by a huge crowd. While on the big stage, Boots Electric, Mastodon, Social Distortion, Snoop Dogg and Blink-182 set the festival on fire.
The Soul Rebels set included a musical gumbo melding a myriad of genres. They provided brassed-up versions of many different hits from a variety of artists and genres. Their set was punctuated by a standout performances of “Turn It Up,” The Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)” as well as Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City.”
The crowd at the Preservation Hall Stage slowly gathered as The Treme Brass Band with Uncle Lionel Batiste as always gave a top-notch performance. As with past Voodoo performances the band remained stationary. This year as in the past, there were some uninitiated spectators (most-likely viewers of HBO’s Treme television series who expected the band to march.) A small piece of New Orleans history and tradition, The Treme Brass Band never disappoints; their set was astonishing—loud, bombastic, contemporary, classic jazzy, funky and above all else superb.
Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom, John Doe and DJ Bonebreak turned back the clock as X. The band rocked hard and the audience at Bingo! Parlour Stage was treated to a show that had many of them murmuring about and wondering if there would be a full-fledged reunion tour and album.
Eagles of Death Metal frontman Jesse Hughes lead his side project Boots Electric onto the main stage in the mind afternoon and proceeded to treat the audience to a wonderfully “out there” and eccentric performance. Featuring new songs from the band’s debut release Honkey Kong (Dangerbird, 2011) as well as some choice covers of songs originally done by his original band, Hughes appeared to at different time adopt the personas of revivalist preacher, southern rocker and garage rocker. Regardless of which persona was, in charge, the performance was riveting.
Gordon Gano and The Lost Bayou Ramblers was much more a Lost Bayou Ramblers set. The band played many of their songs with Gano on fiddle. Toward the end of the performance the musicians played classic songs from the Violent Femmes catalogue. The unabashed highlight of this performance was an amazing set-closing version of the Violent Femmes’ biggest hit, the modern rock anthem “Blister In the Sun.”
Voodoo is famous for featuring acts from all musical genres. Mastodon’s set on the main stage will undoubtedly gain them new fans. While their riff-heavy set was, by their standards, a bit subdued—it provided the crowd with an opportunity to hear the band’s lyrics and see their musicianship. The Atlanta-based alternative metal outfit played songs from their 2011 Reprise Records release The Hunter and a nice smattering of both old and new songs. While some of the bombast may have been lost, the energy was there and the crowd responded by getting as close to the stage as possible.
In early 2011, Social Distortion released Hard Times and Nursery Crimes (Epitath). The CD was a wonderful return to form and the band began to tour. By the time they reached Voodoo, the band was a well-oiled machine and they were riding high. They began their swagger-filled set by roaring through a rocking and rolling version of “Bad Luck.” With their guitars blaring and a slamming back beat Mike Ness and his band played hits and new songs: “So Far Away,” “Story Of My Life,” “Bakersfield,” the song rumoured to be Ness’ favorite, “Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown,” “Machine Guns Blues,” “Six More Miles” and their trademark hard-rocking, breakneck, cow-punk version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
Hip-Hop and rap superstar Snoop Dog’s love for New Orleans was evident by the fact that his appeared on stage wearing a Saints football jersey (Wide Receiver Marques Colston’s number twelve to be exact). Clearly in a good mood, Snoop told the crowd of his love for New Orleans, gave a shout-out to the guys in the crowd dressed as Krusty The Clown and Spongebob. He and his posse of rappers, dancers and musicians performed a mix of old and new material that had the audience dancing, bopping and joining in as he functioned both a star attraction and cruise director. The highlight of Snoop’s set was the closing medley of “Jump Around,” “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “Who Am I (What’s My Name).”
Newly reformed Blink-182 closed out Day 2 with a bang. Blink’s (Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker and Tom DeLonge) dynamic set opened with an electrifying version of “Up All Night” and continued to gain momentum as “Feeling This,” “Down,” I Miss You,” “Stay Together For The Kids,” the anthem “What’s My Age Again?,” “The Rock Show,” “Man Overboard,” “Ghost On The Dancefloor” each made an appearance. The crowd was whipped into a frenzy when the song that the casual fans came to and stayed around to hear—”All The Small Things”—was played. Blink-182 also debuted their new song “Wishing Well” by announcing that, “We’ve never played this next song before; why don’t we do it in front of thousands of people.”
Day 3: Sunday, October 30th
Day 3, Sunday, was anchored by Ray Davies, The Original Meters and Cheap Trick as well as festival closers Fatboy Slim, The Raconteurs and to a slightly lesser extent Bonerama featuring Dave Malone of The Radiators.
Sunday’s lineup also featured TV on The Radio, The Limousines and Odd Future on the main stage. In addition to the Meters and Bonerama, The WWOZ stage was home to outrageous performances by The Stone Foxes, The Sheepdogs, Givers and Dr. John. The Bingo! Parlor Stage featured Fishbone and Portugal, The Man as well as the previously mentioned Cheap Trick. While Ray Davies was undoubtedly the main attraction on the Preservation Hall Stage, Glen David Andrews, The New Orleans Klezmer All Stars, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band with The Del McCoury Band and “Ma Maison” with the Trey McIntyre Project and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band all gave amazing performances.
Glen David Andrews (Trombone Shorty’s cousin), a veteran of the Olympia, New Birth, Treme and Lil Rascals brass bands, set the tone for the day with a funky jazz-funk fusion set from the Preservation Hall Stage. Andrews, who is sometimes called The King of Treme, and is accomplished trombone player in his own right, stuck mostly to singing as his high-powered ensemble ran the gamut of musical styles ranging from funk to traditional jazz, to gospel, to rock, to blues and back to funk during the show. And the audience definitely heard him scream!
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. When people look back on the past, it is easy to identify key moments—that point where, for good or for bad, things change. For The Sheepdogs it was winning the Rolling Stone “Choose The Cover” contest during the summer of 2011. Since that time the previously unknown band has been on a whirlwind tour. They signed with Atlantic Records, have appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, played Bonnaroo and now have appeared at Voodoo. Their southern rock meets funk and country sound served them well at their midday set on the WWOZ stage. Attendees who knew the band’s history were impressed. Those who hadn’t already heard of them, were pleased that they had stayed for the set. One older member of the crowd was overheard saying, “They sound a bit like Dave Mason when he rocks.” Dave Mason is in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame and was a founding member of Traffic. Heady praise.
Another “new” band making their Voodoo debut was The Limousines. Their early afternoon set on The Voodoo Stage is sure to get them an invite to perform at a future festival. The duo was in the Halloween spirit, performing while dressed in a skeleton costume. Lead singer Eric Voctorino admitted that he and the band had performed in Houston the previous night at a private party, the band’s energy was turned up to eleven. To say that this performance was high energy would have been an understatement. Victorino did his best Mick Jagger impersonation as he raced around the stage while the band played their most well-known songs “Internet Killed The Radio Star” and “Very Busy People” and other songs from their Get Sharp CD (Dangerbird Records, 2011) as well as a cover of New Order’s “Temptation.”
Lafayette, LA’s Givers is yet another up-and-coming band that made an excellent impression on the Voodoo Experience crowd. Comprised of Kirby Campbell (drums/samples/vocals), Taylor Guarisco (guitar/vocals), Tif Lamson (vocals/percussion/ukulele), Josh Leblanc (bass), and Nick Stephan (synths/samples/vocals), this young soul-pop collective is a band to watch. They will be very big very soon. They appeared in the early afternoon, and the crowd around the WWOZ Stage grew as the “ya gotta hear these guys” word and vibe spread through the festival area. Their fantastic set was punctuated by “Up Up Up” from their debut CD In Light (Glassnote, 2011).
Fishbone played their customary funky set on the Bingo! Parlour Stage. Leaning heavily on their Crazy Glue CD (DC Jam, 2011) the band delivered a set filled with their distinctive eclectic brand of alternative rock. Their goofy sense of humor was never more evident than on their psycho-funk version of “Date Rape” and on the new song “DUI Friday.” They followed this by introducing the song “Crazy Glue” with, “They say that crazy is someone or something out of the norm. Crazy is good. You get to create something—music, art…I want to be crazy…” With that they launched into the song.
Many fledgling and lesser-known bands were ushered on stage sandwiched between more established acts while playing at the same time as another established performer. One such act was Morning 40 Federation. They appeared on the Bingo! Parlour Stage between Fishbone and Portugal, The Man opposite Dr. John’s show on the WWOZ Stage. Their set was loud and tight as they offered up songs from their self-titled 2004 Release (BRG Records) and from Ticonderoga (M80, 2006). Their performance was top—notch. The highlight of their performance was the hysterical “Dumpster Juice.”
Dr. John & The Lower 911 along with special guests Irma Thomas, Cyril Neville and Walter “Wolfman” Washington, brought a little of old New Orleans to the Voodoo crowd. The spot-on insanely funky set opened with “Iko, Iko” and featured “I Been Hoodooed” as well as “Right Place Wrong Time” but it was The Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas singing her classic “Don’t Mess with My Man” that stole the show.
Ray Davies, who was famously shot in New Orleans while chasing a mugger a few years ago, performed a mixture of Kinks and solo offering on the Preservation Hall Stage to an, at first, small crowd. Shortly after the opening tunes, “I Need You” and “This Is Where I Belong” during the opening strands of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” observers could see the crowd migrating over from the WWOZ stage (where Dr. John’s set had recently ended). Dressed sharply in a sports coat and an open collar button-down shirt, Davies performed “Deadend Street,” an acoustic version of “Sunny Afternoon” on which he elicited sing-along help from the audience, “Long Way From Home” (another acoustic performance) and a rockin’ version of “20th Century Man.” Davies peppered his set with stories about his life and the creation of the songs. The best of which was when he described the creation and evolution of “You Really Got Me.” As Davies explained it, “We had a piano in the living room. My brother Dave heard me picking the chords on the piano—’bop, bop-bop-ba-bop-bop’ and in his inimitable way looked at me perplexed and said ‘what is that.’ I explained that it was our new song. He shrugged and walked away.” With that the band launched into what is arguably The Kinks’ greatest hit. The show ended with “Low Budget” which Davies explained was “written in rhyming slang and might at times be difficult to understand.” During the tour de force performance of the song (which was not only appropriate for our fiscal times, but needs no translations) Davies changes one of the verses to “Excuse my shoes, they don’t quite fit/I bought them at Winn Dixie and they hurt me a bit…”
The Original Meters performed together at Voodoo in 2006 and not long after the band members again went their separate ways. For some reason the reunion fizzled. At the time they sounded good—just not great. Five years is both a short time and a long time. For the members of the group, who are growing older it was a long enough time for them to set aside their differences and set out to offer up the funk to the masses—many of who are not old enough to remember the band in their heyday. Guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter, Jr., keyboardist Art Neville and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste took to the WWOZ Stage in the last afternoon and were immediately a magnetizing force as the small stage was immediately surrounded by a huge crowd that would have been more at home and less pressed together had it been on the Voodoo Stage. Introduced with the a statement of “The moment you’ve all been waiting for…”—The Meters did not disappoint. The sounds of “Fiyo On The Bayou” and “Hey Pocky Way” filled the air and the party was in full force. Early in the show the crowd was promised a surprise. They were told, …”you all, when you see it, its gonna mess you all up.” The surprise was monumental. Cyril Neville (who had been a member of the band on the late ’70s) came on stage with the Bonerama horns to perform “No More Okey Doke,” and the performance which was already a dream come true for many, got even better. The band fed off the energy from both the special guests and the crowd during “People Say” and “Ain’t No Use.” It was magical. If the band decides to continue with their reunion, it would be a wise move to include Cyril on all other dates.
Portugal, The Man is one of the most-hyped new bands. At Voodoo they played to an exuberant and excited crowd while easily showing why. Their set on the Bingo! Parlour stage was a loud and joyous psychedelic rock jam session. Having recently released their first major label album, In the Mountain in the Cloud on Atlantic Records (2011), the Alaskan born group did not forget their indie roots as they played tracks from their entire catalogue. John Gourley (guitar/vocals), along with the other band members cast a spell over the audience. The people in the crowd were either lip-synching the words to the songs while bopping, dancing and swaying to the music, or they were completely awestruck, staring at the stage in astonishment. This is a special band.
Cheap Trick, who flew in specifically for the show and immediately flew out after the show, sounded fantastic on The Bingo! Parlour Stage. They opened with the crowd favorite and quite appropriate “Hello There.” Their loud, fast and rockin’ set featured excellent solos over killer riffs and included “Dream Police,” “She’s Tight,” a cover of “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Out In The Street” (which is also known as the theme song of That 70’s Show) and “Surrender.”
TV On The Radio put on one of the best shows of the festival. The Brooklyn, NY-based group played many of the songs from their 2006 Interscope release Return to Cookie Mountain and only “Caffeinated Consciousness” and “Second Song” from Nine Types of Light (Interscope, 2011). The band was amazingly tight with guitarist Kyp Mallone leading the way as they blended so many musical genres.
For those not interested in either Cheap Trick, TV On The Radio or The Meters, “Ma Maison” with the Trey McIntyre Project and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band delivered a show consisting of classic New Orleans music featuring trumpet sousaphone, trombone, saxophone, piano and drums. The music was accompanied by a stage performance in which skeletons danced across the stage while acting out the lyrics. Highlights of this set included: “Everybody Looking For The Short Dress” and “Heebee Jeebee Dance.”
The Raconteurs took the stage to some of the loudest cheers and applause of the festival. Former White Stripes frontman Jack White and co-leader Brendan Benson delivered call and response blues riffs throughout the thundering show and especially on “Level.” The band’s tight set also featured: “Consoler of The Lonely,” “Old Enough,” “Broken Boy Soldier,” and “Rich Kid Blues.” The smoking encores which had everyone in the crowd on their feet were “Salute Your Solution,” “Steady As She Goes” and “Carolina Drama” which featured Benson on slide guitar and White on acoustic guitar. For some reason the band ended their set a bit early—playing for only one hour and forty minutes of their allotted two hours. However, as the completely satiated festival-goers made their way out of City Park and toward Carrollton Avenue there was nary a complaint.
While The Raconteurs were the closing headliner for the festival, Bonerama and Dave Malone (of the Radiators) were the local heroes who put the final exclamation point on this year’s festival. Bonerama opened their short set with “Close The Door” and “Mr. Go.” After that Dave Malone joined the band on stage and the show took a turn into Radiators territory. In a stroke of musical genius, the band played Radz favorites such as “Like Dreamers Do,” “Never Let Your Fire Go Out,” “Confidential” as well as “Indian Red,” and The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” in a mash-up style that mixed the best of Bonerama with the best of The Radiators sound. It sounded even better than expected.
By the end of the festival, the tens of thousands of revelers got exactly what they came for—three days of music, madness and fun, and an opportunity to “Worship The Music.”
During the thirteen years since its inception, The Voodoo Experience has become a New Orleans institution playing host to a wide-ranging line-up of multi-generation and multi-genre musical artists (well over 600 and counting). Stephen Rehage has gone on the record as saying that he’s always looking to bring the “best of the best” to Voodoo. When asked about creating a dream bill, he responded, “We have been privileged to work with many of the artists that I—as a tone-deaf, untalented, wannabe musician—grew up listening to and idolized. But I would have to admit; I am still waiting on [David] Bowie and [Tom] Waits.” Perhaps in 2012, at the fourteenth ritual, these two icons will be headlining.