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Festival Review: Voodoo Experience 2012

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voodoo 2012 e1351111563690 Festival Review: Voodoo Experience 2012

For longer than the United States has been a country, New Orleans has been a gumbo of disparate cultures thrown together on a low-simmering boil, staying fairly warm even in late October. Despite the food metaphor, some of the best evidence of the city’s cross-cultural pollination is its music. It’s the voodoo that New Orleans does so well, going back to its Sunday tradition of giving slaves from the African and Caribbean a day off to mingle with white and Creole folks in Congo Square. The musicians of these groups coalesced to make the first strains of what would become American music.

Flash forward centuries and many technological advancements later, the Voodoo Experience is enhanced or entirely enabled by recent digital bells and whistles. It was the order of the day for at least a good half of Voodoo’s lineup and almost certainly the itinerary for more than half of its young crowd.

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But the technology didn’t steal that voodoo away. If anything, it has transformed it– maybe enhanced it. It’s different, sure, but the wow factor of EDM icon Skrillex hitting a drop timed with lasers, flames, and pyrotechnics cannot be denied, even if you’re a dedicated roots music listener skeptical of EDM’s inherent artifice. A moment like that comes through keen planning but it still feels like something unworldly when you experience it live and in person.

Maybe through laptops and various digital instruments, artists like Los Angeles’ Low End Theory co-founder and Brainfeeder artist The Gaslamp Killer, French touch artist Etienne de Crécy, and the like found the same magic that Afropop legend Cheick Hamala Diabate found in the deserts of Mali and masterful classic-rock revivalist Gary Clark Jr. found in Austin, T.X.’s thriving modern music scene.

The fact that Voodoo Experience can harness all this talent from near and far, all their forms of magic, is the voodoo that New Orleans does. And it hardly misses a beat. This is Voodoo.

-Paul de Revere
Senior Staff Writer

Photography by Karina Halle

Friday, October 26th

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Little Freddie King – Preservation Hall Stage - 2:15 p.m.

One thing you need to know about New Orleans: Older folks don’t just stop hitting the town for live music when they get “too old.” But you can bet they’ll plant their soft-back chairs in front of almost one stage exclusively. And they don’t stop playing it, either. Little Freddie King, who performed at the Preservation Hall Stage early on Friday, wasn’t feeble yet, emitting a loud rooster call that was far from it. King and his band featuring Guitar Lightnin’ Lee (guess how fast he plays?) swung out their blues like a train coming down the track, not dissimilar to what Johnny Cash did with his country. King, Lee, and company kept hammering down steady grooves with a little break to borrow from James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine”.

CC Adcock & The Lafayette Marquis – WWOZ/Bud Light Stage - 3:00 p.m.

CC Adcock can smooth talk a crowd or make a band member laugh with such ease. Despite his set starting a tad late, Adcock simply said to a solid 100-plus-people with a smile, “Welcome to the sound check, y’all,” and all was forgiven. The Lafayette native comes with a salt-of-the-earth bayou swagger on the mic and watery, sporting even psychedelic Frampton guitar sounds. In his native zydeco tradition, Adcock’s got a washboard player and upright bassist in his outfit, but his music is distinctly rock ‘n’ roll with equal parts Dr. John, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp (the opening riff of one of his new songs has the big ringing open tones of “Small Town”), or Ted Nugent depending on the song. He plays squeezebox accordion and flying V guitar without discrimination. He ended the set with his band The Lafayette Marquis on a doubled-up drum kit like The Allmans or The Dead. It felt heavy and muscular as hell, polished off with a sweet guitar solo from Adcock.

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Delta Rae – WWOZ/Bud Light Stage - 4:30 p.m.

Delta Rae’s sound check alone elicited cheering from fans, but it was its torch-song lead off, “The Morning Comes”, that got a crowd fairly strong in numbers cheering loudly so early in the day. The crowd was there to see a band who, by their own admission, had never played New Orleans before. Songs like “If I Loved You” seemed to inspirationally surge, equally informed by Contemporary Christian rock, old-school gospel piano, and Britpop like Coldplay and Keane. Similar to many bands on the festival bill, Delta Rae is a family band, featuring the blonde-headed, stellar vocalists Ian, Eric, and Brittany Hölljes. Cello, acoustic and electric guitars, and electric piano gave the band a sweet feel. Give these guys a few years, they could give The Avetts and Mumford and Songs a run for their money.

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Thomas Dolby – Le Carnival Stage - 5:15 p.m.

I was concerned that Thomas Dolby’s synth pop would sound downright soulless and inert next to my diet of old and new roots on Friday. “This is a song I wrote for my dead uncle,” Dolby said near the beginning of his set, bumming everyone out. Then he played “One of Our Submarines”, a lush, upbeat ditty in his native Britan’s New Wave tradition of making sad songs sound happy. Live, the song’s refrain of “bye, bye empire” sounded like Dolby was borrowing David Byrne’s vocal lilt. By the end of his set, Dolby played his radio hit “She Blinded Me with Science”, the song people came to hear — and he knew it. For a middle-aged electronic music icon, Dolby seems to have kept up with the times. Musing about politics, he tossed off an Internet meme: “It’s all horses and bayonets, innit?” Yes, Mr. Dolby, it is.

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Gary Clark Jr. – Le Ritual Stage – 5:45 p.m.

Gary Clark Jr. roared onto Le Ritual Stage with galloping Zeppelin grooves, woozy Hendrix psych guitar sounds, and raw guitar talent untouched by almost anyone else at the festival as the sun set. The Austin wunderkind did heavy English blues better than folks two to three times his age. It makes sense, then, that even diehard baby boomers psyched for the Neil Young set later that evening gave Clark his propers. Songs like “Bright Lights Big City” tore it up but even Clark’s slow jams, which don’t work as well, get great by the time a smooth, sexy guitar solo comes in. All the starts to his songs lead you to believe they’re classic cuts from the ’60s, but they’re original and it’s to his credit that he can be as authentically evocative of the style and era. Clark is a promising artist reconstructing heavy blues/classic rock from his point of view.

Cheick Hamala Diabate – Preservation Hall Stage – 7:00 p.m.

Forget for a moment that Cheick Hamala Diabate hardly, if ever, does major festival dates like Voodoo. Forget for a moment that the Diabate family has a centuries-old tradition of West African griot oral tradition. Just listen to those joyous grooves, so bright and full of life! Diabate’s sounds didn’t strike the head like Neil Young would later that night, but his eight-musician line up of tambourine, ngoni (a form of African banjo), xylophone, bass, sax, djembe drum, guitar, drum kit and more (musicians switched instruments often) danced in the mild night air like fireflies. His tambourinist/percussionist danced, too, tossing her instrument aside for long sections of songs to bust a move. All the old people that would later be at Neil Young were dancing gingerly here, tapping into something deeply tribal and human in all of us. Trust.

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Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Le Ritual Stage - 9:00 p.m.

Between setlist bookends “Love and Only Love” and “Like a Hurricane”, all of Young’s songs hit like the lattermost title’s fierce storms, content and loud in their seasoned simplicity. Though Young is old (and, sadly, doesn’t look as robust as he used to up there), you’re reminded that he always had an old soul, lyrically. Young rocked back and forth, stalking the stage with a squinty-eyed stoicism, like a monk unperturbed in front of walls of throaty guitar sound, swinging his arm back and forth over his guitar to control the elements.

Young and Crazy Horse (bassist Billy Talbot, drummer Ralph Molina, and rhythm guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro) huddled together in the kind of comfort, shared talent, and communal respect that can only come from playing together for ages. The band hardly acknowledged the audience, at least for the first few songs. “Born in Ontario”, a song off Young’s newest Psychedelic Pill, was plainspoken, like Young was talking to himself because no one was around. Same with “Ramada Inn”, so deadpan it’s as if the hotel chain paid for sponsorship. (But of course, it didn’t.)

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“Powderfinger” off Rust Never Sleeps moseyed along mid-tempo, ringing out with a destructive crunch. It told a sad tale followed closely by another: the tearjerker “The Needle and the Damage Done”. Young’s classic hits were a bit sparse in this setlist (“My My Hey Hey”, “Cinnamon Girl”) but by “Like a Hurricane”, Young had seemingly grown tired of his guitar and showed some of his old fire, shredding its strings, bashing on its pickups and humbuckers and kicked it away, toward the audience, as if saying, “That’ll show ya!” And boy, he did. He sure showed us.

Saturday, October 27th

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K’Naan – Le Ritual Stage - 2:15 p.m.

On a New Orleans day with a precipitous temperature drop, it was a relief when the sun started to pop out of the clouds during K’Naan’s set. Some of K’Naan’s new material from God, Country and the Girl was shaky, as he and his band hadn’t yet played it live, but it was serviceable. On the upside, the Somalian rapper spoke his rags-to-riches, autobiographical “Somalia” acapella, making for his most inspiring, powerful moment. It’s not common for a rap show to be so emotionally naked, but K’Naan live casts his sets more as reggae/rock show and himself more as a Bono/Bob Marley figure with a band that plays accordingly. His World Cup hit “Wavin’ Flag” played more like Coldplay’s “Fix You”, with big anthemic whoa-oh’s.

DJ Qbert with D-Styles of the Invisible Skratch Piklz – Le Plur Stage – 5:15 p.m.

If the ‘90s political comedy Bulworth has taught us anything, it’s that a DJ scratching up “fuck” on a turntable is incredibly hilarious. DJ Qbert— being something of a ’90s-something vintage himself– knows this, which is why he scratched up the word for a good minute or two in his set at Voodoo. Qbert and D-Styles weren’t all gags and jokes during their set, turning out some old Atlantic Records soul, b-boy breaks, possibly “The Whisper Song”, and (my favorite) splurts of tabla onto dubstep bass. Gotta love Qbert and the Piklz crew.

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Dave Stewart – Le Carnival Stage - 5:45 p.m.

If Eddie Van Halen can play synth on “Jump”, why shouldn’t Dave Stewart— the co-creator of Eurythmics and its “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” hit– be able to play guitar? It’s unusual but Stewart’s latest record The Ringmaster General is an American blues-rock record, partly inspired by his love for New Orleans’ roots music. And not without precedent either, as Stewart covered some of his past work with other artists: Stevie Nicks (“Cheaper Than Free”), Tom Petty (“Don’t Come Around Here No More), and the Eurythmics (“Would I Lie to You”, “Sweet Dreams”, and “Here Comes the Rain Again”) with New Orleans guests aplenty.

The Gaslamp Killer – Le Plur Stage – 6:30 p.m.

If there was an artist that encapsulated all the fractured nostalgia and digital noises from the Internet and computer world in his act, it would have to be William Benjamin Bensussen, The Gaslamp Killer. But musically he coheres so many sonic niches so well: his monosynth raga version of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem”, drum-and-bass/jungle breakdowns and bendy portamento chiptune versions of Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and “T.I.’s “What U Know” just to name a few. When he dropped hometown hero Lil’ Wayne’s “Mercy” it was over. So over. As his name would suggest, The Gaslamp Killer killed it.

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Silversun Pickups – Le Ritual Stage – 7:00 p.m. 

This wasn’t Silversun Pickups’ first Voodoo. The Los Angeles band played three fests ago in a much less desirable time slot. Now with three albums and some serious rock radio play under its belt, Silversun has its must-play hits (“Panic Switch”, “Lazy Eye”, which it did) plus some new material to introduce live from their latest album, Neck of the Woods. The analog synth on “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” poured lush sound from the excellent mix that night.

At a festival, where most rock bands were a bit longer in the toth, Silversun’s youthful energy and effortless stamina was noticeable, even though as a band its members had been around the touring circuit a few times. Not without a fresh arm, however, as bassist Nikki Monninger is out on maternity leave, replaced by Sarah Negahdari on this tour.

Étienne de Crécy – Le Plur Stage – 7:45 p.m. 

Is it just me or do European DJs/producers have longer, bigger build ups before drops than most U.S. EDM artists? Take Crécy’s set as exhibit A, then, yeah, they definitely do. And are they less hyperactive on stage than U.S. ones? Again, yes. Crécy, like his fellow French house luminaries Justice later that night, gave long expanses of shimmering sound and breathing bass to their music. Crécy’s pretty pastel screensaver visuals were a good compliment to his frequency-based, delicate dance sounds as well.

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Metallica – Le Ritual Stage – 8:30 p.m.

“We are Green Day!” James Hetfield joked about the reason Metallica was playing at Voodoo Saturday night. “Except a little bit taller.” The band was 25 minutes late to the stage, entered to Ennio Morricone’s grand “Ecstasy of Gold”, and made a slight joke toward Green Day! Who do they think they are, ROCK STARS!?

Well, yeah. The band needed no grand introduction, of their own or any others’. They’re Metallica. The band played the opening one-two punch of “Hit the Lights” and “Master of Puppets” with a genuinely evil-sounding cackle by Hetfield. Later on, “Harvester of Sorrow” slowed things down but only a touch. It was “One” that was borderline comatose, only it soon awakened with a neck-snapping vengeance.

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Metallica are a tightly controlled act with a precision that’s almost scientific, and this was just a pick up date for them! Lars Ulrich solo’ed masterfully, while Kirk Hammett and his Dalai Llama-airbrushed axe tore through everything in its path. Rob Trujillo’s nasty, dirty bass tone supported it all. It was unheralded, or at least it didn’t need to be. Metal up your ass, folks, the guys have still got it.

Justice – Le Plur Stage – 9:30 p.m.

Justice was scientifically and digitally controlled, and basically mimicked the same thing Metallica was doing a football field away but with better lights and sound — and a giant, lit-up, perfectly centered cross on the front of its stage set. Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé, unlike Metallica, barely moved a muscle for most of their set, staying eerily still relative to the field of tossed-up glowsticks and pogo’ing in front of them.

“Genesis” and “Let There Be Light” put folks into that frenzy, while “D.A.N.C.E.” came fairly early in the duo’s set. Cuts from Audio, Video, Disco like “Civilization” or “Horsepower” were the digital Judas Priest to the nearby Metallica. There was almost no difference to the young attendees dancing, who came of age in 2007 with Justice just as metalheads had grew up with Metallica in 1987.

If you wanted to see physical, sonic evidence that today’s young music listeners see little to no difference between EDM and hard rock, you should’ve been at Voodoo on Saturday. Stand in just the right place, and the unintentional mashup of Metallica and Justice clicked perfectly.

Sunday, October 28th

Dash Rip Rock – WWOZ/Bud Light Stage – 1:00 p.m.

Dash Rip Rock is the kind of seasoned rock band that can restore a jaded music fan’s faith in the restorative, vital powers of rock ‘n’ roll. If lead singer/guitarist Bill Davis playing a guitar with another guitar isn’t a symbol of that, I don’t know what it’s a symbol for. But Davis also played his guitar with a bottle of tequila and a wooden mallard while blowing a duck-call whistle so, you know, maybe he’s just goofing around. Davis and Dash Rip Rock brought Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze on stage for some serious dueling-guitar rock ‘n’ roll as a change of pace.

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New Orleans Bounce Azztravaganza Dream – Le Carnival Stage – 3:30 p.m.

Could anything make you feel better than saying the words “New Orleans Bounce Azztravaganza Dream”? The New Orleans-localized rap subgenre is mostly focused on, well, ass shaking. Not even gonna lie, that was the focus of this set. To be fair, it was also a way to feature lesser-known local bounce talent: singers, rappers, toasters, dancers, etc. The fierce Cheeky Blakk rapped dirtily about pussies and dicks, leaving pretty much nothing to innuendo. Da Danger Boyz danced and tumbled through their set, paving way for Ha’ Sizzle’s lurid rhymes. Trans-(vestite? gendered?) bounce rapper Katey Red headlined and coordinated the event, saving da baddest for last. It was an Azztravaganza to behold.

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Tomahawk – Le Carnival Stage – 5:30 p.m.

Immediately following the New Orleans Bounce Azztravaganza Dream (yes, that phrase remains awesome), Tomahawk lead singer/visionary Mike Patton, known for his bizarre, quirky sense of humor, called his band “a different kind of booty bounce.” Yes. The weirdest, creepiest booty bounce music possible. Not that the incredible supergroup’s spastic, textured experimental rock didn’t work the crowd up into the lather. Patton’s sampling of chirping birds and twisting of his vocal chords into ungodly sounds gave the crowd what they came for. You can’t overlook Trevor Dunn’s menacing bass, Duane Denison chattering, distorted guitar effects and John Stanier’s muscular, angular drumming either.

Skrillex – Le Plur Stage – 6:15 p.m.

The oddly curious, the haters, the fans and the apologists mean nothing when you’re absorbed in Skrillex’s absolutely nutso live show. Sonny Moore spares not a second of your, or his, attention span. He’s yelling at you to get hype, he’s making jagged hand motions, he’s standing on top of the table with his gear on it, and he’s telling dudes to get off the girls to “give them space to dance”. He’s Skrillex and he has all the energy to do what needs doing. He’s a real-life superhero (or reviled figure) for our ADD-addled generation of Internet denizens.

Except his live show looks like a villian’s lair: explosions, columns of fire, lasers, disembodied evil voices, and all. The visual awe inspired by Skrillex’s show would impress anybody with eyes, as much as watching Terminator would.

Moore came on stage in a white mask and a skeleton Halloween costume (surprisingly, one of the few performers throughout the weekend in costume) sampling the Halloween theme over “My Name Is Skrillex” followed by his Doors collaboration “Break’n a Sweat”. “Make That Booty Clap” scored 2 Live Crew-styled images behind him, “Welcome to Jamrock” blushed with rasta color schemes, and a collection of samples of his now ex-girlfriend Ellie Goulding’s breathy voice worked with a crowd that was there to eat up everything he did. Then before a key drop he instructed us to “touch the sky” and put a grid of lasers up there just out of its reach.

There’s something impossible and magical about Skrillex. He was the perfect performer for Voodoo and, if popular approval is any indication, the best performer of the weekend.

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Jack White – Le Ritual Stage – 7:30 p.m.

The blaring and belching bass emanating from Skrillex’s set, plus a fairly small crowd, couldn’t help but leave Jack White a little cold, possibly perturbed. “Is this all it’s gonna be?” White said. Then he launched unceremoniously into a methodical but fantastic set of solo work sprinkled with Dead Weather, Raconteurs, and White Stripes material.

Similar to many of White’s setlists this year, things kicked off with “Sixteen Saltines” and a rendition of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” that echoed The Band. Then came the local nod: White dedicated “Trash Tongue Talker” to New Orleans R&B pianist James Booker, who played house piano at the Maple Leaf, a bar across town from where White was performing at City Park.

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White’s one-two of “Fell in Love With a Girl” and “Steady As She Goes” almost had the crowd peaking too early before his set finale of “Ball and Biscuit”. There was an encore, of course, which included more Stripes flair like the underrated “Hello Operator”, “Catch Hell Blues”, and “Seven Nation Army”. It was all uniform in a strictly monumental way.

Walking out, the accidental mashup of White’s pre-digital instrumentation combined with Skrillex’s purely digital instrumentation reminded me of a New Orleans artist: Quintron, who combines salvaged and self-constructed instruments with crackling digital noise to make what he calls Swamp Tech.

It made me wonder if White, Moore, or their respective fans of often divergent ages and backgrounds had ever sat down with a Quintron record and realized that their two sounds could somehow be married. It also made me realize that all musical roads, in one way or another, lead back to New Orleans. And that’s the Voodoo that the city does.

Gallery

Photographer: Karina Halle

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