Voodoo Experience 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

Rain, mud, and weak sets can't stop the Halloween spirit in the Big Easy


    According to New Orleans Voodoo traditions, songs sung during trance are used as keys to open the gateway between the spirit and human worlds – they essentially invite a deity to possess someone, who will in turn impart that spirit’s wisdom.

    This past weekend during the 17th annual Voodoo Music + Arts Experience at New Orleans City Park, at least one song served up from among the festival’s highly diverse lineup must’ve invoked enough magic to invite the rain gods to move on in and do their worst. Friday, which featured standout sets from the Joy Formidable, Metric, and Florence and the Machine, was spared, but heavy showers throughout Saturday’s fare – a Halloween celebration appropriately capped by the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne, alongside guests Geezer Butler, Slash, and Tom Morello – transformed the grounds into a veritable swamp.

    Grounds by Joshua Mellin
    Photo by Joshua Mellin

    By Sunday morning, the possession was total and complete: fest organizers issued the notice of cancellation around 11 a.m., citing safety issues (at least a foot of water to wade through in some spots, judging by the photos that surfaced) and offering a precise 1/3 refund for the final day, which touted Deadmau5, Zac Brown Band, Eric Prydz, Third Eye Blind, Slightly Stoopid, Chance the Rapper, the Cult, among others.


    The wisdom imparted was merely a reminder of the fact that any festival veteran would attest to: Anything can and will happen at a festival, including rain-outs (though they’re extremely rare), so all parties involved, from the artists on stage to the thousands of fans, need to make each and every moment count. And by all rights, barely anyone squandered their time. Hell, this is a festival that bounced back even after Hurricane Katrina had eradicated the landscape just months before in 2005.

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Having said that, the weekend’s nasty weather could not be ignored, cursing the music at hand and the already lackluster attendance. It wasn’t a great weekend, probably not even a good one by all accounts, but the spirit of All Hallow’s Eve was alive and well. Those who endured attempted to make Voodoo Fest one of the Big Easy’s best Halloween bashes, and that alone is commendable.

    –David Brendan Hall
    Contributing Writer

    Painfully Unenthusiastic, Blatantly Selfish

    Gerard Way

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    A festival set not wasted is one where – even if the audience isn’t having a huge reaction – the artist on stage is giving 100 percent the entire time. With only 40 minutes or so to win over his fans, the former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way didn’t seem devoted in the slightest. Throughout a set of songs pulled almost exclusively from 2014’s Hesitant Alien, the lanky frontman stalked the stage – occasionally putting his foot on a monitor for added effect (maybe?) – looking bored and sounding tired. Perhaps he was exhausted toward the end of this album’s tour cycle, but he also effectively alienated any diehard MCR fans by neglecting to play a single track from that group’s four albums. Instead, he tossed out a cover of Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Snakedriver”, which seemed like a more selfish decision than an interesting one. –David Hall

    Best Attempt at Battling Rain with Sexual Antics


    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Canadian artist Peaches got the short end of the stick on Saturday. Her set on the Carnival stage at 5:15 p.m. coincided precisely with the heaviest rainfall of the weekend, so not too many folks made it over to watch her wonderfully lewd grinding and rap-singing. Her backup dancers’ appearance in vagina costumes sparked some initial excitement, but even when the rain let up slightly, there was minimal to zero reaction during repetitive party cuts like “Dick In the Air”, one of a few tracks featured off this year’s Rub. “I’ve been singing this for three minutes and I don’t see one dick in the air,” she taunted. “Those are hands – I know the difference.” Under different circumstances, her highly sexualized antics might’ve incited a wild party, but this was a decidedly no-air-dicks kinda day. –David Brendan Hall

    Most Fun … In Spurts


    Metric by Joshua Mellin
    Photo by Joshua Mellin

    Nearly two decades into their career, Metric has established itself as a band that – with an arsenal of infectiously catchy hits spanning six albums – is impossible to dislike live. Frontwoman Emily Haines’ air of command and unstoppable pep is the main thrust behind that, and Friday night on the Altar stage she was in top form.

    That said, their albums, including this past summer’s Pagans in Vegas, tend to be inconsistent – about half the tracks tout that memorable pop quality while the others blend into the milieu, making the record as a whole intermittently lose momentum. Their set this evening paralleled that: The band’s unveiling with festive animal head masks and Haines’ flashy peacock getup on opening cut “Lie Lie Lie” were fun gimmicks, but they didn’t really start to sound powerful until the end of third song, “Help I’m Alive”.

    Metric - Amanda Koelner 2
    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    “Cascades” kept that energy at its peak with an electronic vibe that visibly pleased the ranks of attentive millenials, but “Satellite Mind”, normally so warm and uplifting inside a small club space, sounded empty unwinding across the vast fairgrounds and Haines was slightly off-key throughout, which somewhat killed the mojo halfway through the show. The one-two punch of “Gold Guns Girls” and “Celebrate” represented another peak, while “Breathing Underwater” felt obligatory – another unfortunate trough to end it. The group retired “Combat Baby” as a show closer a couple of tours ago (understandably, as they played it every night for years), but maybe for Halloween they should’ve come “dressed” as old-school Metric – that song and few others off Live it Out never miss. –David Brendan Hall


    Best Small but Mighty Crowd

    Public Image LTD

    Public Image LTD - Amanda Koellner.3
    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Former Sex Pistols frontman John “Rotten” Lyndon took the Carnival stage about 15 minutes late (perhaps delayed from the weather) as a small crowd gathered and wondered how’d they’d be able to hear the post-punk outfit with Jane’s Addiction’s sound carrying loudly over to the smaller stage. But as soon as the 59-year-old and his band came out, sound bleed wasn’t an issue. Although the majority of Voodoo-goers were split between braving the rain over at the more EDM-heavy Le Plur or doing the same at the main stage for Perry Farrell and co, the small but mighty crowd of super fans at Public Image LTD professed their love for Johnny, often screaming his name at any musicless moment. –Amanda Koellner

    Best Recent Self Employment

    Ruby Amanfu

    Ruby Amanfu by Joshua Mellin
    Photo by Joshua Mellin

    When Frank Turner had to cancel his 5 p.m. set due to a case of unfortunate food poisoning, Ruby Amanfu slid into his slightly later time slot. Playing first to a meager crowd, likely initially confused by the scheduling switch, she drew in passersby and fans alike by the third song, her smoky cover of Kanye West’s “Street Lights” (off 808s and Heartbreak), which appears on Amanfu’s recent solo album, Standing Still. Having named her band “The Red Hearts” on the fly, the Nashville-based singer nodded to her two most recent employers, Hozier and Jack White, while proving that she has the pipes, charisma, and talent to continue to be a force in music by being her own boss. –Amanda Koellner

    Most Promising (and Perhaps Misleading) New Music Preview

    The Joy Formidable

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Welsh trio the Joy Formidable is a reliable rock group. Meaning I’ve never once seen them turn in a set where they weren’t having fun – facing off during spurts of raucous guitars solos, grinning madly and generally playing at the highest volume possible – and thus ensuring the audience, too, has a blast every moment.

    Their Friday afternoon set on Voodoo’s Altar stage played to that strength by including some of the rowdiest cuts in their catalogue (“This Ladder is Ours”, “Maw Maw Song”, and the epic build of “Whirring”) while they cavorted candidly across the stage. And they sweetened the deal by pulling out a new tune, “Passerby”, which tapped into a Queens of the Stone Age-esque heaviness while maintaining their penchant for blissful harmonies and swirling shredding.

    Whether it was a good representation of what their upcoming third studio album, the follow-up to 2013’s Wolf’s Law, will sound like is debatable. “That’s not actually on the fucking album,” said frontwoman Ritzy Bryan. “But it’s good for a laugh.” –David Brendan Hall


    Best Dressed (and Unstoppably Soulful)

    The Suffers

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Houston soul outfit the Suffers have had a helluva year. They just opened for Lionel Richie in Austin last weekend, and on Saturday scored a main stage Halloween set (a Voodoo graduation of sorts from their performance on the Flambeau stage last year). The trade-off was that they had to play earlier (2:15 p.m.) on a gloomy day, so the crowd was noticeably smaller and somewhat lethargic.

    But with 10 ultra-talented members – led by powerhouse vocalist Kam Franklin – who masterfully melded guitars, keys, congas, and blaring horns on an array of cumbia-influenced tunes off their upcoming full-length debut, small spurts of a dance party were inevitable. Party, in fact, was the key word: Each member was dressed as party-master Andrew W.K. with long, black-haired wigs, fake-bloodstained faces, and white T-shirts. Extra points and big ups to a band that remembers to have a little fun in the midst of hitting a serious industry stride. –David Brendan Hall

    Best Senior Citizen to Host the Electronic Stage

    Giorgio Moroder

    Giorgio Moroder-Amand Koellner.1
    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Passing a pair in Daft Punk costumes en route to Giorgio Moroder, it was clear the mostly younger audience was primarily familiar with Giorgio thanks to his contributions to the robot’s Random Access Memories, but that didn’t stop many from camping out the entire day to see the forefather of electronic music spin a wild yet accessible party set. –Joshua Mellin

    Best Sing-a-long

    Modest Mouse

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Modest Mouse’s 2015 live set has grown with intensity as each tour stop passes. As a live band, they seem even greater than their high water mark of popularity in the early 2000s, hitting the stage with renewed purpose and an even deeper wealth of energetic live songs — from this year’s excellent Stangers to Ourselves to unifying sing-a-longs of yesteryear like “Float On”. –Joshua Mellin

    Best Giver of Donuts


    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Santigold was a true babe for the city of New Orleans last weekend. First, she performed at LaPlace Elementary School to celebrate a VH1 Save the Music grant that will allow the school to implement a music education program for the first time since Hurricane Katrina (inviting students to dance with her during “Creator” in true Santigold fashion). And the following day, prior to her rainy evening set (one of the last before the fest’s Sunday cancellation), she told the crowd, “You’re wet, you’re tired, and you’re probably hungry. I’m going to try a new song, and then I’m gonna give you guys donuts.” As promised, her two wonderful dancers promptly gifted anyone along the rails with dozens upon dozens of Dunkin Donuts. This put the smile on the faces of many lucky festival attendees, who were indeed wet, tired, and hungry. –Amanda Koellner

    A Halloween Party Worthy of the Prince of the Darkness

    Ozzy Osbourne w/ Slash, Geezer Butler, and Tom Morello

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    At most other contemporary music festivals, an EDM closer like Steve Angello or Zhu would draw the bulk of the younger crowd, but a fairly thorough survey by the CoS team throughout Saturday’s proceedings suggested that Ozzy Osbourne (set to feature Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, Slash and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello) was the undisputed main attraction among all generations present.

    That research held up when Osbourne’s 9:30 p.m. set time on the Altar (main) stage drew near. Droves of costumed millennials and old-school diehards braved the rain to get a prime spot. The crowd was tiny compared to Florence’s the previous night, but it had been raining for hours at this point, so a hefty handful of peeps had likely already bailed.

    Though his voice sounded painfully weak and off-key when he launched into the set with ‘80s era cut “I Don’t Know”, his masterfully maniacal disposition – grinning like a ghoul, jumping, head-banging, and turning a foam hose on the crowd during set closer “Crazy Train” and encore ender “Paranoid” – was intact, culminating into a performance worthy of the Prince of Darkness on Halloween.


    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Yet much of the set’s oomph was owed to the “and friends” concept. Butler’s presence was cool for its historical context on key Sabbath cuts like “War Pigs” and “Faeries Wear Boots”, and Slash added some necessary rock star flash, though he’s such a static player – cool, collected, and technically perfect and yet stock-still throughout – that you’d never have spotted him up there if not for his signature top hat.

    Meanwhile, Morello – the first guest out early on for classics “Mr. Crowley” and “Bark at the Moon” – was clearly living out a childhood fantasy. He was five years old when Sabbath’s 1970 debut dropped, so one can only imagine his excitement, and he didn’t waste one moment of it. He was all smiles, shred-faces, kicks and jumps while injecting mainstays like “Iron Man”, “N.I.B.”, and finale “Paranoid” with his signature wah-wah-heavy solos, occasionally drawing extra cheers by flipping over his “Arm the Homeless” axe to reveal an “OZZY RULES” sign hand-scrawled on the back.

    Morello accomplished a lot with Rage Against the Machine, but he’s rarely had chances like this to show off his true worth as one of the most creative heavy rock guitarists of the last couple decades. He owes Ozzy for this spotlight opportunity (set for a Nov. 22 encore when the group headlines Ozzfest in Japan), but truly, this was Morello’s big moment. Conclusion: The guy needs to play in more metal projects ASAP. –David Hall


    Best Nod to NOLA’s Lingering Music Spirits

    Jane’s Addiction

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Even for a seasoned band like Jane’s Addiction, there’s gotta be some degree of pressure when you’re slated to open for Ozzy Osbourne on Halloween (add to that a day of irksome rain and mud that would’ve deterred less dedicated crowds).

    But Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, drum titan Stephen Perkins, and bassist Chris Chaney (back after founding bassist Eric Avery’s second departure in 2010) played it extremely smart, splitting the bulk of their hour between the best of 1988’s Nothing Shocking (“Ocean Size”, “Mountain Song”, and a steel-drum-accented “Jane Says” for the one-song encore) and 1990’s Ritual de lo habitual (“Stop!”, “Been Caught Stealing”, and “Three Days”).


    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    The scattered storms worked in their favor, too: the showers added an eerily ironic juxtaposition to the epic, spiraling riffs of “Up the Beach”, and the precipitation’s sudden disappearance during “Ocean Size” right afterward made that song’s thunderous sweep all the more exultant. Farrell added a verbal fuck you directed at the weather, too: “People said ‘Don’t go out tonight … seek higher ground,’” he said wistfully. “So I started getting high …”


    The flamboyant frontman drove home the set’s momentousness by paying homage to some of New Orleans’ music history. He recalled the band’s early days playing at local club Tipitina’s, asking the crowd, “Is Professor Longhair still around?” Clearly, he was aware that the revered blues singer and pianist passed away in 1980, punctuated by a knowing smile when he posed a clever follow-up question: “Is his spirit still around?” A roar of cheers suggested an affirmative. –David Brendan Hall

    Undisputed Queen of Voodoo

    Florence and the Machine

    Florence 4 by Joshua Mellin
    Photo by Joshua Mellin

    Florence Welch is the epitome of a rockstar. When a broken foot rendered her unable to jump and dance at Coachella’s second weekend back in April, the prognosis predicted a stripped-back collection of sets for Flo’s festival-packed summer as doctors instructed her to stay off the foot for at least six months. But less than eight weeks later at Bonnaroo, she leapt, twirled, and sprinted, and her headlining Voodoo slot Friday night featured an equal number of calisthenics as Flo delivered a powerful, 14-song set in a bright pink satin pantsuit and a hauntingly beautiful Day of the Dead face by local makeup artist Karri Farris.

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Florence and the Machine sets immerse their audience in both glorious melodrama (“Delilah”, “Queen of Peace”) and uplifting camaraderie (“Shake it Out”, “Dog Days Are Over”). And Flo’s usual festival tricks–jumping into the audience, asking everyone to kiss each other and shed clothing, stripping off her own shirt toward the end of the night–were in full force. But even for those lucky enough to jump into the Machine on multiple occasions this summer, these moments felt neither contrived nor tired. Although Ozzy Osbourne with Slash, Geezer, and Tom Morello in tow might have made for the most unique moment of the all-too-short weekend, Florence’s prowess as a festival headliner still stole the show. –Amanda Koellner