Arctic Monkeys, Janelle Monae, A Perfect Circle Highlight 2018 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience (FESTIVAL RECAP/PHOTOS)

It’s noon. The Star Wars theme blares from the sound system. The gates open.  A quick bag check and pat down and the costumed throngs enter New Orleans’ 10/26-10/18/18. City Park for the start of Voodoo Music + Arts Experience on the weekend of The venue is impossibly muddy, with full-out puddles all over, and soupy, shoe-grabbing mud even in front of the food vendors and bars and hindering safe, or at least quick, passage between stages. But it’s a warm sunny day, and all the smart kids have shrimp boots anyway.

Friday’s line up was the strongest of the three days, leaving little time to explore the “Experience” part of Voodoo – a ferris wheel, crafts, spooky displays, sponsor tents, and endless outlets for makeup and costuming. After I made the rough trip through the muck to the far stage, Caamp started the day with a solid upbeat folk set. Normally a banjo and guitar duo, they added a third musician for their mellow yet not sleepy set. Up next on that stage was LA rockers Dorothy, fronted by a dynamic and strong-voiced Dorothy Martin. She works the stage and audience, strutting around, playing air guitar, dancing with her guitarists, and belting out great selections from their two albums. Once I arrived mid-set to “Ain’t Our Time To Die”, I wasn’t leaving until the final song, “Freedom”. The band veers hard with an occasional touch of psychedelic, and Dorothy gives them a lot of room to play and shine. This is definitely a band to check out when they come to your town.

Dorothy

The crowds had started to build by the time perennial festers, Third Eye Blind took the stage. They had some new material, but kept the crowd singing along to their endless hits. And from that point the lineup was so strong that rock fans just needed to run back and forth from the two larger rock stages. Many of the bands were in costume but no one committed as hard as “granny” Elle King in a nightgown, pink hair rollers and a walker, complimenting her sparkly makeup and tattoos. She had the crowd in her hand from the first notes of her 15-song set (well actually since her earlier set in the tiny Toyota Music Den). With a powerful voice, strong songwriting, and witty repartee, she rules over the stage and it’s easy to understand how she got so big, so quick, and moved beyond just her huge hit “Ex’s & Oh’s”.

Personal fave and New Orleans locals The Revivalists played a brilliant but oh-too-short 10-song set kicking off with “Oh No” from their forthcoming album Take Good Care. Frontman David Shaw was bouncing around and making full use of the huge ramp into the crowd that had been set up for the evening’s headliner, reaching down to touch fans and seemingly singing to a single person in the crowd. And while one can barely look away from Shaw, the rest of the band is rocking hard, dancing and having time of their lives, including a new and eighth player, a smiling drummer/percussionist PJ Howard. By the fourth song, “It Was A Sin”, the crowd was singing every word and when the band went into an extended jam, even keyboard/trumpet player Michael Giradot was down the ramp and into the pit and playing his trumpet into the crowd. It seemed they were going to close with hit “Wish I Knew You” but with a quick change into track suits, Shaw, Giradot and sax player Rob Ingraham prowled every corner of the stage and had the crowd screaming along with the Beastie Boys “Fight for Your Right”. As the exhausted crowd yelled for more, a triumphant Shaw reminded everyone to be sure to vote.

A dark and solid set by A Perfect Circle and a fun show by Rainbow Kitten Surprise led up to headliners Mumford  & Sons. From the first moments of the show when Marcus Mumford walked down the runway to drum on “See A Sign”, he commanded. By the third song “Little Lion Man”, the entire band including Ted Dwayne on upright bass was on the ramp surrounded by loving fans, somehow making this huge show more intimate. As they launched into “Believe”, Mumford implored the crowd to light up whatever they had and suddenly the entire field was lit up with phones. After thirteen songs and a three song encore (“If I Say”, “I Will Wait for You”, and “The Wolf”) and Mumford’s ability to work the stage, swap between guitar and drums, and sing, I was a convert to their brand of roots rock.

Travis Scott

Day Two started the same way but the crowd had upped their costuming game for Saturday night, and the mud has slightly dried or at least thickened up. Headliner Childish Gambino had cancelled; but Voodoo quickly replaced him with rapper Travis Scott. Unfortunately, another major last minute cancellation of rockers Highly Suspect left both a hole in the schedule and the loss of a band that I and many others were really looking to check out. Locals Motel Radio kicked things off on the South Course stage with their melodic atmospheric rock. And while not in costume, towards the end of their set they launched into the distinctive “Redbone”, finished, and announced “Thank you. We are Childish Gambino”. The rest of the rock line up was limited to Starcrawler, The Wallows, The Coronas, Big Thief and Marilyn Manson, a full range of rock styles but none stood out. Electronic music Odesza, complete with a drum line, and rapper Travis Scott closed the main Altar stage.

Janelle Monae ended up being the big draw of the day and provided an incredible, empowering, political, and highly choreographed show. From the moment her band, her four dancers and then Monae took the stage in her red black and white tailored jacket, tights and thigh high boots, she engaged the crowd and hit with a long version of “Crazy, Classic, Life”. With quite a few costume changes (many right on stage without a pause in the action), she ran through many songs from her current album Dirty Computer, including “Pynk”, dressed up in pink “pussy” pants. Her back catalog was well represented too. She chose to implore the crowd “to protect those who may not be as privileged as you and to vote for those who want to fight for all of us, not some of us, and who don’t support our abuser-in-chief.” She got half-way through closer “Tightrope” when her time ended and the sound cut her off. Unfazed, she continued to sing, dance and perform the number to the fans. They couldn’t hear, but they got it, you can’t stop Janelle! An adorable Lizzo had warmed up the crowd with her pro-women pop show coaxing everyone to love themselves – “If I’m feeling down, it ain’t Beyonce who’s gonna walk over to pick me up.  It’s me.”

Janelle Monae

It’s now Sunday in New Orleans. And there’s always choices, too many choices – The Saints game, a Black Men of Labor second line, but Arctic Monkeys and Judah and the Lion get my vote and it’s off to City Park for the last day of Voodoo. The line-up feels stronger with vintage R&B The O’My’s, soul 10-piece The Suffers (dressed as Princess Peach and various Super Mario characters), pop AJR, indie kings Modest Mouse, funksters Lettuce and kicked off by all-female driving rock and rollers Thunderpussy.

Commitment to costuming was won by Sunflower Bean. Lead singer/bassist Julia Cumming was a spot-on Tonya Harding and her manager (sitting back stage) was Nancy Kerrigan; guitarist Jacob Faber was YouTube’s Report of the Week. They also won my award for best new discovery. From the moment they started up with “Burn It” from their new album, it sounded harder than their recordings. They never let up during their set offering songs from both albums, trading lead vocals, and adding an edge. Most definitely the next set of tickets I buy.

Judah and the Lion might have been the most upbeat and encouraging show of the festival. The band danced onto the stage to “Booty Wurk” before launching into “Twenty-Somethings”. Lead singer Judah Akers, calling the crowd “family”, introduced most of the songs, noting the sentiment in each. He called up Erin from Lafayette from the rail to sing with him when they covered The Killers’ “Mr Brightside”, and the whole crowd was singing already anyway. Launching then into “Suit and Jacket”, their youth anthem that speaks equally well to the older ones amongst us – “Everybody I know growing old too quickly… how can I slow it down so I can figure out who I am?” – They never stopped moving – whether dancing with their instruments, pulling their shirts up over their heads and prancing about, or just throwing themselves into the song and about the stage. As they noted, they have strived to just be themselves so that if you like them, you like the real them. This was evidenced as they pulled their shirts up over their faces mid-way through Reputation and finished the song that way – I don’t care about my reputation.  Their set ended with the requisite two minute dance party leading into “Take It All Back” and Akers surfing out into the supportive crowd.

Arctic Monkeys

Closing the festival, the Arctic Monkeys were tremendous with a hard and heavy set that made me regret not making their tour this summer. Starting ten minutes early and finishing almost as many minutes late, front man Alex Turner, his strong and insightful lyrics, and the heavy drums of Matthew Helders carried the night. They kicked off with “Four Out Of Five” with Turner first on guitar then on his keyboard, a bit mellow to start. Next up, “Arabella” led to the huge sound of “Do I Wanna Know?”. Each Arctic Monkeys show I see, I notice something different – the songwriting, the lyrics, Turner’s presence, the crowd’s energy – but this show the drumming stood out. While the show de-intensified at times either with new songs unknown to the crowd or just more mellow ones, the lulls were over quickly and the rhythm section brought the intensity back to a 10 plus. An amazing 18-song set led to a past curfew, three-song encore (“Star Treatment”, “One For The Road” and “R U Mine?”) that no sound man dared cut off.

After an exhausting three days and nights, I had few regrets (besides my inability to go out after Voodoo Festival to sample New Orleans’ exhaustive music and nightlife scene). The EDM line up at Le Plur always bring some surprises but the mud sea between the stages deterred me from wandering over to check it out, and even when I knew the band and wanted to go, I just couldn’t do it. And there were probably more than a few ravers who never wandered over to check out the rock and rap acts either. But there’s always next year. And we will be back, might even commit to a costume.

 

 

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