Voodoo Music Experience: New Orleans, New Orleans, LA, 10/26 – 10/28/12

The 2012 Voodoo Music Experience has come and gone. The field has been cleared of debris and the last echoes of electronic notes have evaporated on gusts of wind rushing through the trees. The Ferris wheel has been packed up and shipped off to its next destination and the vendors are back in solid buildings in and around the Crescent City. If you stand out there now, you would never know that a monstrous metal band, an innovative DaVinci-esque songwriting guitar player and a feisty Canadian legend were all giving sermons from a stage just a few feet away. It is a forlorn feeling, thinking back. The music business is changing, again, and the next-big-thing you just saw may have already collapsed under the unsteady footing of too much is not necessarily a good thing.

The Voodoo Experience is the youthful hip counterpart of New Orleans’ own Jazz Fest; although Jazz Fest 2012 had not only the Foo Fighters but Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. Voodoo had a lot of work to do to come close to that extravaganza. With headliners Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Jack White and Green Day, they were on their way until Billie Joe Armstrong had some problems and the band pulled out. Scrambling ensued and the mighty Metallica were convinced to pull their stage out of storage. Nabbing this band was probably the best move the Fest organizers ever did and hopefully they will remember the feedback when booking for next year. The rock is where it’s at.

Although Skrillex attracted a horde of young worshipers, it was Metallica, Jack White and Neil Young that brought the people through the gates and yet they too garnered some mixed reactions. A longtime fan thought Young’s guitar solos were too long and rambling, and a major Metallica disciple thought their set was a bit sluggish. The only complaint heard about Jack White’s set was from the professional photographers who hated the blue lights he used to illuminate his stage; otherwise he was untouchable. Dave Stewart, the former Eurythmic, was the sleeper hit of the festival and Black Box Revelation scored numerous new fans with their energetic guitar rock. And blues guitar player Gary Clark Jr? Simply amazing.

Friday, generally the slowest day of the festival, started to pick up in the early afternoon, once bands like Star & Dagger took to the stage. The brainchild of former White Zombie bass player Sean Yseult, this punk-flavored rock band “started a couple years ago,” Yseult explained before their set about the band’s origins, “when Dava and I started writing riffs and just kind of hanging out.” With the addition of Von Hesseling as their vocalist, the trio just recently added Dave Catching from Eagles Of Death Metal and Gene Trautmann from Queens Of The Stone Age to fill out their sound.

“It’s been a slow process but we’ve got a full record already recorded and ready to go and should be coming out in May 2013,” continued Yseult. “We already have an EP out and we’ve been playing some great shows. We toured with Down and did some shows with Saint Vitus, we did shows with High On Fire and been out to the west coast, went up to New York. It’s been great.” As witnessed from their live set, “All the songs [on the upcoming CD] are pretty heavy and our singer has this beautiful voice but very soulful and bluesy. Some of it would be considered blues-metal but some of it’s blues-rock. It’s a variety of music but all of it’s heavy and pretty intense.”

Following their set, you had to choose whether to stick around for “Blinded Me With Science” creator Thomas Dolby or head across the field for some blues via Gary Clark Jr or get funkified with George Porter and his Runnin’ Pardners. Supagroup knocked up sunset with their own electric fire while the Avett Brothers rambled into an at-first slumbering first-half that perked up the longer they played. Bootsy Collins spread the love with his cool moves and snatching bass funk.

And then there was Neil Young, huddling close to his Crazy Horse bandmates for most of the night, jamming as if they were young kids with new guitars wanting to play every note a million times. “Walk Like A Giant,” the feeding frenzy of chords that felt like Heaven was crashing down upon us in a clash of titans war, followed by the apocalypse aftermath of “The Needle & The Damage Done” quietness as Young surveyed the landscape of a burned down world on acoustic guitar, made for an unbelievably elongated trek through sin. “They’re all exactly the same – all one big song,” Young joked after “Cinnamon Girl.” Although many thought the long-windedness of “Walk Like A Giant,” was borderline monotony, it was actually a powerful highlight of his set. Neil Young has never been one to follow anyone’s rules and if he wanted to play this riff for two hours straight, he will. It is this come hell or high water attitude that has continued to endear the Canadian to so many for so many years. Ending his regular set with “Hey Hey, My My” and an encore of “Like A Hurricane,” it whetted the appetite for more rock and less computer-generated finger-tapping.

Saturday brought with it some cooler temps and warmer jazz, with the Mainline Brass Band and the Treme Brass Band, as gusty winds swirled across the early morning grounds. Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds was the find of the day. Up and coming on the music scene, Arleigh Kincheloe is a small firebird with a big voice, backed up by an amazing horn section and harmonica player. “There’s something really energetic about this festival,” Kincheloe exclaimed excitedly following their early afternoon set, which featured songs from their recent Pound Of Dirt CD. “You could tell that everyone in New Orleans is a huge music fan so playing for people who are music fans makes the world go around for us.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is AWOLNATION and we came to lose our fucking minds this afternoon,” announced vocalist Aaron Bruno, as he led his band through “Not Your Fault,” “All I Need” and “Burn It Down.” With the crowd consisting of mostly younger adults, Bruno was thrilled how the fans occupied themselves between songs: “It’s always a good sign when there’s crowd surfing between the songs.” An enjoyable set but one that couldn’t compete with the show put on by Dave Stewart, giving undoubtedly the best performance of the whole festival. Despite “freezing your balls off,” Stewart warmed up the cold and enthusiastic crowd that had gathered at the popular Le Carnival stage around sunset. Who needed Annie Lennox when Stewart brought a performance to end the night even before Metallica lit out on the main stage. Performing “Here Comes The Rain,” “Missionary Man,” “Would I Lie To You,” and snatching “Sweet Dreams” back from the clutches of Marilyn Manson, The Ringmaster General and his band, which included the fabulous Ann Marie Calhoun on violin, was steaming hot. Bringing in the Soul Rebels on the aforementioned Eurythmics song added a ton of New Orleans flavor to an already classic tune.

Metallica was the thunder to Stewart’s lightning. “Hello, we’re Green Day,” joked James Hetfield, who wore a smile through most of his band’s set. From “Master Of Puppets” to “Enter Sandman,” “Fade To Black” to “Welcome Home,” “Nothing Else Matters” to “One,” it was a knuckle-to-knuckle hard rock earthquake. Even when the pyro was extinguished, the metal gods hung around to throw picks and wave at fans. It was like they never wanted to leave.

Sunday decided it was not going to be for the lazy, as Stephie & The Whitesox and Dash Rip Rock floored it to open the day with spunk and spit, although the biggest surprise was a duo from Belgium who cranked out some smoking guitar riffs and heart-pounding drums. This is definitely the band to keep an eye on. Coming off of a perhaps mismatched tour with The Sheepdogs, vocalist/future guitar god Jan Paternoster and drummer Dries Van Dijck blazed through a breathtaking “Sealed With Thorns,” “Crazy White Man” and “I Think I Like You.”

Despite Claudio Sanchez’s recent throat problems, Coheed & Cambria power-chorded through their late-afternoon set. “There’s been a cold that has been running through the entire band,” bass player Zach Cooper clarified about the cancellation of some recent tour dates. “Claudio got it and his throat got kind of inflamed.” After flying home from the tour, Sanchez was checked out and given the go-ahead to perform at Voodoo.

Jack White closed out the festival with an enormously simple set of tantalizingly spirited music with minimal frills. At almost twenty songs, White, in pinstripe suit and fedora, smoldered and chased the rock & roll dragon, proving once and for all that he is one of the maestros for all others to emulate and aspire to. Opening with “Sixteen Saltines,” he performed good doses of White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather and solo material: “Blunderbuss,” “Steady As She Goes,” “Catch Hell Blues,” “I Cut Like A Buffalo,” “Hello Operator,” “Fell In Love With A Girl,” “Top Yourself” and “Love Interruption.” With his band clustered in a small circle for which White moved easily from piano to guitar to Bob Dylan-esque wang-dang-doodle, he fed a crowd mixed with young, old and in-between like no other artist this side of the century.

So with the Voodoo Music Experience now blowing through the wind of Louisiana memories, it was a feast for music lovers of all genres; and with three major headliners as they’ve continued to have year after year, Voodoo will continue to pull fans from all over the world for a three day non-stop music party.

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