Since 1999 Voodoo Fest has been rocking New Orleans’ City Park and the 2016 edition was no exception. Headlined by mega R&B star The Weeknd, alternative metal gods Tool, and indie rock heavyweights Arcade Fire, the festival brought a mixed crowd of young and old united by their love of listening to live music and dressing up in costumes. Set on a Halloween weekend, October 28th to 30th, a majority of those in attendance and those on stage donned outrageous outfits. Art was also a feature of the event, especially the interactive cemetery sculptural installation that summoned ghosts of the old south. With a smaller footprint than Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza, navigating the fest’s four main stages was pretty easy. Blessed with good weather, Voodoo Fest goers need only complain about the dusty earth and above average temperatures rather than the inclement weather that canceled the final day of the fest in 2015.
It was not surprising to see Day One at Voodoo Fest pack the largest and youngest crowd of the weekend. With a line-up that included a rare appearance of The Weeknd in the Crescent City and artists like G-Eazy and MUTEMATH that have ties to the local community, Day One was all about getting your groove on. The Le Plur Stage saw early action. With performances by Cheat Codes, Lost Kings, Slander, and What So Not, the beats kept going at that EDM stage. A strong undercard of smooth tunes came courtesy of Seratones, Mayer Hawthorne, and Wild Belle. With Kevin Gates literally tied up for a few months, the crowd also benefited by an unexpected performance by the hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd. The following is a recap of the top artists from Day One.
Coming off of a summer tour as opening act for Twenty One Pilots, New Orleans’ own MUTEMATH took the massive Altar Stage to a late afternoon crowd of sun worshipers. Dancing and moving around on stage like a possessed man, vocalist Paul Meany kicked off their set with the synthy soulful song “Used To” off of the 2015 release Vitals followed by “Light Up” off of the same album – more atmospheric pop tunes that recall the catchiness of Miike Snow. “Blood Pressure” from 2011’s Odd Soul (QRO review) moved the set into a more rocking territory with Meany doing his signature keyboard body slam until his heels were above his head and drummer Darren King hitting the drums so hard the brakes on the casters that kept his riser in place where pushed to their limits. Returning to their more dance-y basslines, MUTEMATH performed their latest single “Changes” to a grooving crowd. Towards the end of their set, Meany brought his young daughter onto the stage with pink guitar in hand to accompany him on the instrumental track “Reset” off of MUTEMATH’s 2006 self-titled album, a touching moment that made the crowd go, “Aww…”
“Gerald! Gerald! Gerald!” The young crowd for G-Eazy chanted enthusiastically as they waited for the lanky Bay Area rapper with New Orleans ties to appear on the Altar Stage. Dressed in a purple three-piece suit with green slicked back hair, DC comics Joker face paint, and a gleaming gold grill, G-Eazy took the stage and launched into “Random” from 2015’s When It’s Dark. G-Eazy was feeling real sentimental during pyrotechnics-enhanced set, mentioning how he moved here in 2008 and snuck into Voodoo Fest and then later played the fest at nearly the same stage, albeit much earlier in the day. He even gave a shout out to his first show at the Republic, a stage he would take at an after show on Saturday night. While G-Eazy kept the crowd moving, he kept his radio hits like “I Mean It” and “Me Myself and I” backed up by a New Orleans brass band towards the end of his set. Instead, the middle of his performance was dominated by random digressions such as a political rap featuring the lyrics “Fuck Donald Trump” that oddly had thousands of concert-goers in this very red state chanting along, and a marriage proposal between fans Matt and Jess. A proposal of fidelity at a show with lyrics like “You really think she stay true? / I doubt it ‘cause I’m fucking your girlfriend / And there’s nothing you can do about it,” made a few in the audience roll their eyes.
Descending on New Orleans from the Great White North by way of Seattle, Reignwolf brought that gritty, striped-down blues-rock that many compare to Jack White – a welcomed injection of dark and moody sounds in a rather dance-centered Friday line-up. Looking like a character out of a Marvel comic, Jordan Cook took the more intimate South Course Stage in black leather jacket and pants, and tore into some guitar licks while he kicked a bass drum in rhythm. His raw energy was fueled by a receptive crowd and a supporting band that appeared as wild as he was. Writhing and contorting his body across the stage, he hit the fans with the singles “Hardcore” from 2016 and “In the Dark” from 2013. At the midpoint in the performance, Cook asks the crowd, “Is it alright if I come out to you?” After which he then climbed off the stage and teetered precariously on the edge of the photo pit barricade while performing “Electric Love” to the crowd that clapped along in rhythm. Reignwolf finished out their set with the haunting tune, “Are You Satisfied?” Judging by the head banging, I think the crowd was satiated.
Undoubtedly, the biggest draw of Voodoo Fest was The Weeknd. The young audience, primarily made up of those in their teens and twenties, that stretched from the front of the Altar Stage to nearly the entrance of the park was going crazy in anticipation of the hot Canadian R&B singer. Running behind schedule, Abel Tesfaye took the stage that was outfitted with triangular scaffolding backdrop to a crowd chanting, “Abel, Abel, Abel!” Wearing black buttoned coat and sans gnarly signature locks, the singer started strong with “The Hills” from 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness and the driving new single “False Alarm”. He worked through his catalog, barely taking a break to talk to the audience, with the exception of stopping at one point to say, “I seen titties in the crowd and shit,” before ripping into “Tell Your Friends”. Tesfaye’s appearance in the Big Easy was a treat for locals, as he admitted that he rarely comes to New Orleans. With a laid back vibe for most of his set, the crowd tended to linger longer than usual, staying for his last hits, “I Can’t Feel My Face” and “Starboy” before Uber began surging by 5x.
If the lineup for Day One of Voodoo Experience was aimed at reaching a younger crowd wanting to dance, Day Two was made for the older head-banging type. The undercard on Saturday afternoon featured All Them Witches, a Nashville-based stoner rock band followed by their cross-town mates Bully, a female-fronted indie rock band that resurrects grunge as translated through an angsty little sister. As darkness fell, an odd pairing of two Latin artists with distinctly different approaches to music took the stage across the park from each other. New York Singer/Songwriter Melanie Martinez’s indie electronic versus Texas singer/songwriter/guitarist Shakey Graves’ self-described “hobo folk.” The top headliners for Saturday night divided the audience in an interesting way with “zef” South African rave-rappers Die Antwoord courting the 30-and-under crowd and metal gods Tool taking those roughly 30-years-old-and-above. Tool’s performance of material mostly from Aenima, Lateralus, and Opiate proved to characterize the feel for Saturday’s top acts with their heavy guitar licks and anti-religious themes that drew the largest crowd of the day.
The Claypool Lennon Delirium
Les Claypool has been a revered pioneer of bass slapping since the peak of his Primus (QRO spotlight on) days in the early ‘90s, not too many years before Sean Lennon began cutting his teeth as a young guitarist in his own right on his debut release Into the Sun from 1998. Although nearly twelve years apart in age, the two share in common a love of the psychedelic and the weird. At Voodoo Experience the two came together as The Claypool Lennon Delirium in support of their 2016 release Monolith of Phobos, an album with a strong psychedelic vibe featuring Claypool’s signature bass lines combined with Lennon’s whimsical lyrics. From the onset, their late afternoon set was less about playing radio-friendly tunes and more about a prolonged jam session with long instrumental interludes. The set kicked off with parts one and two of “Cricket and the Genie” and “Breath of a Salesman” from their debut release. The end of their set featured a fitting tribute to two psych rock pioneers – Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” and The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
Cage the Elephant
Laying down solid rock tunes in the vein of The Black Keys and Queens of the Stone Age was Cage the Elephant, featuring frontman Matt Shultz and his boundless energy. Hitting the Altar Stage in vampire teeth and two drips of blood on his chin, Shultz spent nearly an hour running and jumping back and forth across the stage as he belted out hit after hit starting with “Cry Baby” from Tell Me I’m Pretty and “In One Ear” from their self-titled debut album. Ripping off his shirt, Shultz took little time chatting with the audience, instead taking time getting a little physical by walking out into the audience and crowd surfing. “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” was a crowd favorite that had many singing along to the jangly chorus, “There ain’t no rest for the wicked / Money don’t grow on trees / I got bills to pay / I got mouths to feed / There ain’t nothing in this world for free,” real talk lyrics that resonated with the older working class folks in the audience.
Taking the Halloween vibe to the next level was Ghost, the Swedish heavy metal band in full on religious-themed theatrical costuming. Lead vocalist Papa Emeritus III’s skull make-up and papal attire was contrasted by five demon-like instrumentalist known only as “Nameless Ghouls” dressed in obscure black church regalia and silver faceless horned masks. Paying tribute to devil horn heavy metal of the 1980s, they began their ceremonial set with “Square Hammer” from 2016’s Meliora, a thunderous anthem featuring a church-like organ and power chords. Often pointing to the guitarists and making a clapping gesture, Papa Emeritus III encouraged praise and worship that fell a little flat to the audience. It seemed that despite the elaborate costuming and spectacular stage show, intense fandom was missing from the crowd at Voodoo Experience and they came across as a humorous caricature of metal bands of a bygone era. Their talents are not without merit though, having recently won a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance for “Cirice” this year.
Day Three of Voodoo Experience was lighter in attendance than Friday and Saturday, offering Sunday’s crowd closer views of acts such as Canadian Rocker Bob Moses, Georgia electro-rockers STS9, EDM festival favorites Gramatik, and New York DJ duo The Chainsmokers. Sunday also had two of the most impressive theatrics of the entire festival with Puscifer literally holding wrestling matches on stage and a belly dancer from Beats Antique symbolically slaying a 20-foot-tall dragon. Arcade Fire closed out the fest with their emotionally moving tunes putting a nice ribbon on a weekend of great music in NOLA.
Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals
Ever since getting his break on Dr. Dre’s album Compton last year, Anderson .Paak’s star has been rising, and with a slew of festivals under their belt in 2016, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals delivered one of the top performances of Voodoo Experience. Rushing onto the stage to Guns and Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle”, wearing a long black wig and bandana, .Paak kicked off the groves with “Come Down” from this year’s Malibu then drifting into “Milk and Honey” from 2014’s Venice. .Paak then jumped onto the drum kit for “Put Me Thru”, showing off his skills as a drummer in addition to his rapping skills. Several times throughout the set, he stopped to chat with the audience. At one point telling the crowd to, “Turn to your neighbor and kiss their cheek.” Sunday’s performance also saw .Paak perform “Glowed Up”, a song with KAYTRANADA on 99.9%. Although the crowd was noticeably smaller on Day Three, they were turnt up. At one point, .Paak said it was their third show in a row on their Halloween tour and even though he was tired, the audience brought him back to life.
Shrouded in mystery on Saturday night at Tool wearing paramilitary tactical gear at the rear of a dimly lit stage, Maynard James Keenon’s late Sunday afternoon performance on the Pepsi Stage with Puscifer brought him out into the light, albeit still concealing most of his face behind a mask and his body in a tiger stripped onesie. The alt rock band Puscifer is a sharp contrast to Keenan’s work in Tool, with more melodic passages and less musical virtuosity, making the set work well in the waning afternoon sun. Puscifer had perhaps the most elaborate stage design of the weekend, as everyone on stage donned Mexican wrestler outfits with elaborate masks and a truncated wrestling ring erected at the rear of the stage. Puscifer performed songs of their latest release Money Shot such as “The Remedy” with lyrics, “You speak like someone who has never been smacked in the fucking mouth,” while actual wrestling was happening in the ring – a nice touch of theatricality that was missing from Ghost’s set the night before.
Oakland-based experimental world fusion group Beats Antique brought another elaborate stage performance to Voodoo Fest’s Pepsi Stage – notable for the group of exotic belly dancers led by the lovely Zoey Jakes and accompanied by the talented instrumentalist David Satori and Tommy Cappel on percussion and strings. With “Egyptic” from 2010’s Blind Threshold and “Beauty Beats” from 2008’s Collide, the group turned some folks in the audience not familiar with their work into instant fans. While Satori and Cappel were dressed as nuns and set back on the stage, Jakes stole the show with her belly dancing, vase balancing, and percussion playing. During the third song of their set, Jakes was joined by three other belly dancers at the front of the stage to create a drum line for one of their newest songs, “Three Sisters” off of this year’s Shadowbox. The lighting and theatrics made the entire set really enjoyable to watch, especially with added touches like when one of the belly dancers took out a large cutlass and slayed an inflatable dragon that took up nearly the whole stage.
With reports of a New Orleans house party on Saturday night that featured Arcade Fire performing new material, many in the crowd were eager to hear what new songs the band was going to perform. While none of the 19 songs played were new tunes on the final night of Voodoo Experience, the crowd was not disappointed as the 13 musicians played an inspired emotional set of material almost equally divided between Funeral, Reflektor (QRO review), The Suburbs (QRO review), and Neon Bible (QRO review). Dressed in his signature white on white attire, Win Butler took the stage with guitar in hand to perform “Ready to Start” followed by “Suburbs” on piano and “Sprawl II” with wife Regine Chassagne on vocals. What seemed like a cavernous stage to most acts, the Altar Stage was the perfect size for a band with over a dozen musicians – giving plenty of space for multi-instrumentalists Chassagne and the Butler brothers Win & Will to move around. The well-received set was punctuated by Win stopping to make political comments on local issues such as “BP paid one-tenth of what they fuck they should have” and “fuck private prisons.” He also had some words of advice for those conflicted with the current presidential nominees, explaining that “Intervention” was written when George Bush was in office and even though he wasn’t inspired by the candidate at the time, he voted for Al Gore anyway. Despite these charged political statements, a sense of harmony permeated the festival especially as they closed out their set with “Wake Up” from 2004’s Funeral with the fans singing along as they headed for the exit gates one final time.