Words by Shane Colman | Photos by Marc Pagani
Voodoo Fest touched down in City Park for its 15th annual reincarnation, bringing a seemingly disjointed lineup to the massive oak trees of America’s largest urban park. Each of the fest’s four stages seemed to cater to a different music fan, with the college crowd hanging out at the EDM Le Plur stage, the rockers gravitating toward the Carnival stage, the locals grooving at the Flambeau stage, and the families lounging around the Ritual stage. This is New Orleans, though, where folks of all walks of life can look past their differences and come together for a huge party, especially when it’s around Halloween weekend. Check out the highlights and an extensive photo gallery below.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE FEST
Conor Oberst’s newest band is actually one of his oldest, the politically charged hardcore rock band Desaparecidos. The group broke up in 2002 as Oberst’s other project, Bright Eyes, was gathering national attention with every other critic proclaiming Oberst “this generation’s Bob Dylan.” Since then Oberst has collaborated with Jim James and M. Ward, started a country rock band, and officially retired the Bright Eyes name. Onstage with Desaparecidos, Oberst was miles away from the sad soul of his previous work and just plain angry at the government, the internet, and EDM (which he explained stands for “erectile dysfunction music”). The guitars were loud and the drums thunderous as Oberst’s polarizing voice morphed into a strangled howl that spit out lyrics about freedom and remembering what it means to be human. At this point, Oberst’s genre-hopping and leaps of creative faith put him in the company of Neil Young more than Bob Dylan, and his fervent fans will happily follow wherever he goes.
Louisiana’s Royal Teeth delivered an infectious, uplifting set Friday evening that was nothing sort of joyous. Lead singers Gary Larsen and Nora Patterson had huge smiles on their faces as they led the tight band through their anthemic original songs and a choice cover of “Under Pressure.” The band was clearly thrilled to be playing the fest in their home state, and when Larsen climbed up the crowd barrier to reach out to the masses you could almost feel his love. These guys have been touring nationally for the past couple years, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be stopping anytime soon.
All the way from Canada, Jordan Cook (aka Reignwolf) flung himself around the Carnival stage Saturday afternoon like he just sold his soul to the devil. Kicking off the set by himself, Cook strangled out power blues riffs from his guitar while providing his own rhythm section through some inventive drumming. By the time the rest of his band joined him, Cook had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Cook has the energy and stage moves of every rock star wannabe practicing in his bedroom, with the vocals and guitar chops to back it up. A cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” featuring an electric mandolin, gave a quick history lesson in Rock 101 to the EDM saturated festival grounds. If you miss the early Jack White as much as I do, then Jordan Cook’s got you covered.
The mighty Nine Inch Nails, reincarnated with some of the best musicians out there, laid waste to the main stage Saturday night for a set that will be talked about for years to come. Trent Reznor’s glitchy, spooky, industrial rock seems tailor made for Voodoo Fest and got more people moving at the main stage than I saw all weekend. The band blasted through the NIN catalog, from the classic “Head Like a Hole” to the more recent “Came Back Haunted,” all sounding raw and precise. Reznor’s desperate growl seems to be growing more powerful as it weathers with age, cementing him as one of the most distinct voices in rock. But it’s his backing band that really shined last weekend at City Park. Bassist Pino Palladino has played with everyone from The Who to Eric Clapton, and it’s amazing how well he’s adapted to the NIN sound. Backing vocalist Lisa Fischer provided some soulful harmonies, and a jaw dropping vocal solo to one song, that added a whole new dimension. Having only heard a few songs before this show, I’m now officially sold on the haunting beauty that is Nine Inch Nails.
Moon Taxi have been making a name for themselves for a few years now, and their explosive set at Voodoo displayed a band at the top of their game. Although embraced by the jam band world, their songs rarely stretch on past the 4-5 minute mark and feature tight, focused playing led by the soaring vocals of Trevor Terndrup. The band’s five members have great chemistry, effortlessly pushing and pulling each song in unexpected directions that never sound forced and always get the crowd moving. It takes some serious confidence to pull of a cover of Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer” less than 24 hours after Trent Reznor blew away the main stage, but these guys managed to both honor the original while putting their own spin on the modern classic. The band’s versatility, raw power, and sense of fun bring to mind another rock band from down south that happily defies categorization: the one and only My Morning Jacket.
SETLIST: Running Wild, Hypnus, All the Rage, River Water, Suspicious, Southern Trance, Morroco, The New Black, Cabaret, Closer (Nine Inch Nails cover), Mercury
Hometown heroes The Revivalists got the Flambeau Stage warmed up for Dr. John on the closing night of the festival, and would have been perfect closers if the good doctor wasn’t lined up next. These guys know exactly how to work a NOLA crowd into a frenzy and made it clear on songs like “Catching Fireflies” why they’re rapidly becoming a household name across the nation. After playing an epic hometown Halloween show only three days prior to this set, the band made sure their Voodoo set was special by bringing out guests Eric Krasno (Soulive, Lettuce) and Mike Dillon (Garage a Trois, The Mike Dillon Band). Their nonstop touring schedule will keep them busy for the next couple months; be sure to catch them for one of the best live shows around.
Dr John: The Real Night Tripper
The hands down set of the weekend happened in front of a few hundred people at the Flambeau Stage while The Cure and Bassnectar rocked the larger stages. Dr. John and his all star band of New Orleans legends took us to the darker places of his extensive catalog, with a focus on the voodoo groove of his late 60s records. Mac’s distinct drawl was on point, and his piano and guitar chops are as mesmerizing as ever. The packed stage included George Porter Jr, Ivan Neville, Smokey Johnson, Derwin “Big D” Perkins, and many many more knew when to hang back to let Dr. John lead and when to build bubbling, sticky grooves that climaxed in unrestrained solos. The set concluded with the one two punch of “Walk on Guilded Splinters” and “It Ain’t My Fault,” sending the last of the Voodoo crowd out with a bang.
It’s comforting to know that even with all the bass heavy EDM and expensive light shows of the main stage, there’s still a place at Voodoo for one of those “only in New Orleans” moments that make this city such a magical place to experience live music.