The My Spilt Milk contributors look back at the highs and lows of this year's Voodoo.
[Marisa Clogher, Kate Reed, Alex Rawls and photographer Erika Goldring contributed to this wrap-up. Click on the photo to see it in a viewer.]
This year’s Voodoo had a political undercurrent, with calls to vote coming from many of the stages. LIzzo and Janelle Monáe played sets gave well-executed, invigorating performances that were part of numerous current social conversations. In an email, our Marisa Clogher wondered why they weren’t headliners—a reasonable aesthetic question considering how beside the point Arctic Monkeys and to a lesser extent Mumford and Sons seem in 2018. Is this really the time for the inward gazes of (white) (male) rock ’n’ roll stars?
Lizzo and Monae were, she wrote, “both limited to strict hour-long sets, despite clearly having the stamina and creativity to fill the hour and a half time slot. Their sets also prioritized self-love and acceptance, a message that gets undermined and written-off as niche.
“Both Lizzo’s set and Monáe’s set placed a heavy emphasis on loving ourselves and loving each other, particularly aimed first toward African-American women, a message incredibly necessary in today’s political atmosphere. This type of theme is not required of a headline-worthy performance, but the fact that it is not prioritized speaks to the view that it exists for a niche audience, which isn’t true. While they direct their performances toward a black, female audience, their message of self-love and acceptance is important for every single listener, especially when people are spitting hate back and forth so rapidly every day.”
Conventional wisdom says that the top lines of a festival lineup sell three-quarter of the tickets, and that may be true. But what does it mean for a festival that its most relevant acts—Travis Scott excepted—are consigned to the middle of the day, while the headliners’ sets exist in a bubble? Does a festival have to choose relevance or an audience? Is there another way to construct the business so that the festival seems better engaged with its moment? (Alex Rawls and Marisa Clogher)
—The Revivalists played a super consistent show Friday afternoon on Voodoo’s Altar Stage. The highlight was the closer when the group donned tracksuits and covered the Beastie Boys "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)", a deliberately apropos cover before the mid-term election. (Kate Reed)
—The Revivalists’ cover of The Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right to Party” was good. The audience shouting the chorus was better. (Alex Rawls)
—I assumed wrongly that Starcrawler is on tour with Marilyn Manson. They’d certainly make sense together since Starcrawler plays a sturdy, grinding version of ‘70s guitar rock while the hyper-theatrical Arrow de Wilde radiated junkie starlet as she stalked the stage in bloodstained lingerie with her pelvic bones poking through. The set came coated with a deliberate veneer of sleaze, which made it feels vaguely unhealthy to watch her, even though it was hard to look away.
DeWilde’s lyrics matched her OTT performance style, so “Head” is about head, which she noisily gave to the mic. After she dramatically coughed up blood a few songs later, she energetically climbed down the stage scaffolding and left, leaving guitarist Henri Cash to play to the front rows from the photo pit, letting fans strum his guitar before he too left. Was that the intended end of the show? If so, Starcrawler left 30 minutes on the table, but really—after you’ve blown the mic and coughed up stage blood, what’s left to do? (Alex Rawls)
—The sound seemed low at the Le Plur stage during Zed’s Dead, much lower than the volume for Kayzo’s performance earlier in the day. It felt like listening to EDM quietly in your car. However, the Twittersphere shows video with normal sound, so this could have been an issue where I was standing. (Kate Reed)
—Friday, there were four banjos played on Voodoo stages. That has to be some sort of record for non-bluegrass festivals, and certainly one for Voodoo. (Alex Rawls)
—The Coronas from Dublin win this year’s post-Coldplay derby, though it’s not much of a race. And, to be fair, Danny O’Reilly is far more interesting than Chris Martin. The band also gets credit for playing beautifully melodic music at 1:30 in the afternoon, sweating through each heartfelt emotion and touchingly phrased thought. O’Reilly gets love for staying with the song when he jumped to the ground to get close to the fans, then realized he had a problem. “How the fook am I going to get back up there?” he wondered aloud between sung lines while looking up sadly at his monitor. (Alex Rawls)
—Lizzo entered the stage on Saturday with her dancers and DJ all dressed in Sailor Moon outfits, and immediately got the crowd riled up by bending over and shaking her ass. Her set was high energy and she kept the crowd engaged throughout its entirety. She sang, danced, played the flute, twerked, and gave the crowd multiple, intense pep talks about the power of loving and looking up to ourselves. It was one of the most invigorating shows I’ve ever attended, and the energy from those around me suggested that they felt similarly. (Marisa Clogher)
—In Marisa Clogher’s preview of Lizzo’s Saturday set at Voodoo, she wrote that Lizzo could become a star. Since the pop marketplace has rarely been kind to women her size no matter how body-positive they are, I thought about Marisa’s belief while watching Lizzo’s set and came around because Lizzo’s got songs. “Boys” is bulletproof, and many grooves during the set found ways to reference James Brown and classic R&B in completely contemporary beats.
Right now, she steers into the subcultural elements that have put her on the pop culture map, complete with self-love sermons and the “flute-and-shoot” routine that she did to prove her lung strength. She’ll become a genuine pop star when rather than tell fans to be their own inspirations, she simply shows that she is hers, and instead of coaching fans to love themselves, she lets the fact that she loves herself do the speaking for her. In short, it’s very easy to imagine her becoming a genuine star when she figures out how to reach beyond the subculture that loves her without selling out those fans. (Alex Rawls)
—Would Sofi Tukker have played the second-to-last time slot of the day 10 years ago? Probably. I suspect summer rock festival lineups have long given surprising deference to bands that made their names in iPhone commercials. (Who remembers Rinocerose? CSS? The Caesars? The Von Bondies?) Can anybody who heard them at Voodoo Saturday remember anything about the show other than that they seemed very nice and “Best Friend” is a nice song? That’s their iPhone commercial song, for those scoring at home. (Alex Rawls)
—Mixed feelings about Smino: I love the lowest-key seduction in history as he tries to entice a girl with the promise of pizza in “Netflix and Dusse.” I believe the artist-as-slacker more than the rock star persona that’s currently in vogue. That seems right for the moment, but he wants her to come over because her ass is “a creature” that looks “like a fuckin’ grapefruit”? Didn’t TLC kiss off guys like that in 1992? (Alex Rawls)
—Janelle Monáe should have been given a headlining slot. Her set was beautifully choreographed, costumed, and performed, and she had a dedicated fan base that stretched farther back into the muddy reaches of the Festival Grounds than the actual headliners of the weekend. Even the fans in the back were singing every word to every song, and they cheered her on even as she performed silently after her sound was cut. The release of Dirty Computer—both the album and “emotion picture” that accompanied it—her roles in two Oscar-nominated films in 2017, and her recent coming out make Janelle Monáe one of the most relevant artists in 2018. She should have headlined.
Not only was Monáe not given a headlining slot, but she was not given the same leniency with her time that other artists were given. Marilyn Manson went three minutes over his set and delayed Travis Scott, who was headlining. The Arctic Monkeys started their set an entire eight minutes early, with the sound from their stage noticeably conflicting with the last few minutes of Lettuce’s set nearby at the South Course stage. Monáe on the other hand was cut off exactly at 6:30 in the middle of her final song, “Tightrope.” (Marisa Clogher)
—Voodoo’s love of Halloween-appropriate rock bands rarely pays off. On Saturday night, Marilyn Manson gave us a reason to wonder if the ‘90s were overrated or he was. Out of his the context of his malevolent, decadent heyday, Manson’s songs seemed simply tuneless, and the set never gained momentum because long pauses between songs made each song feel like his last. Periodically, Manson stopped to remember his time in New Orleans, like a dad pointing out to his kids the places where he did crazy shit without telling the crazy stories.
Manson’s set would have been merely dull if not for its ending. At a minute or two until his designated finish time of 9:45, he started his encore/closer, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” which continued for another three or four minutes beyond his closing time. Since Janelle Monae was cut off mid-song at 6:30, it has hard to see what Manson did to merit that grace. She played to a larger crowd and used her time well, cramming as much show as she could into the time she had. His pokey set could have easily accommodated “Sweet Dreams” if Manson would have moved with any sense of purpose. And if she had gone three or four minutes long, that extra time could have been absorbed by the bands that followed. Manson’s overage cut into headliner Travis Scott’s set.
His casual indulgence felt like the force that Monae currently defines herself against, and since she was far more vital that day at Voodoo, his overtime felt shitty, like a Same Old Same Old moment, even if the decisions on how to handle the situations were made independently at the stages and not from any Voodoo Central Command. (Alex Rawls)
—The people who hung around for Elle King and her band in their thrift store version of Dust Bowl finery weren’t wrong. The band was too L.A. professional to suck. But those who reacted moderately—most of them—were also right because the band was too L.A. professional to be interesting. (Alex Rawls)
—People who mourn Kings of Leon’s transition to banal competence years ago need to check out Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Darrick “Bozzy” Keller’s voice might as well be Caleb Followill’s, and they still have the wildness that the Kings shed for Only by the Night. (Alex Rawls)
—A Voodoo moment: A man in a panda suit, slogging through the mud at the end of the night, holding his panda head in one head and an iPhone flashlight in another. (Kate Reed)
—Mud is a fact of festival life in New Orleans, and it’s an inescapable issue at City Park’s Festival Grounds. Rain earlier in the week created some broad expanses of slick, soupy mud mixed with standing water that became at least treacherous if not dangerous after dark on Friday. Good weather during the festival itself caused most of the mud to dry to an acceptable consistency over the course of the weekend, but there remained an unusable slash of land at the Altar Stage that remained too wet all weekend. A few volleyball court-sized swampy patches remained around the South Course Stage, between it and Le Plur, and between the entrance and the row of food booths. If City Park is serious about wanting festivals to occupy this patch of land, it’s going to have to take the drainage challenge more seriously. Saying that it’s better than it was in 2015 when Voodoo’s last day rained out isn’t a good enough answer. (Alex Rawls)