Notes on a weather-whipped Voodoo 2015, including Alesso, PiL, Joey Bada$$ and The Soul Rebels, Giorgio Moroder, The Suffers, and again, sound bleed.
It was a shame to have Voodoo 2015 come to an early end with Sunday lost to rain and mud, but judging by the photos organizers posted on Facebook, the grounds were at least miserable if not dangerous. And, it’s hard to imagine who made the long, slow, precarious slog out through ankle-deep damp mud at the end of the night Saturday and didn’t ask themselves if anyone was worth another day of that. I wondered if the lineup featured anybody with enough diehard fans to prevent the mud fields of City Park’s festival grounds from being a lonely, slippery place.
If City Park seriously wants that tract to be the home of festivals, it has to work on the drainage. Hogs for the Cause has experienced it as a soupy mess, and now Voodoo has lost a day to swampy grounds. There’s likely a limit as to how much the grounds can be improved—few low-lying spaces will hold up under the sort of foot traffic that Voodoo brings—but the rain wasn’t so hard for so long that it had to deteriorate that badly that quickly.
It’s to Voodoo’s credit that it is offering refunds. The festival’s website makes clear that it is a rain-or-shine event, and organizers repeated that mantra in the days before as the threatening weather loomed. It will be interesting to see if there is any financial fall-out from that decision because it’s hard to imagine that cost of the refunds is insignificant.
On the other hand, the rain had its value. Giorgio Moroder’s DJ set Saturday night didn’t catch many of the teenagers at Le Plur, so they did what any high teenager would do under the circumstances—take running slides through the mud patch. That energized many of them, and after a quick slide or two to get the blood pumping, they danced to songs that were hits before they were born. It was nice to see the electronic dance music pioneer get a victory lap on this year’s festival circuit, but he clearly is not a live DJ and didn’t have the chops to rock a crowd beyond whatever ammo his own hits provided.
He did get people moving to Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”—arguably his signature achievement—and the live remix of “The Chase” from Midnight Express was pretty cool. The best response he got all set came from spinning Limahl’s “Neverending Story” from the children’s movie of the same name—likely something many in the crowd grew up with. (For more on Moroder, see my review at The New Orleans Advocate.)
The second-best response Moroder got came from Duke Dumont, who came on stage at Le Plur to follow him and stopped to shoot a selfie with Moroder.
After the weather, the story at this year’s Voodoo was once again sound bleed, which at times on Friday would have been comical if not for the real frustration it caused bands and fans. My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way was egregiously loud, so much so that Detroit’s Jessica Hernandez and The Deltas clearly fought the desire to throw in the towel when Way’s songs shared sonic space with theirs, regardless of the band’s dynamics. When they were quiet, Way was all you heard. Whey they rocked, he was part of their rock. Fans of the band on the rail in front of the stage got angrier and angrier as it became clear that there was no way not to hear Way and to hear Hernandez and the Deltas the way the songs were intended to be heard.
They varied between garage R&B and No Doubt throughout the set, and the No Doubt-ier songs struggled more than the garage songs, particularly the closing cover of “Who Put the Bomp” that they raged out for a fitting Fuck You conclusion.
Ruby Amanfu similarly struggled with sound bleed from the opposite end of the grounds. To be fair, putting someone who plays with dynamics as she does in middle of the afternoon sets her up for sound issues, but fans of hers could not hear her without hearing whoever was on the Altar stage at the same time.
On Friday, the volume on the Altar stage bordered on laughable as it seemed like a desperate effort to pull people up to the front for Way and Metric. By the time Jason Isbell took the Flambeau stage opposite Modest Mouse, someone had cranked up the volume on his stage. That did make Isbell more audible and allowed him to play slower, quieter songs including “Stockholm” and “Cover Me Up,” but his own sound bordered on abrasive at the heightened volume.
He clearly was conscious of the day’s history of volume and almost shouted onstage, making his generally genial, offhanded manner sound forced to those who had seen him before. Fortunately, Isbell’s stage game is solid, and those who hadn’t seen him before likely didn’t realize he was raising his voice. On the night before Halloween, his band all wore Batman T-shirts and/or Batman cowls and capes, and he introduced each member as Batman. Years of playing rowdy bars and festivals also gave him a chance to work out to win over a distractible crowd. “I’m the anti-Morrissey,” he declared at one point. “If I can't smell meat from the stage, I won’t play.”
At a festival where the sound of the music often says at least as much as the words, it was nice to have a show where the words mattered. Isbell also did what he could to mitigate the noise issue by playing electric guitars when possible. On “Decoration Day,” a song he wrote while a member of Drive-By Truckers, he let his guitar and a couple of hot solos do much of the talking.
As much as he ducked the sound issues though, it was clearly on his mind. “Thanks to Voodoo for not having us any closer to the main stage than we already are,” he said.
Saturday was less oppressive, particularly earlier in the day when the audience at the Altar stage didn’t reach the soundboard. During Giorgio Moroder’s set, I could hear Jane’s Addiction in the distance, but more as a reminder that something’s going on elsewhere. A certain amount of sound bleed at a festival adds to the excitement, the sense that there’s always more going on than you can see, and the promise that if you get tired of what you’re hearing, there’s always something else cool going on a few hundred yards away. A certain amount of sound bleed is also probably inevitable. The festival grounds is too tight a space for Voodoo to be good neighbors with those who live near City Park and not effect other stages, but it really has to figure out how to avoid situations like those with Hernandez, Amanfu, and Quintron and GIVERS last year—occasions when you couldn’t get close enough to the band to not have its sound marred by clearly recognizable songs from other stages.
Other Voodoo notes:
- Alesso was instant-gratification on Friday at Le Plur, and the crowd was fine with that. The alternating fireballs and CO2 that shot up in front of mesmerizing visualizers augmented the frenetic energy Alesso produced by frequent transitions and constant “drops” in the music. He played new tracks “Heroes,” and “Cool,” but did not hesitate to resurrect core hits like “Calling.” (Justin Picard)
The view from a viewing stand at the back of Voodoo's Le Plur stage at the start of Alesso's set. Swipe to scroll around the image.
- I can’t be the only one who expected a more prickly John Lydon when Public Image Ltd. took the Carnival stage with Jane’s Addiction clearly audible. Not only did he hold his tongue, but he spoke remarkably little. That was a surprise more than a disappointment, but for such a flexible and imaginative singer, the way he hit one declaiming mode and stuck with it left him seeming one-note. Fortunately, the current band is a monster. Bassist Scott Firth rarely seemed to move off the E string, and his groove with The Pop Group’s drummer Bruce Smith got awfully close to the dub-rock sound that was the band’s early hallmark. After a mid-song pause, the second half of Second Edition’s “Death Disco” lived up to the song’s title and recalled a time when people thought dance rock could take over dance clubs.
- Joey Bada$$ and the Soul Rebels commanded the audience at the Carnival Stage. They were unfazed by sound bleeding from Metric’s set, and effectively deployed slow burners like “Hardknock,” that allowed energy to culminate in an uproar as the first few notes of the 1999 hit, “World Domination,” rang out. Rumor has it Trombone Shorty made an appearance as well, but everyone (including myself) was so laser-focused on Joey that if he did, it went unnoticed. (Justin Picard) (For more on this show, see my review at The New Orleans Advocate.)
The view from the photo pit for The Soul Rebels. Swipe to scroll around the image.
- New Orleans could do a lot worse for its retro-R&B fix than have Houston’s The Suffers visit more often. They also get credit for dressing for their Halloween gig in bloody T-shirts inspired by Andrew WK.
- The most punk rock thing about Mike Dillon’s Punk Rock Consortium was its name, which was more in your face than anything the band played. His consortium was composed of people playing drums and vibes—that’s it—and much of what I saw was lovely and very smart, following in the melodic mode of Brian Wilson at its most accessible and Frank Zappa at its most dense.
- I’m rarely convinced by dream pop live and even less so outdoors, where too many factors dispel the band’s ethereal sound. Friday though, Hundred Waters not only held their own but seemed to darken the day in sympathy with their sound.
- The craziest weather story of the weekend came on Saturday afternoon when I entered the press tent and was told that someone in a yellow security T-shirt had come in, called a huddle of those in the tent, and told them that a cell that could produce a tornado was being tracked, and that there was an evacuation plan. If the band stopped playing, that was a sign. Then the gates would be opened to let people out, and we were encouraged to take shelter under the Wisner overpass nearby. I checked with Voodoo head of PR who said that none of that was true. It sounds like someone in security went rogue and decided he would take care of everybody.
The view of the backstage and main stage for Ozzy Osbourne and Friends from the Press Tent. Photographer Joshua Brasted is in the cherry picker. Swipe to scroll around the image.