Our wrap-up of Friday at Voodoo, including Conor Oberst, Shovels and Rope, and Those Darlins do Lou.
Friday was the first day for Voodoo on City Park's Festival Grounds. On the plus side, you can move more quickly from stage to stage, and there few sad, lonely outposts where bands and fans seemed isolated from the rest of the festival, as could happen on the previous footprint. On the downside, the sound bleed was really rough, particularly on the smaller Flambeau and Carnival stages. A Silent Film's Robert Stevenson found it hard to talk to the crowd between songs with Turf War's punk surge easily, clearly, powerfully audible for the Ritual Stage in the quiet moments. Later, Gary Larsen of Royal Teeth jokingly asked the crowd, "Can you guys tell Macklemore to be quiet?" At that point, Macklemore was. He had already ended his set; the offender in this case was Calvin Harris on the Le Plur Stage a few hundred yards away.
Some sound bleed is probably desirable from an organizer's point of view. It forces fans to move up, which makes performers happy, and stray music makes it immediately obvious that something's going on, creating the buzz that the next potentially cool moment is only a thousand feet away. But when it affects the artists or mixes unbidden with the music in the audience, that's problematic.
Fortunately, Pearl Jam's day-ending set changed the post-Voodoo conversation for most. It was a Steve Gleason-centric set, beginning when Mike McCready introduced Gleason, who in turn introduced the band, smiling as his eye-guided computer generated his "speech." McCready wore a Defend Team Gleason T-shirt, and Eddie Vedder, a Team Gleason sweat band.
Musically, Friday night's show had the relaxed confidence of a band with nothing to prove and nothing particular on its mind beyond the warmth of the relationship they've developed with the Gleasons. After starting with the lovely new ballad, "Sirens," Pearl Jam's first 45 minutes were paced by the punky new album, Lightning Bolt. When they were last in town for Jazz Fest, time constraints forced the band into unusual urgency. Last night, the pace slackened after a while, at times to put the "jam" in Pearl Jam. Vedder became almost a host, checking to see how the crowd was doing, stopping just short of freshening their drinks.
Before the set, a friend wondered how they were going to end the show - "Rockin' in the Free World" or "Yellow Ledbetter"? The answer: both.
Elsewhere at Voodoo:
- Another friend wondered how many Lou Reed covers we'd hear this weekend? I thought few, but since I saw Pearl Jam had played "Waiting for the Man" after Reed passed, I assumed they'd be one. Instead, the only Reed salute I heard came from Those Darlins, who particularly enjoyed the noisy parts of "White Light/White Heat."
- It was an odd pleasure to hear Conor Oberst lay down his prodigious songsmith skills to write and sing in his hardcore punk band, Desaparecidos. All subtlety was sent to its room as he ripped on everybody and everything failing American culture today. Some targets felt programmatic - Hot Topic in 2013? Is that still a commercial force? - but the set also linked to the classic tradition of protest music, where songs are made to spark people to action now, and the songs aren't made to stand the test of time. Desaparecidos are about now, and they mean it, maaaan.
- It's tempting to hear Hello Negro - Ronald Markham of the NOJO - as a swing at EDM DJs. He could improvise what they do live, sometimes with one hand literally behind his back. But nothing he played questioned their values, nor was there a hint of self-satisfaction in his music or demeanor. Instead, it's just another thing he's good at.
-Desaparecidos' set was an unanticipated highlight. Conor Oberst was out to push buttons, but it was refreshing after a day of bands that played a little too nice. The Bright Eyes mastermind is known for wearing his heart and voting preference on his sleeve, though his opinions on politics suggest he probably isn't one to vote. The bite may have been a surprise for the Oberst-ignorant, but that made it all the more entertaining — also, his choice to (ironically?) add the word "son" to the end of every other sentence. Thankfully, the ferocious but catchy set backed up the trolling. Oberst's angst actually feels more appropriate in punk context over the emo-folk he's known for.
- Americana duo Shovels & Rope had another standout performance. Obviously, there’s an onstage chemistry between the husband and wife, joking around between songs and trading instruments throughout the set, like a mix between the Civil Wars and White Stripes. Even when Cary Ann Hearst forgot the lyrics to “Johnny 99,” it came off as charming and sincere.
What did we miss? Who killed and we didn't talk about it?
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