Voodoo Fest 2016 Day 2 Highlights: Tool, Ghost, Cage the Elephant & More
The second day of the Voodoo Music and Arts Experience -- or Voodoo Fest -- kicked off Friday afternoon (Oct. 28) with rappers (Cakes Da Killa), EDM (Black Tiger Sex Machine) and a fusing of the two (DJ Mustard’s electric set). Hard rock and heavy metal drew some of the largest and most enthusiastic crowds as night fell, with Cage the Elephant, Ghost and headliner Tool -- making its first Voodoo appearance in 15 years -- closing out the night. Here’s a rundown of Voodoo, day two.
1:20 p.m.: In a Voodoo Fest exclusive, Billboard is sitting down with a member of Swedish metal band Ghost before its headlining set at the Pepsi Stage. The catch: to maintain the band’s mystique, Ghost's guitarist -- a husband and father of two back in his native Sweden -- identifies himself only as Nameless Spokesman Ghoul. He’s part of a Halloween-ready backing band for Papa Emeritus III, the band’s frontman. The band has been touring the world, particularly North America and its native Europe, playing smaller U.S. markets most Swedish acts never see.
“If you take a project like Ghost and you drop it simultaneously on both continents, it goes a little faster on this [U.S.] side,” the band spokesman says, “because [U.S.] audiences are more into the idea of being entertained. Whereas in Europe, it gets questioned. ‘Ah, it’s cabaret!’”
The band has won two Grammy Awards in its native Sweden, which -- perhaps counterintuitively -- came immediately after its overseas profile started to rise with two full-lengths and two EPs on Loma Vista Recordings, coming from a relatively small national music scene where many accomplished bands hardly ever leave the country. “That’s always a selling point in Sweden,” he says. “Ever since Blue Swede and ABBA got famous, the whole idea of becoming big in America is a big fantasy in Sweden that most bands dream of, but they [almost] never do.” Ghost, certainly, is an exception to that rule.
2:35 p.m.: "I don't know if this is a rap crowd or not but I'm about to get this check and go back to New York," rapper Cakes Da Killa says at the top of his Le Plur Stage set, verbalizing the monologue of many an early-in-the-day festival act who just wants to get this over with. Songs like "Goodie Goodies" and "Truth Tella" -- Cakes’ reprise of which inspires a vaguely Soul Train-style dance breakdown on the lawn -- thrill a smaller but ready-to-dance crowd. “I feel like this is my baby shower!” he jokes, keeping his swagger up through the heat. “Gifts go in the back and there's a tip jar up front.”
After his high-energy set, Cakes Da Killa sits down with Billboard. “Any time I part a crowd they get, like, triggered,” Cakes says, laughing about some crowds’ reluctance. “This is the first time I did that where I had security, so I felt very Beyoncé about the situation.”
3:45 p.m.: EDM trio Black Tiger Sex Machine is knee-deep in its Le Plur Stage set, combining elements of dubstep, French house, industrial and more into a sound so thick and bass-heavy it feels like paste. Combined with its visuals, the live set recalls Ed Banger Records artists like Justice or Tron-era Daft Punk scoring dystopian science fiction. BTSM’s helmets are an obvious point of comparison, with identical matte-black light-up tiger helmets, paired with black-on-black motorcycle gear. Not great for the direct sunlight of the afternoon set they're playing, but it looks slick.
"We’re used to it but I think [the heat of] this and Lollapalooza [in 2015] were the worst," BTSM member Julien Maranda says after the band’s set. Maranda, with Patrick Barry and Marc-André Chagnon, started Kannibalen Records in their native Montreal, stemming from a club night they ran while holding down white-collar day jobs. Like Ed Banger, Mad Decent and other recent industry success stories, it grew into a label and cottage industry. "We were inspired by them musically," Barry says, "but also by the idea to create a family of artists and try to bring that to another level."
6 p.m.: Near the top of his set at Le Plur Stage, DJ Mustard is paying tribute to the West Coast G-funk that begat his signature sound with "Ain’t Nuthin’ but a G Thang" amid a bevy of rap classics. Mustard -- one of the best new beatmakers in rap today -- dropped many of his own tracks, including YG’s hit "My N----" and Rihanna’s Anti ballad "Needed Me." What really gets his massive crowd moving is the newer jams he drops: the New York rap rebirth "All the Way Up" and more Kanye West hooks than you can shake a stick at. Mustard’s jagged EDM remixes and swift segues are head-spinning, mixing rap hooks (plus the occasional curveball like Adele’s "Hello," which inspired the set’s biggest singalong) and dubstep stutters. For Mustard -- playing at Voodoo Fest’s de facto electronic music stage -- EDM and rap go hand in hand. The "don't stop" chant of French Montana’s "Pop That" parlayed into Flux Pavilion's "I Can't Stop" being a perfect parlay between the two. Mustard sees little, if any, artistic difference. Like the Hollywood sign he mimics in his stage visuals to spell his name, DJ Mustard’s name rings far and wide, beyond just the hip-hop heads who adore his beats the most.
7:30 p.m.: At the Altar main stage, Kentucky blues rockers Cage the Elephant kicks off its set with "Cry Baby" followed by "In One Ear." All goes according to plan until frontman Matt Shultz, who wastes no time shedding his shirt, asks Voodoo Fest, “Can we get a little weird with you?” before playing the maudlin “Too Late to Say Goodbye," followed by "Cold Cold Cold" and "Trouble." Fairly tame for a festival during Halloween in New Orleans, but Cage fills a gap in the rock festival marketplace, which has had a giant White Stripes-shaped hole in it for almost a decade. Jack White, along with Cage the Elephant and the Black Keys -- openly genuflecting at the throne of blues and classic rock -- have tried to fill that void. “Come a Little Closer” is Cage’s fullest statement and one of the band's six Alternative Songs chart number ones.
8:30 p.m.: The gothic funeral procession that is Ghost’s live theatrics starts right on time at the Pepsi Stage with "Square Hammer" with singer Papa Emeritus III -- the only named member of the mysterious Swedish group -- breaking the fourth wall of the band’s theatrics only occasionally and briefly at moments to address the crowd. It’s followed by the swirling guitars on "Pinnacle to the Pit." The outro of “Ritual” provides an excellent outro climax with harmonizing guitars, Trans Siberian Orchestra-style. It’s more than just melodic metal stylings with Ghost, however. How many bands have a harp interlude like “Spöksonat,” or “ghost sonata." The band takes its music and live show seriously -- the arrangements, sets, costumes and makeup are pristine -- but its gimmick is slyly tongue in cheek and broadly entertaining, much like the way Kiss or Alice Cooper have performed.
9:35 p.m.: Tool takes the stage five minutes late to a pulsing heartbeat and a hissing synthesizer. The band’s virtuoso drummer, Danny Carey, takes the lead in a wind up to "Third Eye," joined by Adam Jones with screeching guitar feedback. It’s the band’s epic closer to 1996’s Ænima, often played as a grand finale in Tool’s setlists.
"Deja-f---in’-vu, New Orleans," mysterious frontman Maynard James Keenan says. The last time Tool played Voodoo Fest was 2001. At nearly every Tool show before and since then, Keenan’s words to the crowd are so sparse, they’re funny, imbued with a smirk you can hear but can never see. Keenan is infamous for lingering far behind his bandmates, deemphasizing his stardom to Tool’s enthusiastic cult fanbase.
"The Grudge" weighs a ton as the band lumbers into another epic track, this time an album opener, from Lateralus. Keenan -- a lithe Dracula-like silhouette against stark red light -- doesn't end the song with its studio-version long scream but does exercise his voice dramatically for the long growl-into-a-mutter crescendo of "let go" to end the song. "Parabola" churns and chugs with Zen-mantra lyrics. The visuals -- artist Alex Grey’s psychedelic symmetries of textbook human anatomy -- drive the message home: "We are eternal / All this pain is an illusion."
Keenan checks on the crowd with a simple "Hello," then it's back to business. The band’s throwback to its first EP, Opiate, is a singalong for the diehards up front. The title track from Ænima, with its "learn to swim!" refrain amid laser lights, makes bitter misanthropy seem glamorous. There’s 10,000 Days single "Jambi" and Ænima single "Forty Six & 2," and the set closes with the album’s best-known rock radio hit, "Stinkfist."