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Voodoo Fest Day 3 Highlights: Anderson .Paak, Arcade Fire, Band of Horses & More
Voodoo Fest’s last day may have been its best, with a rock and electronic music-focused day, bringing New Orleans traditional brass (Preservation Hall Jazz Band), dark techno (Bob Moses), dark hard rock (Maynard James Keenan’s Puscifer) and two of the best rock bands in North America: Band of Horses and Arcade Fire. Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals were the glitch in the day’s matrix, funky and elusive to nail down amid sounds of rap, throwback soul and funk.
Here’s a rundown of day three.
2:15 p.m.: Preservation Hall Jazz Band is winding down its early set at the main Altar Stage with a double shot of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” a pop-focused finale for a band devoted to New Orleans’ earliest jazz traditions like Dixieland or big band. But the Pres Hall Band does more than tradition and oldies. Its veteran musicians can adapt to just about any style. Later in the day, the band paired with New Orleans’ own Tank and the Bangas -- a sharp quintet of soul, funk and spoken word -- for an ass-shaking performance at the tiny Toyota Music Den stage.
Earlier in the weekend, the band’s bassist/tuba player Ben Jaffe -- also the creative director at Preservation Hall -- sat down with Billboard to talk about Preservation Hall Band’s role as versatile collaborators, keepers of tradition and more.
“It’s a testament to the musicianship of the Preservation Hall musicians,” Jaffe said. “They’re really talented jazz musicians who can wear many hats, often at the same time, and somehow figure out where they fit in an environment. And that’s incredible to watch that process take place. It’s not something we take for granted at all, it’s one of the most important things we do.”
2:40 p.m.: Techno duo Bob Moses -- childhood chums Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance -- moans through tracks like “Far From the Tree” and “Talk,” recalling the chilly mumbly moments of Radiohead and frontman Thom Yorke’s solo debut The Eraser. While their sound may be dour and stark electronic music, their stage banter was anything but. “We’re usually called Bob Moses, but today we’re calling ourselves Guns N’ Moses,” Howie jokes.
3:30 p.m.: Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals must have heard that pun, entering to “Welcome to the Jungle” on the Altar stage. The band starts with funky “Come Down” and the bloops and chatters of “Milk ‘n’ Honey.” The set doesn’t go on long before his already sizable crowd starts growing. It’s not just that Paak’s set is tight, but that the Saints won its home game earlier that afternoon.
“I didn’t come all the way from L.A. to play around,” he told the crowd, playing not just hypeman for himself but hype enforcer. Paak even calls out the VIP area for not being lit enough. It’s hard to blame him for expecting enthusiasm. Paak’s been on a hot streak of winning early-to-midday fest gigs in 2016, focused and on one after his features on Dr. Dre’s Compton and his breakout solo LP Malibu have garnered him untold new listeners nationwide.
Every song is a little bit different: a murky beat that would welcome a Kendrick Lamar verse, Dre-derived G-funk, rattling trap beats, but it’s all seductive. There’s “Drugs,” “Put Me Thru,” “Room In Here” and “The Waters” (with a fitting line, “I was cooking gumbo whipping the voodoo,” for the festival at hand). Paak treated the main stage like a headliner, exiting to a few bars of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” before coming back for a brief encore of “Luh You.”
4:50 p.m.: “Recently we put out a video some interpreted as political,” said Maynard James Keenan at the Pepsi Stage, performing with his Puscifer project after Tool headlined the night before. Keenan continued, “Entertainers will stay out of politics when politicians stay out of entertainment.” It was his intro to “The Arsonist,” which satirizes GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Later, the ambiance of “Grand Canyon” -- a spiritual missive about the national landmark in Keenan’s adopted home of Arizona -- provided a tranquil break in the pro-wrestling psychodrama theatrics (think Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler with Keenan instead of Mickey Rourke) that played out during Puscifer’s set.
5:30 p.m.: As Band of Horses plows through Southern rock ditties at Altar stage, it sounds like what would’ve happened if Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd kissed, made up and had a rock ‘n’ roll baby after their “Southern Man” vs. “Sweet Home Alabama” beef on wax. Nearly every uptempo Band of Horses song sounds like a plaintive or triumphant Neil Young tribute (singer/guitarist Ben Bridwell has said as much), worthy of that comparison and -- if nothing else -- earnest as hell.
“Is There a Ghost?” -- a good pick for Halloween weekend -- starts the set with a good-sized crowd that keeps growing. The riffs on “The Great Salt Lake” divebomb the song amid loud-soft-loud dynamics. “No One’s Gonna Love You” sounds like a bummer but -- wait, hold on -- finishes with “more than I do,” a rare sappy love song from Bridwell and company. They tear through a barnburner (“NW Apt.”), take it to the honkytonk (“In A Drawer,” “Laredo”) and finally on the water (“Islands On the Coast,” evoking the band’s native Carolina coastline). The latest single from its latest album (“Casual Party” off Why Are You OK, released in June) simply skewers loathsome small talk at parties, The yearning “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands” gets an extended solo by Creighton Barrett tacked on.
And then -- by common law, they’re should be forbidden to refuse playing it -- there’s “The Funeral,” which receives the kind of reaction live a modern classic like this song deserves. A hush goes over the Horses’ sizable audience, one that would be eerie if weren’t also so deeply reverent. Not a single “woo!’ interrupts that mournful “Funeral” riff. It cascades -- those dive-bombing riffs again -- into a finale and afterward, Bridwell seems just grateful to be there.
“We love y’all for paying attention, shit!” Ben Bridwell says, pointing out its the band’s last night on the initial touring support for Why Are You OK. It’s anticlimactic, but the band plays “General Specific” anyway -- one of its best songs -- recalling bluesy anthems of Levon Helm and The Band.
7:30 p.m.: Appropriately enough, “Ready to Start”-- an Arcade Fire set opener since its release in 2010 with The Suburbs -- starts the set, then comes the Grammy-winning album’s title track. Régine Chassagne takes lead vocals for “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” a fan favorite Suburbs single. So far the setlist screams Suburbs but the kitschy fashions scream Reflektor minus the glammy makeup, forget Halloween costumes. The band’s look -- and the gang’s all there, from violinist Owen Pallett to the percussion accompanists Willinson Duprate and Verrieux Zile -- is coordinated between throwback prom and bright Haitian/African colors.
Gradually, given the segues on segues in the setlist tonight, the band takes a turn into Reflektor land, with an extended version of its title track, serving up its piano lines with a little extra salsa cadence. Win Butler leaps up on his mirrored monitors, posing like Elvis Presley or the late great David Bowie -- an early supporter of Arcade Fire and credited with background vocals buried somewhere in Reflektor -- a thin white duke in a thin white suit. The band doesn’t stop the groove to change songs, no way. Here comes “Afterlife” then “We Exist” and “Normal Person.”
“F--- British Petroleum!” singer/guitarist Win Butler says before chugging into “Keep the Car Running.” Win Butler hasn't forgotten about Deepwater Horizon, which devastated Louisiana coastlines, its oil-dispersant aftereffects lingering on bayou, estuary and ocean floors to this day. If speaking out against an oil company with an anthemic political statement seems very Bruce Springsteen, it’s because “Keep the Car” recalls The Boss at his bleakest.
“I wrote this song on the eve of the George W. Bush election,” Butler said introducing Neon Bible standout “Intervention.” Butler says in 2000 he voted for Vice President Al Gore, “who I wasn't particularly inspired by… there was a level of fear mongering then, which I had never seen in my life, until now.” “Who’s gonna throw the very first stone?” Butler sneers on “Intervention.” “Oh, who’s gonna reset the bone?” The Neon Bible closer “My Body Is A Cage” finishes up a funereal duo of songs before the nostalgic “We Used to Wait.” Finally, Butler takes a pause for the (apolitical) cause.
“I just wanna say thank you to New Orleans for existing,” Win Butler says, who makes his home New Orleans part-time as of 2014. “We’ve been spending so much time here and we've been so inspired. New Orleans makes me proud to be an American. We need to keep what’s special about this city’s culture safe.” It’s his introduction to Arcade Fire’s “Where the Streets Have No Name”-type showstopper, “No Cars Go.” Chassagne takes lead vocals again, wailing passionately on “Haiti” -- a tribute to her homeland and extended family -- with two Haitian folk dancers flanking her.
The band takes a quick break in the set for the audience. “We’re recording a record!” Win Butler says to the crowd. “If you sing it well enough you guys can be on the record.” Butler auditions the crowd with a fairly lengthy rehearsal of na na na’s. It’s a silly bit of fun in an otherwise grueling gauntlet of pathos and empathy Arcade Fire lays down for its fans. The gauntlet gets longer when the band plays the opening notes of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” the lead track of Funeral. Win and his brother Will Butler -- with Chassagne on drums -- take the lead on the “Neighborhood” tracks, including “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” which segues into “Rebellion (Lies),” one of the few songs you could call an Arcade Fire “hit.” Will goofs around on a saxophone, playing the sax lead of Ghostbusters’ theme music as best he can, running out of breath and collapsing on the floor.
The comic relief doesn’t end there. The rave up of “Here Comes the Nighttime” comes alive with the return of the the Reflektor tour’s paper-mache heads. Win mock-exorcises the Donald Trump head outstretching his palm yelling, “The power of Christ compels you!” But Win has a sense of equal time! He even had words for the progressive Pope Francis head. “Hey, Father, you know what else stops abortions? Condoms.” It’s all in good political-satire fun, until the scream-a-long that is “Wake Up,” shifting the audience back into apolitical earnestness. A quick final political whiplash (“No more private prisons in the state of Louisiana, thank you very much!” Win says as the band finishes up its headlining set.) At the end of the weekend, Arcade Fire was the only headliner Voodoo Fest let go past time, by about 20 minutes. Maybe you need funny arts-and-crafts heads and political candor. Or, if you’re Win and Regine, maybe it just helps to work a fest so close to home.