Perfect fall weather and big sets from headliners Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, and the Cure enthralled throngs of concertgoers during the Voodoo Music & Arts Experience’s three days of music this weekend (Nov. 1-3) at New Orleans’ City Park.
|PHOTOS: VOODOO EXPERIENCE 2013|
And in addition to being thoroughly rocked by the three big names at the top of the bill, the thousands gathered had no trouble getting over Halloween hangovers to be treated to dynamic sets from Macklemore, Paramore, Kid Rock, Calvin Harris, Afrojack, Gaslight Anthem and many more — including New Orleans legends Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Here are ten highlights from the three-day, fifteenth Voodoo Experience:
By the end of Pearl Jam‘s potent two-plus-hour set on Friday, the band had powered through two-dozen crowd-winning tunes both vintage (“Jeremy,” “Even Flow,” “Daughter”) and brand new (“Sirens,” “Lightning Bolt”) — a setlist frontman Eddie Vedder revealed was created by local sports hero Steve Gleason, a PJ friend and former New Orleans Saints player living with ALS who enjoyed the show from right onstage after eliciting huge cheers by introducing the band. Gleason’s wasn’t the only cameo: Vedder spotted a couple decked out as a giant bunny and horse in the audience. And before long the pair were onstage with the band banging tambourines as PJ pounded through “Rockin’ In The Free World.” The Voodoo set, which was capped leg one of PJ’s North American tour supporting new album “Lightning Bolt,” found the band tight — Mike McCready effortlessly tossed off guitar solos behind his head and Vedder’s huge baritone lead the frenzy while guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament locked into the rhythm with drummer Matt Cameron. Amid it all, Vedder took time to talk of serious issues — saying “intolerance is the one thing we’re intolerant of” when introducing “Getaway” as a song about “religious intolerance,” as well as mentioning the Gulf Restoration Network’s ongoing efforts to help clean up the 2010 oil spill and questioning why a certain company with initials B.P. is running ads that make everything seem ok when it isn’t. By the end, Vedder was running up and down the space behind the barricade shaking hands with fans and McCready was unspooling an effortless “Yellow Ledbetter” solo played just to Steve Gleason.
Pearl Jam wasn’t the only major Seattle act Friday at Voodoo, earlier on the Ritual stage Macklemore (and Ryan Lewis) turned in a tireless 75-minute set. “It’s good to see you Halloween stricken people,” he quipped while literally bouncing around the stage. “Who is wondering who this white guy rapping in a Michael Jackson jacket is?” Macklemore asked the crowd as the music’s bass made bodies close to the rail literally vibrate. Hard to tell if he was serious; after all, he came wielding his inescapable recent hits, “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us.” “We’re starting to let go of hatred and fear passed generation to generation. I believe in equality,” he announced before beginning the same-sex rights anthem “Same Love,” with Mary Lambert on hand to sing the hook. Later, he waved around an Irish flag waves (“Irish Celebration”), told weird stories about swimming naked in New Orleans waterways, donned a goofy wig and fake British accent for “And We Danced,” and welcomed New Orleans horn star Trombone Shorty to blow a few notes.
The Ritual stage was also witness to Nine Inch Nails‘ two-hour Saturday night headlining maneuvers wherein Trent Reznor, swathed in black, gnashed out an ultra-dark mixture of Nails’ goodies from through the years including “Copy Of A” and “Came Back Haunted,” from new album “Hesitation Marks,” classic fare like “Terrible Lie” and “Sanctified,” and much inbetween (the ideally punishing “Survivalism”) while a cadre of back-up singers traded sinister grooves with Reznor as fog machines belched quantities of white clouds into the clear night.
Earlier Saturday, flame-haired Hayley Williams led Paramore through winningly energetic paces that featured a wealth of songs from their 2013 self-titled album — “Now,” “Daydreaming,” “Last Hope” and “Still Into You” among them. Her eyes banded in a swath of glittering black makeup, Williams came across almost warrior-like, but her questions, “Has anyone heard of our band before? Does anyone own our records?” seemed more in ernest than the night before when Macklemore had posed a similar query. She needn’t have wondered: she had the crowd enthralled, singing along, getting bodies in motion on command. “I want to see all you tough guys out there dancing,” she demanded after “Brick By Boring Brick” and so they did. The emotional heart of the set, however, was “The Only Exception,” which was played as she noted it was time to “get sentimental” and smartphone lights glowed on the Ritual stage field like stars. “Whether you know us or never heard of us, I want to thank you for letting us live out our dreams on a stage somewhere overnight. We are Paramore.” Indeed.
Sunday headliners The Cure closed out the Voodoo festivities on the Ritual stage with an two-hour set that began just before 7pm, veering through the band’s multi-decade-long catalog. It was favorites from the late 80s that connected most easily with the crowd — as the temperature dropped and November made itself felt. “Fascination Street,” played under an eerie green glow, came early on, with Robert Smith and his trademark heavy black eye makeup, fright-teased mane and smeared lipstick appearing like an aptly post-Halloween rock ‘n’ roll specter on the giant screens flanking the stage. “Lovesong,” “Just Like Heaven,” and “Pictures of You” would come later — keeping the crowd moving (and thus warmer) as it became cold enough to see your breath in the night.
Meanwhile, simultaneously over on the much smaller Flambeau stage at the end of Sunday night, New Orleans legend Dr. John was holding court behind piano, guitar and dark shades, casting a jazzy-bluesy spell with his gravel-throated, deep grooves and a band including horn players, bass, drums, and a woman in full yellow headdress-feathered regalia playing tambourine.
Flambeau had also hosted other notable sets during the weekend. ZZ Ward, by contrast in hot, full sunshine on Friday afternoon, belted out tunes like “Put The Gun Down” in a huge floppy black hat. “A lot of my songs are about how I made bad choices in my life,” she noted before getting her soulful voice behind “Got It Bad,” the tale of a bad boy boyfriend. “You can’t change people,” she continued, launching into crowd favorite “365 Days.”
The sunset slot on the Ritual Stage also proved to be a hotspot all weekend. Friday at twilight, hometown brass masters Preservation Hall Jazz Band got the crowd waiting for Macklemore and Pearl Jam strutting to its expertly wrought “When The Saints Go Marchin’ In,” and the Halloween-appropriate “Rattling Bones,” accompanied by a slew of dancers dressed as skeletons, a cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “Let Her Go God Bless Her,” and their own “That’s It.
Saturday, the Gaslight Anthem rocked the sun down behind the horizon with its strong, workmanlike set of tunes about the salvation to be found in a good rock song. Brian Fallon rasped out keen guitar-driven narratives like “Handwritten,” “59 Sound,” “45” and more before TGA closed with “American Slang.” And during the band’s hour-plus day-after-Halloween set, they also fittingly played newer tune “Halloween.” (Farther afield over on the Carnival Stage, and worth a mention, Reignwolf peeled out some electric blues that made the blazing sun Saturday afternoon seem even hotter.)
The most jarring juxtaposition of the festival came Sunday night as Kid Rock and his Jim Beam name-checking, mic flipping, F-bomb dropping Detroit badassery got the Ritual stage audience raising brews in salute directly before the Cure took the stage for its much different show. But Rock worked hard for it — jumping and sweating through hits like “Cowboy,” “Bawitdaba,” and “All Summer Long,” covering Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See,” and even standing astride a pair of turntables to show off his considerable scratching skills.