The Voodoo Experience in New Orleans is in its eleventh year and still going strong. This year’s event attracted a reported 100,000+ people during Halloween weekend. The line up – which included Eminem, Jane’s Addiction, Kiss, Mutemath, Wolfmother, The Flaming Lips, Lenny Kravitz, Janelle Monae, The Black Keys, Gogol Bordello, Silversun Pickups, and Widespread Panic – definitely helped draw the sizable audience. In addition to the impressive line up, the festival benefits from taking place in New Orleans during Halloween weekend, and offers a diverse range of entertainment and New Orleans cuisine.
In the spirit of Halloween, Friday was disguised as a warm sunny day, only to reveal its stormy nature following a captivating set by Janelle Monae. Earlier this year, I attempted to see Monae in Austin during SXSW. However, the club where she performed was too small to accommodate the crowd. We made it inside the venue, but couldn’t see Monae through the packed audience. Nonetheless, we could feel her energy and she sounded great. Monae’s SXSW appearance piqued my interest enough to ensure we arrived at The Voodoo Experience in time to catch her set (even forgoing a visit to Cafe Du Monde).
Monae is an engaging performer whether she’s dancing with fervor or singing while elevated on a chair. She commands the stage and the audience with her expressions and energetic dancing, but Monae doesn’t let you forget that what she came to do is sing. Her voice is beautiful and music is a full-body expression for Monae.
Marching through the mud
“The day wouldn’t be complete without muddy feet,” became the mantra of this year’s Voodoo Experience after Friday’s torrential downpours turned the festival grounds into a muddy obstacle course for the remainder of the weekend. Contrary to what you may expect, the wind, rain, cold temperatures, and mud, added to the experience as good-humored music fans and dedicated musicians braved the elements, in the name of music.
Silversun Pickups meeting fans before the storm
Due to the heavy rain and winds, Silversun Pickups had the option of rescheduling their set and playing a club in New Orleans later that night. Just moments before they were due at the main stage, the band decided to perform their set as scheduled, at the festival grounds, during the worst part of the storm. Their fans were appreciative and didn’t seem to mind enduring the pounding rain while the band played.
The New Orleans Bingo! Show
Knowing we would see Silversun Pickups in LA the following week, we opted for shelter and took cover in the Bingo! Parlour circus tent during the storm. Thankfully, Voodoo Experience offers a wide range of quality entertainment. Inside the Bingo! Parlour we were treated to none other than The New Orleans Bingo! Show. This isn’t your grandma’s Bingo — The New Orleans Bingo! Show includes aerialists, clowns that smoke and drink, dancers, and theatrics that transport you to another era. Clint Maedgen takes the lead on vocals, pump organ, keyboard, guitar, tenor saxophone, squeaky dolphin, and more. At the same time, an aerialist hangs upside-down above the crowd, doing tricks on the trapeze. Dancers and clowns add to the experience. Not only did we forget about the rain, we forgot where we were. The New Orleans Bingo! Show kept us dry, smiling, and dancing for an hour and a half.
“If you were in New Orleans and you didn’t see Eminem, then you missed everything!!” the Starbucks barista told us as he handed over our Saturday morning caffeine. Friday night’s performance was Eminem’s first full concert in 2009. Well, we missed it, and the city wouldn’t let us live it down. With the constant reminder of our Venti lattes in hand, we hailed a taxi to the festival Saturday. “Did you see Eminem last night??” the driver asked when we told him where we were headed. Before we could answer the question, the driver proceeded to tell us that Eminem last played The Voodoo Experience nine years ago. “Eminem,” “Eminem,” “Eminem” – you could hear his name ringing throughout the festival grounds early Saturday as fans reminisced about the set he played Friday night. Just when we were beginning to feel like we might have missed the highlight of the festival, The Voodoo Experience hit us with a wave of great music, exceptional live performances, and the reminder that there’s more than one highlight at Voodoo Experience.
Mates of States fans sing along
When we arrived Saturday afternoon, we were greeted by sunshine and the uplifting music of Mates of State. Costumed fans sang along as Kori Gardner (keyboard/vocals) and Jason Hammel (drums/vocals) played their catchy tunes. Mates of State got the crowd amped up which turned out to be essential because that energy was necessary for the back to back music that hit next.
Mutemath’s Paul Meany raises the bar
Mutemath played immediately following Mates of State. Not only did they further set the tone for the day, they raised the standard for live performance in general. A separate review of the Mutemath show will follow because enough can’t be said here. Between their brilliant music, Paul Meany’s voice and keyboard handstands, Darren King standing on top of his drum and diving into the crowd, Greg Hill’s guitar pedal wizardry, and Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas on bass and whatever else he could get his hands on, Mutemath quickly became a favorite of festival goers.
It should be noted that in addition to the music reviewed here, there were at least 3 other artists performing concurrently on other stages at the festival. Since I still haven’t mastered being in 4 places at once, I stuck with a friend’s recommendation and caught Gogol Bordello. Now I know why this band has been on my to-see list for a while. Gogol Bordello had the majority of the audience jumping, clapping, and singing along throughout the duration of their set. When their show came to an end, the crowd demanded an encore and Eugene Hütz and the dynamic band delivered an even more energetic, lengthy encore.
The Voodoo Stage and Playstation/Billboard.com Stage faced each other on opposite ends of a running track. So when Gogol Bordello finished their set on the Playstation/Billboard.com stage, we turned around and walked toward the Voodoo Stage to catch Wolfmother. I’ve seen Wolfmother perform at other festivals, but something about their set at Voodoo blew me away and exceeded my expectations (which are high). First of all, I was able to hear Andrew Stockdale’s amazing voice in a way that I hadn’t heard before. The entire band seemed to play much tighter than when I saw them previously. This may, in part, be due to the fact that two of the original band members have been replaced. I ran into Stockdale and Ian Peres a few times during the festival. In addition to being exceptional musicians, they are extremely funny and kind. Although, there was that incident with Hotshot Robot. . . More on that in the additional, forthcoming Wolfmother review.
Wolfmother with a beheaded Hotshot Robot
So up until this point, you’ve got Mutemath, Gogol Bordello, and Wolfmother absolutely crushing it. Fans, whose feet otherwise may have been tired from standing, were blessed to have the cushion of mud to soften the impact from 3 hours and 45 minutes of incessant jumping. Some people began losing their voices from screaming and out-singing their neighbors and others opted to forgo food and restroom breaks so they wouldn’t miss anything. These are bands who just got on stage and played music. No light shows. No dramatic stage set-ups. No real spectacle. They entertained, they crowd surfed, and at times they banged on things in an unconventional manner, but they did not succumb to an over-the-top stage setup or seizure-inducing light show. And they don’t need to. Mutemath, Gogol Bordello, and Wolfmother can blow you away simply by playing music.
Cut to Jane’s Addiction and Kiss, who rounded out Saturday’s line-up. These are seasoned musicians who’ve been doing this forever. Perhaps they add spectacle just to keep themselves from getting bored – who knows? The question is: do they need it?
I’ve seen Jane’s Addiction several times over the years, including a very cool “rehearsal show” at a sound stage in LA. Sometimes they’re great. Sometimes they’re a little less than great. But irrespective of my subjective opinion of any given performance, Dave Navarro and Stephen Perkins always nail it. If Navarro weren’t a musician, I think he’d carry a portable stage around with him, set it up daily, and just strut around. And I’ll bet people would watch him too – that guy was born to be a performer. It also doesn’t hurt that he can PLAY guitar. Perkins, I could listen to or watch for hours, even if he were playing unaccompanied. He’s a phenomenal drummer. It’s also good to see Eric Avery back on bass. It was original Jane’s doing what they originally set out to do – play music and entertain.
Kiss playing (safely) with fire
Kiss, on the other hand, I had never seen live. That band is all about spectacle. Although, being live music veterans, they’ve learned to do things in moderation. Sure they’ve got face paint, hair, and silver and black outfits, but forget pyrotechnics (perhaps because paint is highly flammable). So when they perform, Kiss simply shows images of flames surrounding them on screen. The part about not using pyrotechnics is not entirely true – there was a nice fireworks display at the end of their set. While there were a lot of fans who have been with these bands for many years, it was nice to see a new generation of music fans enjoying Kiss and Jane’s Addiction at The Voodoo Experience.
Sunday was another beautiful day in New Orleans. By this point, there were enough paths made through the mud and it was considerably easier to navigate the festival grounds. We spent much of the day enjoying the non-music activities offered. We checked out several food vendors and sampled desserts including fried Oreos and white chocolate bread pudding ice cream (be on the lookout for New Orleans Ice Cream, rolling out nationwide!). We stumbled upon the special Vooboo stage set up for kids and watched families enjoying the festival experience together.
Eventually we made our way over to see JJ Grey & Mofro. I had been curious about JJ Grey ever since this I saw this clever music video. Well, they left the barbies at home for this show, but JJ Grey & Mofro were able to get the crowd groovin’ on their own.
Next up, Trombone Shorty. The first time I saw Trombone Shorty he was opening for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band in Los Angeles. He was so good that I actually forgot where I was and thought I was in New Orleans. So to see Trombone Shorty in his hometown of New Orleans was better than a fried Oreo. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews has been playing New Orleans clubs since he was 12 years old. He’s now 23 and if there had been tables to dance on at Voodoo Experience, people would have been on them. If you have the opportunity to see Trombone Shorty, then do it (even if The Flaming Lips are playing at the same time).
The Flaming Lips shooting confetti
That said, we did head over to catch part of The Flaming Lips‘ set. I know I just suggested you do one thing and then I did the opposite thing, but with that experience behind me, I stand by my original recommendation — see Trombone Shorty. I do like the Lips, but the sole reason we ventured across the muddy field to see them was out of sheer curiosity, to see if they did anything different. I’ve seen them perform for years. I stopped seeing them perform for years. I revisited them during their tour this summer. And then, thinking they may pull out something new for the festival crowd, I saw them again at Voodoo Experience. If you’re somebody who doesn’t like change, rest easy – The Flaming Lips are doing exactly the same thing they were doing years ago. The show begins with Wayne Coyne rolling out on top of the crowd in a large bubble. Then, there’s confetti, enough balloons for everybody to play, and furry creatures dancing on stage. Songs may be performed in a slightly different tempo – “Fight Test” was played ultra slow at Voodoo – but essentially a Flaming Lips show is a Flaming Lips show. They provide good old-fashioned fun that you can always count on.
Voodoo Experience: good times guaranteed
Similarly, New Orleans Voodoo Experience provides good fun and music you can count on. However, that may be the only constant. New Orleans Voodoo Experience is truly unique and offers a diverse range of entertainment and activities. There’s something for everyone at Voodoo Experience – that’s why more than 100,000 people showed up.
There’s not much to say. Last night marked the final performance for Nine Inch Nails for the foreseeable future and I was standing 5 feet from the stage. It doesn’t get much better than that. In fact, it might not get any better than that. Unless, of course, NIN says “just kidding” and start touring again next year.
The thing is – it didn’t seem to matter where you were standing for this show – everybody who was there was just happy to be there. I saw a post from a woman who was in the furthest seat back in the balcony and she sounds as moved and excited as me.
It hasn’t really hit me yet that this is the last time we’ll be seeing this band perform live, especially since I got used to seeing them almost every-other day during these final four shows. I even ran out of black t-shirts to wear. I’ll post some videos, pictures, and the setlist below, but let’s start at the beginning.
Any Nine Inch Nails show is an experience, but the experience of this show began with fans trying to get tickets during the original on-sale and people traveling in from around the world to be at what was actually supposed to be the second-to-last show ever. As evidenced on the tour posters and shirts, the schedule changed last-minute when Trent became too sick to perform following the initial show at The Palladium. This meant the Henry Fonda (2nd) and Wiltern (3rd) shows had to be rescheduled. The Echoplex show, which was originally billed as the final show, went on as scheduled last Sunday, making it the 2nd show instead of the last show. Confused? Imagine how the bosses, family members, spouses and friends of all the people who took time off work, traveled across the country (or from other countries), and camped outside days before each show felt! I met people who couldn’t tell their family they were in town from Chicago because they surely wouldn’t understand why they popped over to LA for a day to see Nine Inch Nails, but haven’t visited the family in a year. But in the end it all worked out. Trent was well enough to perform the shows the way Nine Inch Nails is known and will be remembered for, and some fans who couldn’t previously get tickets were able to get into the rescheduled shows (although others who originally planned to be there had to return home to their jobs and families).
Speaking of family – Nine Inch Nails fans are family in a way that I haven’t experienced with any other band. There are definitely communities of fans that become friends through their shared love of a band. And jam band fans in particular run into each other while following their favorite band around the country. But Nine Inch Nails fans might as well be blood relatives. They look out for each other and NIN in a way that only a protective family member would. And the band does the same for their fans. In a fairly successful attempt to eliminate the scalping of tickets for these shows, Nine Inch Nails controlled all ticket sales, limited 2 tickets per person, printed the buyer’s name on the tickets, required ID of the buyer for ticket pick up, both the buyer and the buyer’s guest had to be present to pick up the tickets and then a wristband was placed on both people for entrance into the show. When the band found out that somebody was purchasing large quantities of event shirts and selling them on eBay (causing shirts to sell out at the venue before the fans who were there could purchase one), they limited people to one t-shirt per customer. And although they announced their Summer tour would be their last, Nine Inch Nails realized the impact this would have on their fans and added these final intimate club dates as a proper send-off. And then they played their souls out.
A small section of the line that spanned for blocks
Driving up to The Wiltern was quite a sight. I passed by the venue Wednesday at midnight and there were already a good 15 – 20 people camping outside. Dave Navarro also stopped by, brought water and snacks for the fans, and hung out for a bit. Then, by 2:00pm Thursday, the line wrapped around the block so that you could look through the alley and wave to the people waiting on the next street over.
The funniest thing to see were these huge straw patio umbrellas that several people seemed to have. It was HOT outside and once people discovered that Ralph’s sold patio furniture, they cleaned them out. Straw patio umbrellas were only $8 and they sold out in a flash. This was also one of the few places where the line for the men’s restroom was longer than the women’s. At one point, a guy drove by, blasting Lady GaGa. If you drive by hundreds of Nine Inch Nails fans, with Lady GaGa as your soundtrack, you deserve the ridicule you receive. There was a fan who walked up and down the line, giving everybody candy. “I’ve stood in this line 3 times (for the previous shows). I know how it is,” she said. Somebody asked me, “is there a show happening here?” I answered, “no” – you’ve got to be at least one step ahead of that for me to respond to you seriously. Somebody asked a guy next to me “who’s playing?” and the guy, who had been answering that question since he arrived at 7:30am said, “Michael Jackson.” Now, you might not think that’s funny. But the person’s response was, “oh – cool!” and that’s either funny or scary. Then, there’s the “t-shirt douche” – the guy who bought NIN event shirts en mass and tried to sell them on eBay for more than $200 each. As soon as fans figured out who this guy was they took a picture of him and posted it online (along with some additional descriptive graphics added in Photoshop). They shared it on Twitter and in the NIN forums and told everybody to be on the lookout for the “t-shirt douche.” But what was even better than that is that people passed out fliers with the guy’s picture on it while everybody was waiting in line. So now you have a line of several hundred people, holding these fliers that look like an R-rated version of an “America’s Most Wanted” poster and what happens? The “douche” walks by, head down, as fans call him out and require him to leave. Do not f*ck with Nine Inch Nails fans.
Once inside, there were the celebrity sightings: Tony Hawk, Ron Jeremy (for whom the crowd chanted and cheered), Rick Rubin, Tony Kanal (No Doubt), and Penn Jillette. But mostly there was the anticipation, excitement, and a bit of sadness that loomed in the air as everybody waited for Nine Inch Nails to take the stage for the last time. The show was amazing. All of these shows have been. I’m actually afraid to see live music for a little while because it’s going to take a lot to move me after this.
There are Artists, Musicians, Singers, Composers, Performers, and Songwriters. Some people are only one of those; Trent Reznor is all of them. He writes some of the most beautifully composed music you’ll hear. His music constricts and expands, extremely intense at times and then giving you space to breathe and expand with the notes. He has the ability to take all those sounds he hears in his head, and to articulate and translate them into something I can hear, process, and that moves my soul. His voice is exquisite – speaking and singing – I could listen to him for days. He’s honest and raw and 100% who he is – whether you (or he) like it or not – which makes his performances as real and authentic as they get. He’s given us 20 years of exceptional music and outstanding live performances. Even if you don’t like him, you gotta love him.
Numan and Reznor
The set list was 3-4 pages in length and they played for over 3 hours. Dave Navarro joined for a couple songs, as did The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mike Garson (Bowie), and Gary Numan. When they came out for the second encore Trent asked the crowd, “Are you guys tired?” Of course the crowd screamed “no!” and cheered. “No? Ok, I’m gonna test you.”
Although I don’t typically post set lists, I’m doing it for these shows because they’re the last shows and you can tell that a lot went into constructing a set in-line with such an event. So here it is:
2. Somewhat Damaged
3. The Collector
5. March of the Pigs
6. Something I Can Never Have
7. The Frail
8. The Wretched
10. Head Down
12. Just Like You Imagined (with Mike Garson)
13. La Mer (with Mike Garson)
14. Eraser (with Mike Garson)
15. The Becoming (with Mike Garson)
16. Down In The Park (Gary Numan cover) (with Gary Numan)
17. Metal (Gary Numan cover) (with Gary Numan)
18. I Die: You Die (Gary Numan cover) (with Gary Numan)
20. Letting You
22. Suck (Pigface cover)
23. Down In It
24. The Hand That Feeds
25. Head Like a Hole
26. Me, I’m Not (with Atticus Ross)
27. The Warning
29. Gave Up
30. Mr. Self Destruct
32. Atmosphere (Joy Division cover)
33. Dead Souls (Joy Division cover)
34. The Good Soldier
35. The Day The World Went Away
37. In This Twilight
Here are some videos and photos from last night’s show, including Trent’s final speech to the audience. But first, a thank you to Nine Inch Nails for the past 20 years, the music, the shows, the love, the heartbreak, and the friends met along the way. Look forward to hearing what you guys do next.
Billy Corgan and Spirits in The Sky
The Hotel Cafe, LA
August 31, 2009
"Fall into the grace of where you are. . ."
It’s not often a rock band plays The Hotel Cafe. I may have just pissed off some bands that play The Hotel Cafe. However, it is rare that a true, plugged-in rock show takes place at the small venue most often recognized as the home of outstanding singer-songwriters.
But, it has happened: Perry Farrell has made a couple guest appearances at The Hotel Cafe, including one time with his side project, Satellite Party; Billy Corgan has played there previously (although it was a mellow, acoustic, solo show); Pete Townshend has stepped foot on that stage a few times; Butch Walker had people standing on tables at one time; and Cypress Hill once turned the intimate room into a hip-hop club.
Yet, for the most part The Hotel Cafe is a place where people watch quietly as songwriters sing about break-ups and alcohol. The beginning of tonight’s show was in line with that vibe, although rather than droning on about heartbreak, Corgan sang melodically about love.
Navarro and Corgan during the electric part of the show
Corgan was joined on-stage by Dave Navarro, 19-year old Mike Byrne from Portland who was chosen to play drums in the band after Corgan placed an open-call for drummers online, Mark Weitz on keyboards, Kerry Brown on percussion, Ysanne Spevak on violin, Linda Strawberry on backing vocals, Kevin Dippold on flute and mandolin, and bassist Mark Tulin.
When the mellow set of songs about love, devotion, and dreams came to an end Corgan had a surprise for the audience. Well, it wasn’t a surprise to everyone, just to those of us who didn’t see his note on SmashingPumpkins.com today: “The tour ought to end with a bang though, as tonight marks the faux Halloween show! Everyone is expected to show up in costume and there will be a costume contest held during the show.”
Intermission: Costume Contest
Corgan said he only expected seven people to show up in costume. Instead, there were about 50 people dressed in costumes ranging from an elderly angel to a pregnant alien. While unnecessary, the costume contest was entertaining, especially with Corgan’s sarcastic banter.
Throughout the show there was “that one guy” who kept disturbing the peace by shouting out obnoxious comments. So when the guy belted out, “What’s your costume, Billy?” Corgan responded, “My costume is a guy who fuckin’ hates you. . . it’s a little subtle, but I hope you feel it. . .” That was the last we heard from “that guy.”
The costume contest wasn’t the only form of audience participation. Corgan also enlisted the crowd to sing along to one of the songs. He got everybody going, singing “oh, oh, oh” and then realized he may have asked the audience to sing too many rounds. “It seems I made a rare mistake,” Corgan admitted.
Navarro and Corgan
After the costume contest Spirits in The Sky turned on the rock show. Navarro and Corgan crushed it on electric guitars. At one point, Corgan requested the bow from Spevak’s violin – and I don’t use words like this lightly (or ever, actually) – shredded.
The band played for 2 hours. Or just under 2-hours when you factor in the costume contest. When the band exited the stage, the house music came on and the musicians all went back to the dressing room instead of staying at the side of the stage, behind the curtain. This is usually a sign that show has ended and at least half the audience left. But the loudest yellers remained and did not stop screaming or clapping until Spirits in The Sky returned for one more song.
“You asked for it. . . ” Corgan warned.
Corgan playing guitar with the bow of Spevak's violin