Late last year I saw Black Box Revelation open a show at The Wiltern. I had to reference Google to remember what show it was, but I had no problem remembering Black Box Revelation.
What struck me about their show at The Wiltern was its authenticity. It didn’t feel like it was about money or fame, a “hit” nor a label. With Jan Paternoster and Dries Van Dijck (Black Box Revelation) it was simply: music. After that initial show, I vowed to see them the next time they came to L.A.
October 17th was a particularly busy night in Los Angeles, musically speaking. There were, at minimum, five competing shows I would have liked to see. Depending on the set times and the distance between venues – if you’re not drinking – it is possible to see 2-3 shows in one night in Los Angeles. I’ve done it before, but on this particular Wednesday night I was drinking and I was determined to see one band: Black Box Revelation, at The Troubadour.
When Paternoster and Van Dijck started playing, I forgot about all the other places I had considered going, the other bands I might have seen. There was a reason I vowed to see Black Box Revelation the next time they played in L.A. and I was rewarded for sticking to the plan.
Perhaps it’s because they hail from Brussels where, I imagine, if you’re playing music, it’s truly for the sake of playing music. It could be the lack of props and a light show that keeps the focus on the music. Or, maybe it’s the way some people compare them to The Black Keys and The White Stripes, which makes sense in that they play rock music and it feels familiar. Yet, Black Box Revelation is different. Perhaps the familiar feeling is the comfort that comes with consistency in quality.
During the course of two shows, I’ve identified numerous things I find appealing about Black Box Revelation, yet they still maintain a sense of mystery. Not only do they play rock & roll music, they are rock & roll, to the core. Their music is your invitation into their world. The rest is up to you. Don’t expect this band to put out a lyrics video. They won’t stop the show to explain the meaning of the next song they’re going to play. They don’t hard-sell you to visit the merch table. Black Box Revelation doesn’t insult your intelligence. They trust you’ll get it.
Before the music business there was music. Black Box Revelation is keeping that era alive.
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.
October 30, 2009
2009 Voodoo Experience
New Orleans, LA
It's not just a music festival
The Voodoo Experience in New Orleans is in its eleventh year. Yet somehow, year after year, it’s one music festival I had yet to enjoy until yesterday. Voodoo has been on my to-do list for several years, not only because I hadn’t done it yet, but because it’s in New Orleans (one of my favorite cities), during Halloween weekend.
This year’s line-up includes Eminem, Justice, Silversun Pickups, The Black Keys, Fischerspooner, The Vettes, Janelle Monae, Kiss, Jane’s Addiction, Gogol Bordello, Wolfmother, The Black Lips, The Flaming Lips, Mutemath, Brand New, the Pogues, and many more.
There will be an in-depth review to follow including my interview with The Vettes and their adopted brother (who’s also in the band). While I leave you with that cliffhanger, here are some pictures and quick highlights from Day 1.
The Cool Kids
Silversun Pickups meeting fans
Janelle Monae: all will be revealed with the full Day 1 recap (hint: she’s awesome)