The Voodoo Music Festival is a compilation of all your favorite music festivals wrapped up together with a strong southern accent and some good old Southern hospitality. The festival has been going on for six years now and shows no sign of slowing down. Attendance at the annual event in New Orleans, Louisiana reached 60,000 this year and the lineup just keeps getting better. In previous years the festival has hosted such noted artists as No Doubt, Iggy and the Stooges, 50 Cent, The White Stripes, The Black Eyed Peas, Missy Elliot, Garbage and many others. This year the lineup was as equally eclectic and talented. The two-day event had enough entertainment for the whole weekend; leaving us curious road-trippers right in the heart of the Big Easy.
New Orleans is home to Mardi Gras in February but infamous Bourbon Street is lively all year round. For the first stop of the trip late on Friday night we headed down to the French Quarter and to the House of Blues for the pre-Voodoo party where Juliette Lewis and the Licks were kicking things off. Lewis, of Natural Born Killers and Cape Fear fame, has started her very own rock band, and her character eccentricities were just as wild and unpredictable on stage. But even with her antics, she couldn’t save The Licks from banal mediocrity.
On Saturday we headed down to the heart of New Orleans to the beautiful, spacious City Park. Kill Radio, the band; not to be confused with the free-form radio station in LA, was one of the first groups to play. The Omaha quartet brought the rock, and their live show was skillfully energetic and backed up with solid music. Playing songs from Raised On Whipped Cream, the band didn’t hesitate to voice their liberal anti-Bush politics. After Kill Radio I stumbled upon Snow Patrol. The four handsome Scots have a unique ambiance and despite being a relatively small band in terms of achievement in the US, put on one of the best performance of the festival.
Next up was Vegas’ own rock sensations The Killers. Geared up in their spiffy blazers and meticulously lazy long hairstyles, they played “Somebody Told Me,” along side the rest of their lighthearted pop tunes. I had to squint through most of Sonic Youth’s performance at sunset. Kim Gordon and the gang are getting old, or so it seemed to the ‘twenty-something’ crowd in attendance, but it didn’t stop them from genuinely doing their thing. I would estimate that about 5-8 minutes of their set was the enigmatic sounds of static and reverb in traditional Sonic Youth style.
I was shocked when The Pixies started their set. They are everything I want in a band, yet one of the few bands I have never paid any attention to. The Pixies were late 80s icons and had disbanded until their reunion earlier this year. They have played some amazing shows so far and all of us clueless children of the 90s were out there soaking it up.
Green Day was next, and I believe that the huge meadow of spectators was the biggest mass of humanity I had ever seen in my life. It was intense. Green Day came out with “American Idiot,” and “Jesus of Suburbia,” two tracks from their acclaimed American Idiot. They followed, to the satisfaction of the crowd, with a set of their greatest hits. In between cooling the crowd with his super-soaker, Billy Joe Armstrong decided to do his own rendition of Making the Band, and having been pleasantly surprised, he gave one kid his guitar and sent another diving into the crowd after the Faux Day performance.
Besides the great music the festival had a unique atmosphere. There were large voodoo dolls hanging around the fields and huge blow up figures around the stages. For an interesting side note: the old Voodoo religion was brought to New Orleans by the Haitian slaves working on plantations in the early 19th century and even today, there are still remnants of the religion lurking around the city. Besides the cool decorations, there was also a great selection of food. There were the normal barbecue type dishes, but there were plenty of traditional Orleans delicacies like crawfish, Jambalaya, and red beans and rice. To my satisfaction, they offered the Vegan crowd plenty to eat as well.
Slunt was the first band that I had the disappointment of seeing on Sunday. The New Yorkers are fronted by Abby Gennet, a just-out-prison-type frontwoman who has been compared to both Brodie Dalle of the Distillers and Courtney Love; but upon my inspection, turns out she is just another terrible imitator. Next up was the famous faces of Phantom Planet. They played the singles but also mixed in some Fugazi, which I was particularly pleased with. Despite the departure of Jason Schwartzman, the band sounded solid.
Then there was Velvet Revolver. Even if Velvet Revolver was the worst band currently making music, they would still get a lot of attention just for the fact that they are Guns N’ Roses + STP. Their performance was as I expected; there were some cool stage effects, a skinny white boy dancing around showing skin, and some really nice guitar work; but the music was boring. Tastes like over-cooked mashed potatoes. If there were anyone ever trying to ride it out on fame’s coattails, Velvet Revolver are it.
I regret that I did not have more time to see the other noted artist at the festival like The Beastie Boys, Cowboy Mouth, De La Soul, the Polyphonic Spree and others, but needless to say, I did get my dose of good music. The wide variety of musicians on hand makes the Voodoo Music Festival an experience for everyone- an unparalleled mixing of talented musicians with the atmosphere of the deep south.
All photos by Mary C. Smith.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.