Photoset // Voodoo Music Experience, Day 3: 10.30.2011

MyNameIsJohnMichael + The Preservation Hall Jazz Band w/ The Del McCoury Band + Dr. John and the Lower 911 + Morning 40 Federation + Odd Future + Portugal. The Man + TV On The Radio + The Meters + The Raconteurs + Fatboy Slim performing at City Park on October 30, 2011 for the Voodoo Music Experience

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Voodoo Music Experience, Day 3: 10.30.2011

By now, all music blogs and culture magazines are abuzz about Los Angeles-based rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, whose set at the Le Ritual Voodoo main stage on the final day of Voodoo was at once electrifying and unnerving. After the group showered photographers with water and unloaded a slew of vulgar profanities at them Sunday afternoon, Left Brain – one of the dozen or so members of Odd Future constantly bounding around the stage – got up close and personal with one particular woman snapping shots from the photo pit.  Even those who escaped with only injured feelings told horror stories as if they’d been party to a narrow brush with death while the rest just seemed flat out, but justifiably, offended that they were the objects of homophobic language and violent behavior.

But then again, everyone already knows that Odd Future is a pretty shocking group. They are homophobic, misogynistic and vulgar; most importantly, they are a band of young, manically creative egos composed of pure, unchecked energy who for the first time in their lives have a little bit of “fuck you” money and the swagger that it comes with, all of which they seem comfortable throwing around with abandon. But don’t think for a second that the members of Odd Future don’t comprehend the implications of their onstage actions or the contradictions of their words – that while Tyler, the Creator accuses photographers of being nothing more than freeriding hangers-on who skipped out on paying entrance to the festival, he knows that journalists have garnered Odd Future the sort of attention responsible for the success they currently enjoy and it’s unlikely that he altogether despises their numerous photo shoots for the likes of Vice Magazine and The Fader.

If anything, the members of Odd Future know exactly how to get their young rabid fan base completely fired up, which they did quickly and continuously. Within seconds of being released of the three-song photo pit rule, they were free to lurk around the area in front of the stage, give high fives to the front row of the audience and crowd surf with depraved indifference to their own safety. With circle pits spontaneously springing up throughout a massive sea of heads and the band letting side stage audience members jump from the stage into the crowd, it became apparent that this was less a hip hop concert than it was a hardcore punk show, and plenty of kids have the bruises to prove it. And while I’m sure it was shocking, unsettling, and maybe even offensive being up in the pit during this outrageous performance, everyone left with more amazing photo opportunities than bodily injuries.

Immediately after, things settled back down to Earth at the Bingo! stage – though only momentarily. When talking about Portland band Portugal. The Man, it’s very easy to articulate why they are one of America’s most talented bands on record. With a spacey glam rock vibe that benefits heavily from immaculately nuanced production, textured and complex instrumentation and some of the highest register male vocals on earth, it can’t be surprising that In The Mountain In The Cloud is a no-brain contender for album of the year.

However, it’s much more difficult to convey – even to someone familiar with the band’s catalog – how unbelievably hard this band rocks in a live setting. A Portugal concert is more than just the normal larger-sound-live phenomenon with more aggressive drums and louder-sung vocals, but rather there are megatons more personality emanating from every member of the band. After humbly opening things up with a relatively restrained “So American”, it wasn’t long before drummer Jason Seachrist began laying on the crash and the rest of the band followed suit in letting the more berserk side of Portugal. The Man hang out.

On such intimate quarters as Bingo! it can be hard to picture a five piece band having enough room to head bang, leap around unhindered or strike a rock star pose, but Portugal certainly used every inch of that stage. With keyboardist Ryan Neighbors practically pushing his rig over has he relentlessly pounded the ivory and bassist Zachary Carothers jauntily jumping around as he showed off a patented punk rock technique, lead singer John Gourley tore through ridiculous guitar solos and perfectly found his upper register. It was almost too much at one point to realize that – through spacey distortion, heavy bass, thumping keys and numerous cymbals – they were absolutely nailing a cover of “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles.

With daylight still looming over the Le Plur Red Bulletin stage, arguably the most impressive DJ of the weekend managed be such without the benefit of a light show, a hype man or any other elaborate electronica set dressings. Alain Macklovitch – better known as A-Trak, the youngest ever DMC World Champion, Kanye West’s influential touring DJ, half of disco house duo Duck Sauce and younger brother of Chromeo frontman Dave 1 – certainly had the credentials to topple headliners like Major Lazer and Fatboy Slim, but it was still hugely enthralling to witness such an extraordinary performance.

Though I’d be lying if I said the technical aspects of scratching and spinning aren’t generally lost on me, there was no mistaking the fact that literally everything A-Trak did on stage was live and in real time, no matter how simple or difficult the maneuver. And though he opened to an unfortunately sparse audience, he quickly hemmed in the scattered crowd of bros and ravers with a string of cuts familiar to the area (a couple of reggaeton riffs, some cut-up snare drums, the occasional dubstep drop, Adele) before unloading a barrage of highly technical, ultra-futuristic electrofunk (his obvious onstage bread and butter).

It’s probably the case that some people didn’t know what they were seeing or how it differed from anything else they’d seen on the Le Plur stage that weekend. But by the sound of the frenzied crowd at the end of A-Trak’s set, it was apparent that by not cutting any live corners he was the weekend’s torchbearer of the art of scratching in electronica, blowing minds as he jumped between turntables like a human metronome through dissected Jay-Z verses and Grace-era Rapture hooks. Authenticity of this sort makes the pay off that much more satisfying when A-Trak decides to give the crowd a jaw-dropping demonstration of how he crushes the competition in a DJ championship.

additional reporting by Matt Rosenthal, who was right there when the Odd Future shit went down

Photoset // Voodoo Music Experience, Day 2: 10.29.2011

The Revivalists + Happy Talk Band + Soul Rebels + Boots Electric + Ozomatli + Rotary Downs + Mastadon + Gordan Gano and Lost Bayou Ramblers, Mastadon + Vockah Redu + Social Distortion + Katey Red + Bobby Rush + X + Snoop Dogg + Girl Talk + Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk + Blink 182 performing at City Park on Octover 29, 2011 for The Voodoo Music Experience

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Voodoo Music Experience, Day 2: 10.29.2011

To say that Gordon Gano, lead singer of the hugely influential Violent Femmes, has completely eschewed the lazy exclusivist aspect of being an artistic icon of post punk and an originator alternative rock would be a monumental understatement. Though you could have found him collaborating with icons like John Cale, Lou Reed, PJ Harvey and Frank Black about ten years ago, yesterday’s performance on the Le Flambeau Preservation Hall stage with Pilette, LA-based Lost Bayou Ramblers made it clear that 2002’s Hitting the Ground chronicled the restless evolution of a man who has no intention of stopping his musical edification. Coming off less like a front man or celebrity cameo than a bona fide sixth band member, when he wasn’t backing up Louis Michot as he sang entirely in Cajun French Gano was ripping through dueling fiddle solos with him. And somehow they meshed perfectly, even for a modest take on “Blister in the Sun”.

Elswhere on the Le Carnival Bingo! Parlor stage, classic punk band X proved that age can’t kill a consummate live chemistry. Though you could easily get a good glimpse of X in their prime in the seminal 1981 rock doc The Decline of Western Civilization, this now much older band – with a 55-year youngest member and a 63-year oldest – is still drilling through song after song in the great Ramones tradition, and they haven’t lost much of a step if any at all. The towering and aggressive bassist/singer John Doe still plays up the greaser look and hops from one side of the stage to the other while fellow vocalist Exene Cervenka ungracefully flails and nails every purposeful, imperfect note. Genuinely revelatory though was underratedest guitar player of all time Billy Zoom, who effortlessly tore through fast, complex punk and rock n’ roll riffs with a flawlessness rarely heard in either genre – all without moving from his hilariously wide yoga stance or changing the blithe, Gomer Pyle-like expression from his face.

Finally, headliners Blink 182 surprisingly became the first band of the weekend to successfully brave the fritzy sound system of the Le Ritual Voodoo main stage. Though they were an undeniable smash success of the late 1990s and early 2000s, I had always credited Blink 182’s platinum-selling ascendancy to the late Jerry Finn, who – being one of the aural architects of the era along with Stephen Street, John Leckie and Dave Fridmann – managed to take a novelty pop punk act from Dude Ranch and give them the larger-than-life-on-record sound of Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.

And while it still may be true that Finn’s presence in the studio helped Blink 182 realize their trajectory as a hot-ticket live act, last night at Voodoo this band laid to waste my preconceived notion that a three-man pop punk act doesn’t have what it takes to fill not just a massive festival stage but one that had been less than kind to the likes of Soundgarden and Mastodon. Also surprising was how arena-ready many of these songs were, from quick simplistic punk numbers like “Dumpweed” to more overwrought material like “Stay Together For The Kids”. Along the way, guitarist Tom DeLonge and bassist Mark Hoppus smoothly riffed off of each other, providing for great vocal harmonies and their still relatively endearing dick and fart humor between songs. And with Travis Barker not hurting his case for greatest active punk drummer by basically laying on a lightning-fast drum roll for the duration of the set, it’s difficult to even think of Blink 182 as a pop punk band any more because that was a straight up arena rock concert.

Photoset // Voodoo Music Experience, Day 1: 10.28.2011

Peelander-Z + Mates of State + Dirty South + The Static Jacks + Quintron and Miss Pussycat + Major Lazer + Beusoleil w/ Dr. Michael White + Red Baraat + Fitz and the Tantrums + My Chemical Romance + The Vettes + Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes + Soundgarden performing at City Park for The Voodoo Music Experience

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Voodoo Music Experience, Day 1: 10.28.2011

Though it would probably be overstepping to grant Morphine the kind of singular distinction usually thrown at the likes of jazz fusion pioneer Miles Davis or Barryfest-endorsed darkly sarcastic American duo Steely Dan, it would be incredibly disingenuous not to acknowledge that this Boston-bred oddball of the 1990s – adept at melting fiery blues and avant-garde jazz into an alternative rock foundation – was simply the most unique group of musicians from that decade. Known as much for their almost universal aversion to electric guitars and strange, delicate use of traditional instruments (heavily effect-laden saxophone and slide bass guitar were practically their cornerstone) as they are for lead songwriter Mark Sandman’s on-stage heart attack death in 1999, it would have seemed near impossible, after the band’s subsequent disbandment, that they’d ever have a chance of continuing, restarting, or even replicating Morphine’s inimitable charm.

Enter revered New Orleans busker-turned-nightclub mainstay Jeremy Lyons, who – together with Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Jerome Deupree under the moniker “Members of Morphine  and Jeremy Lyons” – not only respected the band’s legacy on the Le Flambeau Preservation Hall stage at the Voodoo Music Experience, but may have found the perfect use of the Morphine formula for a huge, low-end and ironically low-key live experience unlike any other of the day. With a minimalist stage set up consisting of nothing more than a handful of traditional jazz instruments, this trio managed to unload a gigantic set of shattering percussion; roaring, distorted, rock n’ roll guitar solos played through baritone sax; and muffed-out, overdriven two-string slide bass guitar. If audience members even had a clue about what they were in for, they were altogether blown away by the perfectly-executed expansiveness of one of the more unique live performances they’d ever witnessed.

The only equivalent on Voodoo day 1 came from Los Angeles-based band Fitz and The Tantrums, whose feel-good blend of funk and neo-soul blew the roof off the Le Carnival Bingo! Parlor stage as the sun had just set. After appearing at Voodoo last year and helping the Eagles of Death Metal jam pack One Eyed Jacks that same weekend, Fitz & Co. are essentially New Orleans touring veterans – a fact which proved heavily apparent tonight.

Aside from the astonishing virtuosity of bassist Joseph Karnes and bass saxophonist James King’s rumbling, low-end double team as well as the heavy, rocking solos of keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna, front man Michael Fitzpatrick  crooned over the band’s best tracks (and a cover of The Raconteurs’ “Steady, As She Goes”) and controlled the stage with a David Byrne-esque mechanical, yet rhythmic, swagger while singer Noelle Scaggs – with some of the best pipes active in music today – undeniably stole the show with an infectiously energy that all but compelled crowd participation. After Fitz and The Tantrums’ set concluded, there was only one question to ponder: “Who had more fun at this show, the audience or Fitz and The Tantrums?”

Live Picks: 10.27.2011 – 11.02.2011

10.27: 400 Blows + Holy Shakes + Mountain of Wizard + Red Shield – Siberia

10.28: Pygmy Lush + Leaving + HABITAT – The Big Top

10.29: Rotary Downs + Caddywhompus – d.b.a.

Marathon sets, special guests, deft covers and rabid crowds are hallmarks of any late night, post-festival musical extravaganza – the promise of which keeps revelrous concert-goers out until the wee hours even with the knowledge that, come morning, they have to be ready to do it all over again.  It’s fitting, then, that greatest band in the universe Rotary Downs’ annual Halloween show at d.b.a. has become one of the most anticipated entries on the post-Voodoo calendar: the grueling parameters and outlandish expectations of these special engagements are old hat for New Orleans’ long-time indie rock torchbearers, who unleash expansive sets of fascinating psychedelic space-pop peppered with Yo La Tengo-grade covers literally every time they take any stage.

For their 4th Annual Frenchman Street ramble, Rotary Downs is welcoming the inimitable Caddywhompus to the fold, making Saturday night’s event a fever dream-worthy celebration of the two most mind-bendingly impressive acts Crescent City’s lustrous alternative rock panoroma has to offer. Add costumes, fog machines and a brilliantly over-the-top light show to the mix and you’ve got just about the best concert event any fan of all that is good and right in local music could ask for.

MP3: Rotary Downs: “Random Digs”

MP3: Caddywhompus: “Big Fun”

10.30: Vox And The Hound + The Forms + The Jonesbirds – Unfold Media Gallery

10.31: Quintron and Miss Pussycat + Darktown Strutters + Wild Emotion + The Unnaturals – One Eyed Jacks

11.01: Pree + Frau Eva + Julie Odell – AllWays Lounge

11.02: Dead Confederate + Big Rock Candy Mountain + Sun Hotel – The Parish at House of Blues

Check out our New Orleans Music Calendar for a full slate of constantly updated live picks