New Orleans – On Sunday October 3oth, the 2016 edition of the Voodoo Music Festival drew to its close under sunny Southern skies and continued record-breaking high temperatures for the usually chilly autumn season (well, relatively chilly; still balmy for those of us who grew up in the northern part of the country). While the afternoon and early-evening hours of the day’s festivities were enjoyed mostly by those lying in giant masses under the shade of the scattered oaks that pepper City Park’s festival grounds. The final hours of Voodoo Music + Arts Experience saw audiences divided between some powerhouse acts: downtempo electronic act Gramatik vs. chill jazz-electronic fusion, “analog dance music” collective Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9), and then during the headlining slot, mainstream EDM newcomer giants The Chainsmokers vs. Baroque-influenced indie collective Arcade Fire.
All in all, all of those in attendance hoping to seek out their niche were inevitably satisfied, as Arcade Fire unfortunately did not play any new music (though a crowd at New Orleans’ notoriously tiny One-Eyed Jack’s were treated to such delicacies at a secret show the night before), but were given a chance to be a part of the new album as the band recorded the audience for part of one of its new songs; while The Chainsmokers wowed its audience with fireworks and a massive light display at the Le PLUR Stage. In the interim, fans were given the opportunity to check out bands such as relative newcomers Band of Horses (the band just celebrated the release of its fifth LP Why Are You OK earlier this year), hard rock outfit Puscifer (helmed by Saturday headliner Tool’s frontman, Maynard James Keenan), and world music collective Beats Antique (hailing from my now-native Oakland, CA).
Though the multi-colored puddles of hung-over corpses didn’t quite make their return to the realm of the living until the sunshine began to fade — turning the skies above City Park into a tapestry of light pinks and yellows charging against a bold shade of indigo — some of the best acts to command the Voodoo Stages and their heartiest, heat-repellent crowds were drawn from the festival’s finer print, performing as the bodies began to pile up in the darker corners towards the beginning of the day. These two bands in particular were some of the weekend’s finest, unapologetically confirming that Vanessa Williams was right all along: the best are indeed saved for last:
Vancouver-bred electronic duo Bob Moses only has one proper LP under its belt – last year’s excellent Days Gone By – but as with any new act worth its salt, the band’s two musicians, vocalist/guitarist Tom Howie and producer Jimmy Vallance, were ready to enrich the air and startle the ears and minds of those lucky enough to catch Bob Moses’ early afternoon set on the South Course stage at Voodoo Music Festival this year. The band has been touring extensively following the release of Days Gone By, hitting up festivals such as Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza, and even last year’s Treasure Island Festival, which is where I was first exposed to the duo’s unexpected blend of deep house loops, downtempo electronica, and weepy vocal harmonies. As the final day of Voodoo Fest happened to land on the day before Halloween, the two elected to dress for the occasion (following in the stead of Saturday’s Shakey Graves), with Howie adorning a black top hat with matching flowing, dark curly wig and black sunglasses, while Vallance tied off his long blond wig with a bandana as he manned the production setup. They presented themselves as “Guns ‘N’ Moses,” a play on Axl Rose’s (Vallance) and Slash’s (Howie) respective signature looks, which was a welcome departure from the usual mundane nature ruling the majority of costumes seen at the event. Thankfully, neither honored personality, nor their particular brand of music, infiltrated the sound put forth by Bob Moses on Sunday, as the hour-long set stayed true to the pair’s enthralling sonic wonder.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what genre Bob Moses is trying to settle into, and that is okay by me. These days, I feel like genres can either be empowering or incredibly limiting, depending on where an act falls within the exponentially broadening spectrum. The word “indie” has become absolutely bastardized according to some influential forces in the blogosphere, especially since “indie” used to mean that an act was part of an independent label – which is basically an obsolete concept these days as most labels (including major ones) have either folded or been absorbed into one of the few major conglomerates that virtually run the mainstream. I do think “indie” can be a term that, when applied correctly, offers some insight into an act’s particular sound, but often that is not the case. With self-released LPs and a massive network of DIY (do-it-yourself) artists growing in size and popularity, the term has pretty much lost all meaning, especially since most of these outfits have embraced cross-genre mentality and an altogether disdain for previous structures. Nonetheless, Bob Moses draws from some very specific resources – minimalist electronica, downtempo, deep house – and some unexpected ones, like grunge and the New York underground scene of the 80s. Bob Moses’ set relied solely on the duo’s own music (no covers this time, despite the abundant trend to do one), namely from Days Gone By.
Kicking things off with “Like It Or Not,” the duo plowed through “Talk” and “Before I Fall,” breaking up the album tracks with B-side “Fall From The Tree” and rooting the center of the set with fellow B-side “All I Want.” The set’s first three songs made it difficult for those manning the photo pit to decide when to kick the photographers out (for those who don’t know, the general rule is that photographers can’t take pictures after the third song/tenth minute of anyone’s set, though amendments are occasionally made to that policy), as they all basically blended into one another—as is the M.O. of Bob Moses’ chill, semi-analog bass-fueled dance music. The two happily navigated the placid seas of some other album highlights along the way, including songs “Keeping Me Alive” and hypnotic single “Tearing Me Up,” performed in all of its lengthy, album-version glory. Bob Moses closed things out with LP centerpiece “Too Much is Never Enough,” which also exhibited no shame in drawing out its own inherent length, bathing the cuddle-puddles under the nearby trees in fascinating warmth. Bob Moses is not a band that will be going anywhere anytime soon, and like its supposed namesake, Robert Moses (the architect famous for designing Central Park and Shea Stadium), the duo is sure to leave a lasting mark on the face of multi-genre music.
Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals
Brandon Paak Anderson – better known as Anderson .Paak – was one of the finest, humblest, and most enthralling acts to take on the Altar Stage on Sunday, helping to pave a golden path upon which bands like Band of Horses and Arcade Fire would tread later in the day. I’m going to be honest here: I’m not the hugest fan of hip-hop. There are a few acts that manage to break through this jaded, white boy’s scrim of disapproval: classic acts like OutKast and Public Enemy have made their way through, as have some newer artists like Kendrick Lamar and Young Thug. But generally, I just don’t see the appeal. I don’t understand why so many people have hard-ons for Drake and demi-demagogue Kanye West… their beats are solid, but honestly their rhymes are lost on me. Maybe I just can’t relate, maybe I just can’t keep up, maybe I’m just stupid. Maybe I’m just getting old. Meh.
When Anderson .Paak and his band the Free Nationals came onstage to the sounds of Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” however (second GNR reference in a matter of hours!), I knew we were in for something special. Anderson .Paak’s energy was unrivaled; in comparison to all the acts I saw on Sunday, Anderson .Paak commanded the audience more effectively than anybody. The SoCal native played a relatively short set—lasting only an hour—but his charisma was infectious, leeching into the collection of bodies gathered at the Altar Stage, effortlessly carrying his dynamism to the furthest corners of City Park – and perhaps the entire city of New Orleans itself. The rapper has held many personae over the years, including his initial artistic endeavor under the name Breezy Lovejoy, as well as his work with producer Knxwledge, under the name NxWorries. But it is with his Free Nationals that .Paak truly shines, as exhibited on the Altar Stage this Sunday.
Anderson .Paak is not only his own hype-machine, he is also a talented rapper, singer, and drummer. He carefully mixes soul, funk, and jazz into his idiosyncratic hip-hop style. Most of the tracks he happily performed for us were cuts from his latest release Malibu, including “Lite Weight,” “Come Down,” and “Put Me Thru,” not to mention his ode to juvenile necessity “The Season / Carry Me,” in which he talks about his childhood need for the coolest shoes available. He briskly flung himself between his stances at the microphone and his seat at his drum set, throughout his set, closing things out with “Am I Wrong” (featuring a wonderfully appropriate outro of the late David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”), followed up with his track “Luh You,” taken from his 2014 LP Venice. Just before leaving the stage, Anderson bowed cheerfully, and peered out through his gigantic round sunglasses, smiling wide as the Pacific Ocean, and there was a palpable sense of bliss that seemed to flood the muggy atmosphere blanketing the surrounding fields.
The other day I mentioned the disheartening trend I noticed concerning the unceremonious and outright offensive use of Native American headdresses as costumes at the festival. Not since my most recent – and probably final – jaunt to Coachella, in 2014, have I seen such a blatant display of ignorance and, dare I say, idiocy when it came to the fashion choices of many festivalgoers. I not only think that its unfair and insensitive, it also strikes a very alarming chord within myself. How are security guards okay with this? How are fellow attendees just standing idly by? I was at Halloween party the other night, and I witnessed a very inebriated woman literally attack another patron because she was dressed as Snooki. From fucking Jersey Shore! Her reason? She thought that the offender’s Snooki costume was detrimental to how Italian-Americans are viewed. I can understand the “attacker’s” perspective in all of this, but on the other hand, she was just emulating a person. A real person, a person who has made millions of dollars doing the exact thing this one girl was so offended by. Meanwhile, a twenty-something white male stood idly by, red stripes painted on his face, wearing a sweatband with three fluorescent feathers sticking out from its elastic prison of ignorance. And did anyone go up to him? No… that is until I noticed him, finished my Yuengling, and went up to him and politely asked him to remove it, which he did. So, semi-Kudos to him.
Just because a festival happens around Halloween is no excuse to diminish the cultures of other people to pageantry. It’s incredibly unfair and exudes a gross amount of undeserved privilege, especially considering the events happening in places like North Dakota. And for white people there is no equivalent, so having the “ability” of performing such acts tips the balances of the scales so haphazardly that it throws the centuries-long oppression of our Native friends/brothers/sisters even deeper down into the abyss of gross injustice.
Other than that, the weekend was a success. I noticed some very clear similarities between this year’s Voodoo Music + Arts Experience and Lollapalooza, including the light-up funhouse camera tower at the grounds’ center and the plastic carafes filled to the brim with prosecco. The head honchos in charge of Lolla finally got their hands on Voodoo… and thank god. Voodoo Music Festival was a veritable mess for the years I attended while living in NOLA—save for my first trip in 2010 and ultimately my last one in 2013—but it seems they’ve got things figured out now. The headliners were stellar, the undercard was fantastic, the weather was superb, and it was so great to be able to return to my second home of New Orleans for the rebirth of this festival. And as always, the new acts shone brighter than Evangeline.
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Photography by Corey Bell for Best New Bands.