Voodoo Music Experience – Day 2

Music Reviews
Voodoo Music Experience – Day 2

(Pictured above: Cake’s John McCrea. Photo by Palmer Houchins)

Voodoo Music Experience’s partial relocation to the centerfield of Memphis’ AutoZone Park was hardly comparable to its traditional dwellings in the cypress-lined fields of New Orleans City Park. But, in an indirect way, that was the point.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the storm’s aftermath left a question mark around the future of Voodoo fest. Doubts that the event would carry on gave way to speculation it’d be moved elsewhere in the Southeast until official word finally came that it’d be transplanted in its entirety to Memphis where all performances would be donated and proceeds given to the New Orleans Restoration Fund.

Three high-profile acts were set to headline—Nine Inch Nails, Foo Fighters and The Flaming Lips. Then, just three weeks before the weekend festival, producer Paul Rehage announced that Saturday’s lineup would, in fact, take place in New Orleans, providing some R&R for relief workers in the city.

Organizers hoped ticket sales from the Sunday event in Memphis would offset much of the production expenses of the festival’s New Orleans half. Unfortunately, routing issues forced Foo Fighters and Flaming Lips off the bill, and Memphis rapidly became a trimmed-down affair.

Still, the lineup featured an appropriate mix of homegrown New Orleans talent like Cowboy Mouth and World Leader Pretend along with national groups like Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age.

Gates opened at AutoZone Park—home of St. Louis Cardinals farm team the Memphis Redbirds—just before noon, revealing modest crowds and two full-sized stages side-by-side in centerfield. Ska revivalists Samurai Deli and modern rockers World Leader Pretend opened the festival.

The unexplained absence of indie rock’s premier literary avengers, The Decemberists, from their noontime performance slot was merely the first black eye in a litany of problems that plagued Voodoo’s creative sphere. In Colin Meloy and Co.’s stead, Mindless Self Indulgence played a brand of industrial rock that reflected its name all too literally. Brit-influenced psych-rock trio Secret Machines delivered one of the day’s better performances, sticking to a core of songs from last year’s stellar debut Now Here is Nowhere.

Louisiana natives Better Than Ezra rehashed the glossy ’90s rock they cut their teeth on, running through an uninspired set that featured radio hits like “Good” and “Desperately Wanting” plus lots of undeserved rock-star posturing. At one point, singer/guitarist Kevin Griffin introduced the next song “Juicy” as a “kinda cheesy” one, penned for a Desperate Housewives promo ad, before unashamedly admitting that he didn’t really care because of the amount of money the band was paid for it. It’s hard to have any empathy for a band—even at a benefit—that revels so deeply in prostituting its music.

The North Mississippi Allstars performed a rousing set of hill-country blues-boogie, mainly performing songs off their strongest release—their 2000 debut Shake Hands with Shorty—before ending the set with an extended electric washboard solo.

Hampered by excruciatingly long soundcheck delays, which were another issue at the festival, Cake’s set was delayed over half an hour. Perfect foils for Better Than Ezra, the band enjoyed ’90s radio success with its single “The Distance,” but continues to grow its witty brand of Southwestern-tinged genre-hopping, as evinced by last year’s Pressure Chief. Cake waltzed through older tunes like “Stick Shifts and Safety Belts” and “Sheep Go to Heaven” before launching into newer ones like “No Phone,” which ended with a stadium-wide male/female audience duet. Capping the day’s best performance, perma-bearded frontman John McCrea announced the band’s closing song “Never There” by thanking the crowd with more of his characteristic droll lyricism, “Your attention span is awesome. We appreciate your patronage.”

Queens of the Stone Age followed Cake, keying on their innovative, hypnotic hard-rock formula. A performance from newly resurrected glam/garage rockers The New York Dolls was interesting, if only because of fiftysomething frontman Brian Johansen’s decision to don a pirate hat and midriff-revealing tee. Headlining the festivities, Trent Reznor lead Nine Inch Nails through an adept set, proving deceivingly agile.

For all the charitable fundraising the Voodoo Music Experience produced, there was still an ache at the end of the day. The goth kids in runny eyeliner and black combat boots contributed to an overall ethos that felt more like a Hot Topic-sponsored corporate picnic than the Big Easy. From Cajuns hawking fried gator legs to bare-chested body painting, the voodoo charm of New Orleans Voodoo fests past was sorely missed.

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