On Voodoo Fest 2008’s opening night, Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland produced one of my favorite concert moments ever. For all I know it might have been a drunken ad-lib or a swinging dick mini-lecture he provided at every show.
Maybe it says something about New Orleans’ Voodoo Fest that I forgot the three-day event centered around Halloween was this weekend until a friend asked me who she should see on Friday. Maybe it also says something about me that I have no idea what day of the week it is most of the time.
Voodoo Fest aka Voodoo Music + Arts Experience traditionally features a handful of acts I want to see and a barrel full of acts I don’t for the $235 three-day admission price. This year’s lineup leans a little more toward my preferences in hip hop and rock music. No lie, I am kinda sad I am a pauper and unable to fly down on a whim for Voodoo. (Also: I am kinda sad I am a pauper, period.)
Below are my Voodoo Fest 2015 picks for those lucky enough to score passes.
On Friday afternoon under a tent erected across the street from a ginormous strawberry shortcake Cleveland dystopian rock trio Cloud Nothings inspired one of the most delicious ironies I’ve witnessed in New York City. The small band of NYU students gathered in front of the impromptu stage – god bless ‘em and their overpriced educations – shouted along with Dylan Baldi lines like “I thought I would be more than this” and “No future, no past” with the gusto of true believers during the band’s Strawberry Festival headlining gig. I mean, if they identify this strong with Baldi’s words at 20 or 21, good luck when they find themselves struggling to stay afloat in the job market, while tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
But for one afternoon everything was cakey, noisey and sublime.
In my 20s I spent most of my meager journalist earnings attending concerts, in shitty dives, stadiums and sun-soaked festivals across America. So much money, in fact, that I depleted my savings account, my mom reminded me on a quarterly basis. That’s neither here nor there. It dawned on me at age 30 someone else should provide me free tickets, in order to sustain my concert habits. So far, so good in 2015.
That brings me to two shows I’ve attended/reviewed in the past 10 days.
Alabama Shakes singer/guitarist Brittany Howard’s lung capacity will one day allow her to:
A) power a Mars expedition
B) summit Everest without additional oxygen
C) build a Stairway to Heaven
D) stop bullets in mid-air Matrix-style
E) breathe life into the lifeless corpse of rock’n’roll
F) all of the above
Earlier this week I wrote a piece for the music and travel blog Mixologi titled “Hip Hop Curiously Absent From Governors Ball” comparing the NYC festival’s hip hop offerings to that of fellow festival giants Coachella and Bonnaroo. The article could have easily been called “Hip Hop MIA From Governors Ball Lineup”. I encourage you to read it, like it, share it, the whole nine yards.
My 2014 concert-going adventures matched my age, or came damn close. I witnessed around 30 live performances this year, a number that suggests maybe I am slowing down as my vintage increases or slowing down as my New York City rent obligations grow.
The news isn’t all bad though. 2014 provided me the opportunity to check off several artists from my bucket list and witness many others who I had loved in previous years. It even provided me a chance to see Jennifer Lopez lip-sync for 90 minutes in the Bronx, and live to tell the tale (which I haven’t).
You will notice this list skews heavily toward festival performances. That is because I am poor – to maintain an active concert-going existence in NYC means buying tickets bloated with Ticketmaster and Live Nation fees four or five months in advance – and the club shows featuring up-and-coming acts I witnessed were mostly misses, with one key exception.
Here is my favorite concerts 2014 edition list:
Merchandise frontman Carson Cox stepped onto the Music Hall of Williamsburg stage Tuesday night right out of central casting, it would appear, for a remake of a Brando or Dean flick celebrating men of a different era blessed with a certain je ne sais quoi. His sandy blond hair shaded his sculpted jaw, his T-shirt rolled above his bicep like some neo-greaser, his voice toed an androgynous line both sensual and aggressive. An overhead green stage light highlighted his mysterious, effervescent cool.
He screamed without screaming: “I am here. Watch me.”
Hailing from Tampa, Fla., a bay city not renowned for its effervescent cool, the quintet Merchandise plays lush rock-n-roll that lingers in the air, searching, yearning, driving toward something unknown. They started out playing DIY shows in the Sunshine state, and have since evolved to a sound classicists would not label punk. They’ve released three solid records, the most recent of which, After the End, dropped earlier this year on 4AD. Oh, and there are the Morrissey comparisons vis a vis the aching, feminine air to Cox’s croon.
Among the retired jerseys of Kidd, Williams, and Petrovic I took my seat above the snow line inside Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch Montreal art-rock ensemble Arcade Fire wrap up their three-night residency two weekends ago. I purchased the ticket at a discount on Groupon the week before as a means of (hopefully) closing a nine-year-old wound incurred when I skipped an Arcade Fire show, for which I had tickets, because I did not want to drive alone to New Orleans. Just typing that sentence makes me shake my head.
Seeing Arcade Fire four albums and 10 years into their career at the Brooklyn Nets basketball arena, as opposed to on the floor performing their first album at the House of Blues in New Orleans, would need to suffice on this August night. Alas, when I arrived at my section, seated parallel to the left of the stage, I couldn’t help but feel a wee bit of regret. There were seats, for one. And they were a football field from the stage. I held a $5 cup of Coke in one hand and a $7 bucket of cheese popcorn in the other. The two combined accounted for the price of one beer, enough to make any concert a sober experience.
Credit Arcade Fire and their tremendous songbook for erasing my outrage at beer prices and disappointment at my seat location. They are an arena band now. Connecting with the back row is, in many ways, as important as connecting with the front. And from where I was standing – closer to the heavens than ever before at a concert – I’d say Win Butler and Co. did a damn good job, leaving me enthused about the Arcade Fire “experience” even if the conditions I experienced them in were less than my ideal. Dare I say next time Arcade Fire comes to town I would spring for $80 floor tickets? Yes, yes I would.
His stage name could conceivably be pronounced three or four ways. His backstory reads like a person playing hopscotch over the western hemisphere. His vocals on the Pitchfork-approved cut “Shame” recall Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu howling for help in vain as he tumbles down a sinkhole. And the song’s words, well they are anyone’s guess. Yes, Montreal via New York City via Brazil performer Thomas Arseneault (nee Mas Ysa pronounced maas ee-sa) has oodles of intrigue.