"You don't mind if I play a little music?" Lenny Kravitz asked as he closed the Voodoo Music Experience Sunday night in New Orleans. After a weekend of costume and spectacle, his two-hour set was almost old school in its focus on songs and musicianship.
The show was a homecoming for Kravitz, who bought a house in New Orleans in 1991 after visiting to see Aretha Franklin play Jazz Fest. (He performed alongside the Queen of Soul Friday night at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary concert in New York.) Little in his two-hour show seemed specifically geared for a New Orleans audience until the encore, when he called local musician Trombone Shorty to the stage to rave up the extended encore of "Let Love Rule."
The set was part of Kravitz's 20th anniversary tour for Let Love Rule — an album he recently reexamined for Rolling Stone — but he didn't make it halfway through the album. Instead, he sprinkled songs from his debut through a hits-oriented show that periodically stretched songs including "Believe" and "Blues for Sister Someone" into lengthy, funky jams that walked the fine line between exploratory and meandering. His only concession to showmanship as a bank of neon tubes on the back wall that evoked an American flag during "American Woman," which marked him as a yang to the Flaming Lips' yin.
The Flaming Lips preceded Kravitz with their full arsenal of confetti, streamers, costumed dancers and toys, and while Kravitz played a self-contained celebration of rock's eternal verities, Wayne Coyne was a trickster, wrapping up the festival by telling tall tales from the stage. He quoted an unlikely conversation with Gene Simmons of Saturday's headliner, Kiss, who supposedly conceded that the audience's mind would be five times more blown by the Flaming Lips than Kiss. He also dedicated a song to Perry Farrell, and Coyne claimed the Jane's Addiction frontman's boots gave him powers of levitation when Jane's played Saturday.
The set was one of the Flaming Lips' few American dates since the release of Embryonic, and they incorporated two songs from their new double album into the show. "Silver Trembling Hands" and "Convinced of the Hex" were streamlined live, the latter taking on the feel of a psychedelic pagan ritual as the smoke-covered stage half-obscured Coyne on his knees, beating his maracas against the floor as Steven Drozd's face contorted in a pained howl and he coaxed out wah-wah'ed guitar sounds.
It was one of the few signs of pain in the Flaming Lips' set, though, along with "Taps," which Coyne vows to play nightly until the war ends in Afghanistan. "Looks like we may be playing this song forever, Steven," he said. More often, Coyne drew attention to the full moon, the recovery of New Orleans he'd seen since playing Voodoo in 2006, and "the perfect weather." At the end of a cold, damp weekend, the night and music were a cause for celebration. "It's just so perfect to be alive right now, don't you think?"