With the presidential election fewer than two weeks away, Barack Obama was in the air at the tenth anniversary of the Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans. On Friday, the first day of the three-day festival in City Park, Erykah Badu saluted him as a “human being for change,” and DJ King Britt worked part of his DNC speech into his set. A local group even rewrote a Mardi Gras Indian chant as “Handa Wanda Obama.”
Voodoo merges the national and local on six stages, with music ranging from traditional brass bands to the New Orleans Bingo! Show, which includes a trapeze performer and yes, a game of bingo. Friday night, TV on the Radio relied more heavily on Return to Cookie Mountain than their new Dear Science. Singer Tunde Adebimpe’s left arm had a mind of its own as he paced the stage, waving wildly when it wasn’t pressed behind firmly behind his back, but his voice was low in the mix, so those who didn’t know the songs didn’t know what animated him.
Scott Weiland took the stage for Stone Temple Pilots’ set in a leather bolero hat and oddly cut red paid jacket, doing a slow-motion “wax-on, wax-off” dance for much of the set. Ray Luzier subbed for drummer Eric Kretz, whose father died recently, leaving the group’s tempos a half-step sluggish. For the first half-hour of the STP Hit Parade, the crowd was ecstatic anyway, but the excitement waned during the wandering jam that drifted out of “Creep.”
Saturday, Lil Wayne received a hero’s welcome for his first major show in the area since Tha Carter III and his biggest gig in New Orleans yet. A live band gave his set power, but a series of slow jams cooled it down. He raced through “Phone Home,” “Misunderstood” and “Shoot Me Down” to get to “A Milli” (his power was cut after that track, as he was 15 minutes overtime). “I’m registered to vote. Are you?” he asked before requesting half of the crowd shout “Fuck bitches” and the other, “Get Money.”
Nine Inch Nails last performed in New Orleans at Voodoo 2005, just over two months after Hurricane Katrina. That year’s show was free for first responders and the few who returned to the city, so for many, this was their first chance to see the buff Trent Reznor, who sang hunched over in a semi-fetal position, biceps bulging as he hung on to the mike with two fists. The set began with a version of The Slip‘s “1,000,000” that was as hard as a heart punch, and it set the tone for a set that featured his textured, gloom-free industrial sound of recent years. The two-plus hour-long set included a suite of songs from Ghosts I-IV that tested the patience of some, but the pieces were luminous, with their mood heightened by a stylized image of dead trees looming behind the band.
Sunday’s news was the cancellation of N.E.R.D.’s set, but the angst-free lineup led to a chill crowd. They were patient with Panic at the Disco, who were fun when they played the self-consciously clever dance rock of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out and conventional when they played the more classic pop from the recent Pretty. Odd. They had election fever as well, as Ryan Ross announced that the band was voting for the first time in this election.
R.E.M. closed the festival with the most overtly political show of the weekend. Michael Stipe announced, “We hate the Bush Administration” and “We also really hated the Reagan Administration, too” in song introductions. Theirs was also the most New Orleans-oriented set by a headliner, going back to Murmur for “West of the Fields,” which Stipe explained was inspired by spending a week living on the streets of New Orleans.
After a set-closing “It’s the End of the World as We Know (And I Feel Fine),” R.E.M. came back for 20-minute encore that included “The One I Love,” “Driver 8,” “7 Chinese Brothers” and “Man on the Moon.” During it, Stipe asked, “Who wants to end the first decade of the 21st Century with hope and change and joy?” as the Obama Change image flashed on the video screen. When the crowd erupted, he bounced onstage. “Fuckin’ awesome!”