05. The Head and the Heart
Maybe it was the fact that Halloween was two days away, but it felt like there weren’t that many artists in costume at Voodoo this year. Mondo Cozmo made a good stab at it on Friday with their drag getup, but the Head and the Heart swooped in Sunday to claim best in show with guitarist Josiah Johnson as Slash and frontman Jonathan Russell as a near-perfect Freddie Mercury. Seriously, he buzzed his hair, donned all-white with a gilded belt buckle, and even man-sculpted the singer’s iconic mustache.
Infused with the spirit of glam legends, the band’s already-resplendent sundown set – the ultimate atmospheric cherry on top for uplifting ballads like “Another Story”, “Let’s Be Still”, and “Rivers and Roads” – became even more glorious. In particular, Russell’s movements were imbued with far more star-powered smoothness, which added what felt like a necessary increase in showmanship for the Seattle group’s anthemic cover of Crowded House classic “Don’t Dream It’s Over”.
04. Foo Fighters
Though their non-festival show is traditionally three hours long, Foo Fighters managed to make 13 songs in 90 minutes feel nearly as grand by doing everything big: They employed a massive light show; ignited a diamond-shaped jumbo-tron to showcase each member’s larger-than-life rock chops; indulged in epic extended jamouts (“Rope”, “Times Like These”, “Best of You”); and inspired a loud sing-along to Queen’s “Under Pressure”, led by Taylor Hawkins and featuring a random-yet-badass collaboration with Rufus Taylor, son of Queen’s original (and current) drummer.
The only thing not enormous enough was Dave Grohl’s voice. He sounded hoarse throughout most of the show — in hindsight, he really should have let that one fan with the sign sing “My Hero” — and unfortunately killed the choral gravitas of new song “The Sky is a Neighborhood”, one of two tracks pulled from last month’s Concrete and Gold. Granted, this particular evening was fucking cold, and Grohl was undoubtedly battling the wind every step of the way. Fortunately, he warmed up enough to bust out the evening’s other new track “Run”, which sounded as heavy as it does on record.
Though some Halloween costume participation would’ve been a major bonus, Grohl ultimately racked up extra cool points for delivering the most heartfelt NOLA tribute of the weekend: “There’s nowhere else in the fuckin’ world that celebrates music like this city,” he said. “It’s on every corner. It’s in every bar … you name me one fucking city where it’s okay for a band to march down the street with 700 people behind them drinking. This is a beautiful, strong city full of beautiful people that understand music is the food of life, and that’s the only thing we’ve got, right?” Pretty much.
03. Kendrick Lamar
With the DAMN. Tour’s incredible production value – ninjas swirling around King Kendrick for the opener kicker “DNA.”, an optical illusion trick worthy of David Blaine during “PRIDE.”, and a Fourth of July’s worth of pyro and fireworks to drive home set finale “HUMBLE.” – the Compton, CA-bred rapper’s Friday night headlining turn should’ve been the set of the fest by all rights. Unfortunately, none of those elements – so dazzling and essential at his Coachella tour opener to tie together the tale of Kung Fu Kenny – save for the final flame plumes and fireworks were present, making it more of a standard Kendrick show. (In fact, without anything in the way of thought-provoking graphics beyond the kung fu clips, there was far less food for thought than most his To Pimp a Butterfly shows, too). Then again, “standard” for Lamar constitutes the sharpest, most engrossing hip-hop artist performing on any stage right now. So, as usual, he rallied the masses for aggressive sing-alongs (“Backstreet Freestyle”, “m.A.A.d. City”) with more ease than any other performer on the bill, and made lightning fast lyrical deliveries (“FEEL.”, “Alright”) look like child’s play. Not his most innovative production, but nevertheless still regal as fuck.
02. LCD Soundsystem
LCD Soundsystem could’ve played the same set they stuck to for the bulk of their 2016 reunion run and it still would’ve been stellar. Each go-around felt more vivid than the last, a sure sign that the band’s reformation was for the right reasons. This past September’s American Dream confirmed it: Stylistically, the experimental rock octet didn’t skip a beat, expounding upon their previous gems with even more shades of late-70s-to-early-80s-era punk and New Wave tones, not to mention some of the most moving and relevant poetry of the past few years. The spirit of risk in reuniting to make a bold new record after going through such a public breakup was reflected in their Friday night runner-up rally on the Altar stage.
New scorcher “Call the Police” made for a kinetic kickoff (James Murphy got so into it that he karate-chopped his mic stand to the ground), mid-set “Tonite” was the disco-inspired, house-pulse antidote to moodier “Someone Great”, and the pummeling punk ethos of “Emotional Haircut” seemed to win over most of the skeptics. There were scores more on-the-fence folks because they were essentially the hype-band opener for Kendrick Lamar and many had already been waiting hours for his headlining set, but, though a cover of Chic’s “I Want Your Love” fell flat, the all-in response to classic closing double-whammy “Dance Yrself Clean” / “All My Friends” proved yet again that LCD’s ability to remain relevant and cross-generationally engaging is far from fading.
01. Black Pistol Fire
Crystal Castles’ Ethan Kath might be a garbage human, but at least the electronic duo’s run of canceled tour dates – which included Saturday’s Voodoo performance, one of a dozen-plus stops dropped after former singer Alice Glass released a letter alleging 10 years of sexual, psychological and physical abuse by Kath – meant that a few (more deserving) artists got better time / stage slots.
One of those was Austin-based, Canada-bred garage rock duo Black Pistol Fire, who were originally scheduled to open the day on the Wisner stage, but got bumped an hour later to open the much larger main (Altar) stage. Given the group’s typical balls-to-the-wall performance style – contingent upon singer/guitarist Kevin McKeown’s maddened daddy long-legs shredder antics, which usually propel him into the audience at some point – there was a slight worry that the larger setup might cause a disconnect.
But from the blistering intro tune “Lost Cause” – one of a handful representing explosive new album Deadbeat Graffiti – McKeown (with drummer Eric Owen’s unforgivingly heavy beats egging him on) refused to let that happen. By song two (“Hipster Shakes”), he’d already teased the action to come by jumping onto the stagefront speakers, and after thrashing through a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”, he spent the bulk of “Where You Been Before” prowling the photo pit as he prepped for the impending blues-stomp-mashup of “Run Rabbit Run”, Son House’s “Grinnin’ in Your Face”, and Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love”. That impassioned medley emboldened the final release of blue devils needed for the frontman to launch himself and his baby-blue Epiphone full-on into the throng of fans, who by this point were losing their shit left and right.
McKeown crossed the finish line with jeans ripped in multiple places, a thoroughly dirtied (formerly) white T-shirt, a bloodied nose bridge and, doubtless, a slew of new converts, including all the video guys and security guards, who I overheard on multiple occasions gabbing excitedly about “the most amazing show” – truly, the exemplary festival set — throughout the rest of the weekend.