PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION: ANTIGRAVITY PICKS FOR THE 2017 VOODOO MUSIC + ARTS EXPERIENCE

ANTIGRAVITY-OCTOBER-2017-VOODOO-Benjamin-Booker-by-Joshua-Brasted
Published  October 2017

Now in its 18th year, The Voodoo Music + Arts Experience is one of the major draws of Halloween weekend in New Orleans. Taking place under the stately oaks of City Park, it has long been known for its eclectic, sweet and salty lineups; this year’s slate of artists is no exception. Maybe you’ve already picked out your favorites and have a battle plan in place. Or maybe you’re looking at the roster and feeling lost or out of touch because not many of the artists are familiar to you, because you’re an “old.” Fear not, brave festonauts of all ages, we’re here to offer our faves for 2017.


FRIDAY, OCTOBER 27

KENDRICK LAMAR
It feels almost superfluous at this point to talk about why one should see Kendrick Lamar. The Compton, California rapper has hit that glorious sweet spot of constant radio play and critical adoration. With DAMN releasing this year and breaking numerous sale records, that momentum is not going to die any time soon. The real fun comes in seeing how far Kendrick’s live show has evolved since he started. Recently admitting in an interview that the first concert he ever attended was the first one he performed at, Kendrick has had to figure out what makes rap shows fun in real time. At BUKU 2013—after the release of Good Kid M.A.A.D City—he did a simple call-and-response with a DJ that you might find at any rap show. Opening up for Kanye West in 2014 for the Yeezus Tour, he subbed out the DJ for a live band that wouldn’t have sounded out of place opening up for Rage Against the Machine. By 2015, after the release of the jazz-influenced To Pimp A Butterfly, the rock band was replaced with jazz musicians and he had finally stepped into a space of cool confidence that rivaled Gil-Scott Heron. When King Kendrick hits the stage on Friday, he may go back to basics or completely reinvent himself. Either way, it will be a treat. —Brandon Lattimore

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM
The original marriage of punk and disco reaches back to the bass-and-drum-thumping richness of blood brothers like Gang Of Four and New Order; James Murphy has revitalized that exciting trend for the new millennium in 2005. As LCD Soundsystem, Murphy and company created life-affirming dance tracks like the now-classic “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and “Give It Up,” bringing together the grand desire of “Never, never, never let them go” and the laissez-faire middle finger of “These are the parts of a terrible past / And these are the things that we can live without.” He later upped the ante with some Giorgio Moroder-level existentialism on his sophomore album Sound of Silver. Expect to hear some killer tracks from the brand new record American Dream (the drums sound much more like Fear Of Music-era Talking Heads), but don’t think he’ll leave out the big hits. His most recent encores have featured the beloved This is Happening opener “Dance Yrself Clean.” Get ready to groove, y’all. —Joey Laura

ANTIGRAVITY-OCTOBER-2017-VOODOO-Kehlani-by-Joshua-BrastedKEHLANI
At just 14 years old, this Oakland, California native was recruited to be the lead singer of a local cover band, PopLyfe. In 2011, the group appeared on the sixth season of America’s Got Talent, finishing in fourth place. During their final appearance, former judge Piers Morgan told Kehlani, “You’ve got real talent, but I don’t think you need the group.” Now 22, Kehlani continues to sell out venues nationwide as a solo artist. Before signing a deal with Atlantic Records, she performed around the country and internationally in support of her two mixtapes, Cloud 19 and You Should Be Here, the latter of which earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album in 2016. Kehlani’s debut studio album, SweetSexySavage, was released in January. It maintains the air of mystery that surrounded her during her pre-label days, while showcasing her sound as the potential future of female R&B. Fans can expect her Voodoo set to be full of explosive choreography and soulful melodies. —Morgan Lawrence

AFGHAN WHIGS
When looking at the alt-rockers of the ‘90s, Afghan Whigs stand out as one of the edgier bands of the era. Instead of taking the why-so-serious route of the negative-Nancy grunge scene to explore universal frustrations, they wore the mask of their fears on tracks like “White Trash Party,” “Hated,” and “Southpaw,” all from their debut album Up In It. Their most recent live performances have showcased a great eclecticism, with the song choice changing from venue to venue. Chances are their Voodoo setlist will be made up mostly of material from their newest record, In Spades, along with a couple of nuggets from their earlier records. They also love to tackle covers from groups as wide-ranging as the Beatles (“Dear Prudence”), Prince (“I Wanna Be Your Lover”), and Sinéad O’Connor (“Mandinka”). —Joey Laura

BENJAMIN BOOKER
Is it punk? Blues? Soul? Garage rock? If you’re trying to pigeonhole Benjamin Booker’s music into just one genre, you’re going to fail. But real talk here—I don’t give a shit what you call it. It’s good. And it’s damn fun. Booker grew up going to all-ages punk shows in Florida, but also cites Blind Willie Johnson and T. Rex as some of his strongest influences. The backbone of his sound is, in its simplest form, basic rock’n’roll. If you enjoy urgent, guitar-driven melodies and a dash of garbled chaos in your vocals, then you’ll have a blast at this set. This isn’t the spot for swaying and navel-gazing or respectful golf claps. But if you want to stomp your feet a bit and maybe toss your hair about, do yourself a favor and beat it to this show. —Erin Hall

CHICANO BATMAN
Chicano Batman melds Latin-tinged guitars with lush psychedelia, not unlike multicultural 1960s juggernaut Love. Their 2014 album Cycles of Existential Rhyme plays like the brainchild of Ritchie Valens’ rhythm guitar and Tito Puente’s complex percussion work. Touring now on their second record, the band only has so much material to play with. As usual, you can expect them to pull mostly from the most recent one—the splendidly hip Freedom Is Free—for their Voodoo set. And that’s just fine with me, because even though their first record is plenty pleasant, Freedom Is Free has a greater focus on fuzz pedals and exploratory organ-vibrato that makes for an even more thrilling experience. “Friendship (Is A Small Boat In A Storm)” throttles with a punchy beat that moves not only your hips and shoulders, but your soul. To get a better picture of what you’re in for, check out the political and spiritual imagery on the album’s cover: it’s going to be that kind of show. —Joey Laura

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 28

CRYSTAL CASTLES
Formed in 2008, electronica group Crystal Castles used bleeps and bloops to explore Lewis Carroll-level absurdity for their song “Alice Practice.” It’s the kind of track that makes you do mental gymnastics to keep up. Continuing their Pet Shop Boys by-way-of Karlheinz Stockhausen aesthetic, “Doe Deer” was one of 2011’s most exciting tracks, an overwhelming and whirling tornado of feeling that builds on the social anxieties of Wire’s 1979 stereo-chorus-rich masterpiece “Too Late” or even the ecstatic earful of John Coltrane’s heavenly and underappreciated Ascension. Their setlist from this year’s Lollapalooza show featured almost half of the tracks from last year’s record Amnesty (I). So at Voodoo, be sure to keep an ear open for track two from that album, entitled “Fleece.” It’s full of Peter Hook-style deep longing, especially with the line “I love your ambiguity / Revise antiquity.” It’s the kind of noise you want to get lost in. —Joey Laura

THE BLACK ANGELS
This Austin quintet have been doing the quiet, steady work of being a productive, successful band for over a decade. They’re even responsible for launching a major music festival dedicated to the preservation and celebration of one of the most influential genres of American rock music (Levitation, formerly known as Austin Psych Fest). But I wouldn’t be shocked if you hadn’t heard of them. I first spotted The Black Angels on a small stage at Bonnaroo what feels like one hundred years ago; they drew me in like a tractor beam. Their work manages to walk the tight-wire of being accessible without going off the deep end. Meandering and mind-bending, their live shows are always an intense and immersive trip. Their newest release, 2017’s Death Song, is another jewel in the crown, and taking it in on Halloween weekend in the most haunted city in America is a unique opportunity. —Erin Hall

PELL
Four years ago, OkayPlayer wrote that Pell was the newest musician to reinvent the New Orleans sound. Since then, Pell has been on a quick and steady rise, bringing his fresh sound to increasingly larger circles of listeners. Originally from New Orleans and influenced by teenage years spent in Mississippi (where he and his family relocated after Katrina), Pell is a rapper and vocalist, and much of his unique style comes from doing his own production. His major debut, 2014’s Floating While Dreaming, was dark, vibe-y, and instantly appealing. His work since then has featured brighter colors of sound, a stronger fashion sense, and layered vocals that blend style and sensibility into a truly unique musical brand. Collaborations with G-Eazy in 2015 gained him a broader following, but he continued to build his own audience from there, culminating with the release of his sophomore album LIMBO later that year. With ambitious music videos to match his creative musicality and high-profile showcases at SXSW and Hangout Fest in 2016, Pell is sure to deliver a memorable set. —Holly Hobbs

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 29

THE HEAD AND THE HEART
I’ll go ahead and admit right off the bat that I’m totally here for the indie folk revival. I know it’s the butt of a lot of jokes these days, but I don’t care. I love orchestral arrangements that include vocal harmonies, fiddles, organs, and accordions. The Head and The Heart have multiple songs (most notably “Rivers and Roads” and “Down in the Valley”) that have been used in film and TV scores to anchor emotionally fraught moments for imaginary characters, and all for good reason. Their songs are impregnated with emotion, swelling steadily before cresting into ebullience. It’s the kind of music that makes you feel something, whether you really want to or not. Voodoo set attendees can probably expect lots of swaying, sing-alongs and maybe even a few overly-PDA couples getting too into the moment. If you’re a fan of The Avett Brothers, The Lumineers, or Ray LaMontagne, then get your tender heart to this show for a dose of joy and a little bit of life affirmation. —Erin Hall

ANTIGRAVITY-OCTOBER-2017-VOODOO-Miguel-by-Joshua-BrastedMIGUEL
Fans often lump Miguel in with the new wave of R&B artists that include Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, and Kehlani. The Grammy winner started producing music at age 13 in his hometown of San Pedro (a vibrant community within Los Angeles). The influence of his Mexican-American father and African-American mother molded his unique sound—one that combines soulful R&B, funk, hip-hop, and rock. Miguel released his debut album, All I Want Is You, in November 2010 and scored a hit single with the track of the same name, which featured J. Cole. In 2012, he released his second studio album, Kaleidoscope Dream, to critical acclaim and went on to win a Grammy for Best R&B Song for his romantic ballad “Adorn.” His third and most recent studio album, Wildheart, was released in 2015 and explores themes such as raw sexuality (“Coffee”) and what individuality means to biracial Americans (“What’s Normal Anyway”). Voodoo attendees can expect electric energy from Miguel’s set. Prepare for guitars, grinding, and lots of screaming girls. —Morgan Lawrence

ANTIGRAVITY-OCTOBER-2017-VOODOO-Amine-by-Joshua-BrastedAMINE
At first glance, Portland (Oregon) rapper Amine could easily be dismissed as a radio rapper. His single “Caroline” was seemingly inescapable on the airwaves. Amine seemed at first to come from the same mold as Chance the Rapper: genuinely happy and easy to market to a family-friendly crowd. But once “Caroline” had run its course on radio and his album Good For You came out this summer, the mainstream media had seemingly forgotten about him. This is a shame, as Good For You is one the best major label rap releases this year. While nothing on the album is as catchy as “Caroline,” it is a perfect summer album about falling in (and out) of love. When scheduled to perform on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon a week after Donald Trump was elected, Amine took advantage of his platform to add an extra verse to “Caroline,” denouncing the president and what he stands for. Amine is a brave new voice in rap that is aware of his influence and precisely how to use it. —Brandon Lattimore

STRAND OF OAKS
It was the release of the album Leave Ruin a few years back that brought a new world of listeners to discover Strand of Oaks, especially tracks like “End In Flames,” a song that exhibits an early-National type aesthetic—deep melancholy mixed with refreshing lyrical nuances. Philadelphia-based Tim Showalter leads Strand of Oaks, and his partnership with the Kraegan Graves label has proved to be a fruitful one. With the release of the album HEAL in 2014, Showalter and company switched up their vibe to a harder sound, offering multiple bangers and a newer, Spoon-meets-Ryan Adams type rock sound. Showalter himself was unhappy with HEAL, though, labeling it too dark and self-absorbed. For their newest album, Hard Love, released earlier this year, Strand of Oaks collaborated with producer Nicolas Vernhes (War on Drugs, Spoon) and guitarist Jason Anderson to create an album that retains many of the band’s old songwriting patterns and aesthetics, while incorporating more hope and lightness into the mix. Showalter still sings of the old pain, but with an audibly broader attempt at hopefulness and a brighter take on life, drugs, and love. —Holly Hobbs

The Voodoo Music + Arts Experience takes place Friday, October 27th through Sunday, October 29th at City Park. For more info, check out voodoofestival.com


Feature Photo: Benjamin Booker

all photos by Joshua Brasted

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