Voodoo closes with a flourish

NIN caps off tribute to New Orleans

By Mark Jordan for The Commercial Appeal on October 31, 2005

With religious protesters patrolling the sidewalk outside and people in all manner of disturbing costumes walking about inside, the dark industrial rock of Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails struck a perfectly spooky, pre-Halloween chord at the seventh annual Voodoo Music Experience last night at AutoZone Park.

Unfortunately, the apocalyptic imagery coming from the stage at this benefit for those in New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina was all too real.

"I was just (in New Orleans) for the first time after Katrina," said Reznor, who had joined several of the bands on Sunday's bill in playing a free Voodoo festival in the flood-ravaged city the night before. "It truly is an awe-inspiring scene of devastation and these people are going to need your help for a long time. It's not going to go away in a few months."

With that, Reznor brought out slam poet Saul Williams for a pair of collaborations that was the highlight of NIN's hard-rocking, eye-popping set.

NIN was the penultimate act of the day; British deejay Carl Cox played festivalgoers out with a booty-shaking, eclectic mix of dance floor styles. But Reznor and company were unquestionably the main attraction for concertgoers who came out to the park to hear 25 bands play on three stages in some of the best weather of the season.

Festival organizers said official attendance figures were not available Sunday night.

Art rockers the Decemberists canceled their appearance at the last minute, citing "unforeseen circumstances." Instead, Slidell, La., ska band Samurai Deli moved into their noon slot to start things off on the Southern Comfort/Playstation/Rolling Stone.com stage. Actually, two large stages were set up in the ballpark's left field, the main stage hosted the day's biggest bands, with acts alternating between the two so that there was never more than a few minutes lull between bands.

Among the day's highlights was a reunion by '70s punk pioneers the New York Dolls. From 1972 to 1975 the cross-dressing Dolls helped sketch the blueprint for punk with their boozy, drug-fueled shows and recordings.

"The last time the Dolls played Memphis, they threw me in jail," singer David Johansen said, referring to an infamous 1973 concert where he was arrested for inciting a riot after he invited fans onstage.

The reunited Dolls featured the only two surviving original members, guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and Johansen, sans skirt. But the anarchic spirit remained intact as they ripped through early classics such as "Puss n' Boots" and their famous cover of Bo Diddley's "Pills."

Before the Dolls, alt metal darlings Queens of the Stone Age played. Considerably changed from the all-star lineup that produced Queens' 2002 breakthrough disc Songs for the Deaf, the current edition of the band put the focus back squarely on leader Josh Homme's songs, tackling new material from this year's Lullabies to Paralyze and old material such as Songs' "No One Knows" with equal ferocity.

Earlier in the evening, alternative band Cake played a show that featured trumpeter Vince DiFiore and songs from their latest release, Pressure Chief, probably their best disc to date. Unfortunately, sound problems that had cropped up intermittently all day came to a head during Cake's set.

And Memphis's North Mississippi Allstars played a sunset serenade of solid-if-uninspired boogie jam, highlighted by drummer Cody Dickinson's set-closing electric washboard solo.

Some of the freshest and most irreverent music of the day took place on the TCB Plaza Stage that greeted concertgoers as they entered the park. Produced by local promoter TCB Concerts with mostly unknown and local bands, the small stage was just a few feet off the ground with no barrier between band and audience. This gave it an intimate feel that encouraged the bands to be free with their language. Voodoo fest critics who feared pagan rituals and sacrifices instead only had ill-advised body art and potty-mouth humor to fuel their disapproval.

Mrs. Fletcher, longtime mainstays of the local heavy music scene, gave the few hundred early arrivals a loud wake-up call when they kicked off the day's music at 10:30 a.m. from the TCB stage. They were followed by Memphis newcomers Negative Poles, a mysterious quartet with tight chops and a welcome sense of showmanship. The band played in wrestlers' masks that completely obscured their faces and kept up the masquerade when they were offstage as well.

A welcome change of pace from the preponderance of loud guitars was the young traditional bluegrass outfit King Wilkie from Nashville, certainly the only band of the day to pull out the ukulele. More Del McCoury than Nickel Creek, the band has already perfected that high lonesome sound, having performed at the Grand Ole Opry.

The highlight of the day on the smaller stage, however, was local band Augustine. Playing songs from their debut CD due out next month (it was delayed by the destruction of Easley McCain Studio last spring) the group displayed the combination of expansive ambitious songcraft and gut-wrenching guitar theatrics that has made them the town's most talked-about new band.

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