Saturday was chilly by New Orleans standards and plenty windy enough to get even the most scantily-clad costumed festivalgoers to at least put on some tights at this year's Voodoo Experience festival.. As Hurricane Sandy continued in its projected trajectory towards the East Coast, many fans joked about the ironies of evacuating to New Orleans for such a storm. I'm sure the out-of-towners were glad they did. Besides, a set from Metallica should keep everyone warm.
There had been a bit of a shuffle with the main stage line-up kicking off the day and The Revivalists had traded their mid-afternoon spot with K'Naan, which was what greeted me as I walked towards Le Ritual. K'Naan were quickly earning new fans left and right, with those in the audience who knew him slyly smiling and saying, “I told you so.” Drum beats were laid out feverishly, with K'Naan pounding away on two pads as he rapped “What is Hardcore” with delight. A majority of the songs had a similar feel to the Avett Brothers' set the day before in their buoyant melodies and seriously fun riffs.
“Waiting Is a Drug” paired with the carnival rides right between Le Ritual and Le Plur felt as fitting as some creepy organ music with a merry-go-round. Of course, there were plenty of slower, more impactful songs. “Somalia” was sweeping in scope and a truly moving composition that haunted the stage until The Revivalists went on.
This was my opportunity to sample some of the food that the festival has to offer. Each booth was an offshoot of a New Orleans metro restaurant and many were seeing the Voodoo Experience for the first time, including the Creole Italian goodness of Rocky and Carlo's. Fully satiated from good food and cheap lemonade, I headed back to Le Ritual for AWOLNATION. The band had the audience well before they had taken their positions on stage. Crowd-surfing was rampant throughout their set and frontman Aaron Bruno heavily encouraged it. “I want to see how many girls we can get to crowd-surf at once,” Bruno cried, before some drunk man immediately launched himself on top the audience. One can only assume he felt like a woman at that moment.
Mega-hit “Sail” was slowed down a bit for sing-along purposes but the audience readily took the change in tempo in stride. “Wake Up” had a slightly more minimal feel to it with the chorus jumping and bouncing rather than being bogged down by an overwhelming amount of harmonies and production. AWOLNATION's set marked more experimentation on stage and an even higher level of swagger than their previous performances.
Silversun Pickups were up next and unfortunately felt a bit like they were going through the motions. The brunt of their set were crowd-pleasers like “Panic Switch” and “Lazy Eye,” but even those tried and true hits were slightly less than what they could've been. A sub-par Silversun Pickups show is still enjoyable but that missing bit of oomph made their set almost fee like filler for Metallica.
Frontman Brian Aubert readily admitted that he was excited to see the masters of metal and may have been preoccupied by either that or the very pregnant (with twins!) bassist Nikki Monninger, who is currently on maternity leave. Monninger's replacement Sara Negahdari did each song justice but her presence is my only guess as to why there was something off about the set.
After Silversun Pickups, I tried to scheme up ways to get some great photos of Metallica. The band had approved a very limited number of photographers and unfortunately I was not one of them. Luckily I'd ran into a roadie friend of mine who was willing to help me think (and shoot) outside the box. Front of House where there was security and frantic lighting audio and lighting guys would be too risky. My only other viable option would be to go up into the spotlight tower. Everything lined up in a very serendipitous way. I'd even seen two of the spotlight operators who also happened to be friends of mine earlier in the day. They were just as jazzed to see Metallica and certainly didn't mind some company.
My secret shot spot was safe; it was just a matter of getting to it. Climbing up to a spotlight tower requires a harness similar to a rock climber's, which I borrowed from my fellow schemer. With my camera slung around my arm and hidden under a peacoat, I made my ascent. The view was awesome and the experience was pretty fucking metal. Due to technical difficulties, Metallica came on a bit late but ran out of the gate with “Hit the Lights.”
Thanks to insider knowledge, I can tell you that the lighting rig they used was for Metallica's European tour and therefore smaller. There was also a moment right before the band launched into “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” where the spotlights randomly stopped working. They were quickly and almost randomly fixed, but really – those of you attending – did you notice a lack of lights or lighting issues at all? Fuck no! The spectacle of Metallica rocked on with hit after fantastic hit, ultimately culminating in a badass pyro show.
Scant bars of “American Idiot” rang out and lead singer James Hetfield joked, “We are Green Day, except a little taller.” Metallica were energized and quickly drew a lethargic crowd out of their festival exhaustion. On a completely opposite audience level stood the batshit fans of Justice who were getting kicked out of the VIP area left and right. While the French duo spun some of the most youthfully happy tracks in their catalog, a bunch of party foul-happy bros were getting manhandled by security. Add to that the ongoing issue of the main stage overpowering Le Plur and it made for a sadly unmemorable Justice experience. They'll get it right tomorrow night, right?