Foals, Bear Hands and acoustic Leon at Voodoo on Friday

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Foals perform at Voodoo Music + Arts Experience. - FRANK ETHERIDGE
  • FRANK ETHERIDGE
  • Foals perform at Voodoo Music + Arts Experience.

A robust, slightly rowdy but convivial crowd found abundant sunshine and sprawling green-space at the newly configured, much-enhanced layout of the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in New Orleans City Park on Friday.

Foals’ decidedly British slant on politely wailing guitars and vulnerable vocal pleas were the perfect soundtrack for a setting sun at the Altar stage. But The Weeknd’s over-the-top hip-hop bent boomed over a darkened City Park to close the day, while a killer light display and stirring party scene marked the surprisingly copacetic EDM of Carnage on the Le Plur stage.

The Den hosted intimate extra small sets by the day’s artists in stripped-down settings.  Leon turned in an acoustic set of sultry crooning accompanied by piano. It climaxed with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” (“Shame on you if you don’t know this one,” Leon warned while introducing the tune).

Bear Hands crushed its set at the Altar stage with a deft blend of soulful R&B grooves and rock swagger reminiscent of the Cars’ wild synth sounds and passionately resigned ethos. “Y’all f—ked up?” frontman Dylan Rau asked his audience. “We all took acid. And it feels just so, so right.”

Early in the day, Active Bird Community warmed up the South Course stage with blistering rock and roll under a high-noon sun. “Whew!” frontman Andrew Wolfson exclaimed after a hot number by the pop-punk British band. “It’s our First time in New Orleans. You are too nice. Our Uber driver invited us to his barbecue tomorrow. And we’re extending that to you."
Mayer Hawthorne performs at Voodoo Music + Arts Experience. - FRANK ETHERIDGE
  • FRANK ETHERIDGE
  • Mayer Hawthorne performs at Voodoo Music + Arts Experience.

Local rockers the Breton Sound rode its trademark energy of thundering bass and pop hooks for the young and hurt in love. A stellar take on the band's 2015 tune “Illuminate” gave way to two new up-tempo tunes from a forthcoming album before the band delivered a monster mash of the Who’s classic finale “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” (“Give us your best Roger Daltry, CSI Miami scream you can give us,” singer/guitarist Jonathan Pretus demanded.)

Riding tenacious builds laid down by extraordinary tenor saxophonist Elliot Bergman, his wife — and Wild Belle co-founder — Natalie delivered a searing vocal performance that wove in bits of soul, rock and reggae. (Her “nobody move, nobody get hurt” vocal skat was a standout moment.)

The earth-shaking bass reverb from the Pepsi stage during the set by NF (the initials for this Michigan hip-hop artist) felt good to those in tune with him, but his overworked reliance on call-and-response left much of the crowd silent. NF’s “I’m out here grinding” self-proclamation fell flat over and over when the audience failed to respond “Okay” as requested.

Kevin Gates' set was cancelled because the performer was just locked up for six months for kicking a female fan in the head.

Festival founder Steve Rehage is no longer involved with the festival. Live Nation and C3 Presents now run it, and longtime trademark trippy art installations remain as does a mix of hard rock, EDM and experimental musical styles. But now there are food trucks — where fans can can get local faves such as Petite Rouge’s iced cafe au lait — plus ping- pong tables under live-oak canopies and a craft-beer tent pouring suds such as Bayou Teche’s LA 31 or Elysian Brewing’s Space Dust.

Other new amenities include Citi Bank's “cashless registration” kiosks. Attendees who sign up for the service can swipe their wristbands, grab a sandwich and couple of cold ones — what’s not to like? Friday's longest lines flanked both sides of the Toyota Music Den; One side featured what looked like a mostly under-21 set eager to have temporary tattoos machine-applied to their forearms, and the other line offered a chance to win a GoPro after walking past a silver Toyota pick-up truck.


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