Denizens of the semi-sleazy strip of Lower Decatur Street may have noticed an unusual busker strumming his guitar outside the bars over the past few years. Mad Mike, 'the Hippie Bum," looks like your average friendly bohemian with an open guitar case " but when you catch the lyrics, you'll do a double-take. His folksy, acoustic hum-along tunes include 'Sex At The Zoo," 'Smoking Crack" and the perennial campfire favorite, 'I Love The Devil."
One Man Machine
If you've ever wanted to see a large black man channel Patti Smith, One Man Machine is for you. 'One Man" isn't totally accurate. Mastermind Bernard Pearce is often accompanied by a drummer, a bassist working double-time with keyboards and sometimes electric banjo. The rhythm section thumps and drones with a free-jazz-style ebb and flow under Pearce's random trumpet declamations and staccato vocal bursts, which can be positively mesmerizing.
The multilingual Zydepunks create a travelogue of folk music sounds cribbed from Irish, Breton, Cajun, Eastern European and Latin American traditions " all of which rely on fiddle and accordion to lead. The band spikes the mix with a super-sized injection of anarchic punk energy. The result is a sweat-soaked frenzy of a live show that merges the chaos of Iggy Pop circa 1970 with a Romany campfire party circa 1870.
My Graveyard Jaw
Circus performer, freight-train hopper and porch-stomper Stix duh Clown plays slide guitar, cello, banjo and percussion as My Graveyard Jaw, an eerie, old-timey acoustic blues-folk project that hearkens back to the oldest, weirdest Americana. The ghostly, mournful music he makes is the perfect soundtrack for setting out to seek your fortune with nothing but a battered guitar case and all your belongings tied up in a red bandana on a stick.
Hurray for the Riff Raff and Why Are We Building Such A Big Ship?
Accordionist Walt McDermott and singer Alynda Lee perform in both of these homegrown downtown New Orleans ensembles, rooted in essentially the same musical tree: Riff Raff's junkyard-style folk, smoothed over by McDermott's taste for the Old World sounds of waltz and musette, is like a sorrowful whisper through dead trees, straight from a past that mingles the sounds of Appalachia and Europe for a ghostly effect. The sprawling ensemble Big Ship, perhaps by the sheer size of its membership, is more raucous, expanding the spooky aura of accordion, horns, banjo, musical saw and other instrumentation into something like swelling joy.
The White Bitch
Novelist, reporter and rabid Public Enemy and Prince fan (and Gambit Weekly contributor) Michael Patrick Welch combines his literate sarcasm " and disparate musical tastes " in this sometimes-one-man-band effort, with a name coined by students he once tutored. Expect wry lyrics, touches of sparkly disco and experimental noise issuing from his guitar and pedals.
The crafty, high-spirited Good Guys met in 2004 through a mutual love of underground metal, and it shows, albeit twisted to their own specs. Their thundering percussion and chugging guitar is filtered through a martini glass darkly. Hard-rock clamor meets the lushness of electronic lounge-core, making for a deliciously weird hybrid. Its first genre-defying full-length release, The Social Engagement, came out in June.
The New Orleans Bingo! Show
Hosts of the Bingo! Parlour stage (natch), New Orleans' favorite multimedia game-show cabaret brings a full-on costumed theatrical experience, complete with drunken clowns, found-object percussion and original short films. The glue holding it all together is ringmaster Clint Maedgen's achingly gorgeous songwriting, which combines the grittiest ballads of Tom Waits and Prince at his most ethereal.
Clint Maedgen + 9
Alvin Batiste-trained multi-instrumentalist Clint Maedgen pens trenchant, gorgeous ballads that capture the small beauties of bohemian New Orleans life like the tiny captures of a pinhole camera. The '+9" project, performing live for only the third time, is what it sounds like: The songwriter explores his work with a swelling ensemble of nine musicians, expanding the original songs and some covers with lush, ecstatic horns and strings.
The Happy Talk Band
After watching Cool Hand Luke again recently (R.I.P.), a revelation hit: All of the Happy Talk Band's songs have the same vibe as the moment in the film when Paul Newman sings 'Plastic Jesus" to himself after his mother dies. Frontman Luke Allen's songs are bittersweet, angry, deeply melancholic and full of accidental beauty. They're also some of the finest tales of New Orleans life written by a contemporary artist, with an instinctive, literary minimalism and the peculiar, optimism of the much-disappointed. When the fullest version of the band, with lap steel, cello, keyboards and Alex McMurray on lead guitar is in effect, the punkish country-rock sound is powerful.
The mysterious MC Trach has honed and evolved his show for more than a decade, bringing his deeply textured psychedelic sound " layered with garbled vocals and complex laptop effects " to SXSW, New York's Webster Hall and, frequently, people's yards. A longtime pal of Voodoo rostermates the Butthole Surfers, Trach's sound owes a great deal to their damaged, tripped-out sonic buzz. Expect anything from live horns, guitar and bass to costumed characters and a fully electronic set-up.
Quintron and Miss Pussycat
The Ninth Ward organist and inventor Mr. Quintron attained cult fame for his creation, the Drum Buddy " a friendly-looking machine that flashes and oscillates onstage as it makes noise on a basic principle similar to the workings of the Theremin. (Laurie Anderson bought one, and Kanye West blogged about it.) P and Q released their debut album on Goner Records, Too Thirsty For Love, recently. It's more of the frenzied, gospel-meets-roller-disco organ-rock their fans have been digging for years.
The Morning 40 Federation
The 40s' unique blend of boozy swagger, brass and barroom rock has become the beloved soundtrack for a certain kind of night out in downtown New Orleans: the kind that usually ends in leaving your credit card (and probably an article or two of clothing) at the bar. The members' practiced debauchery is no match for the skills of Detroit soul/sleaze king Andre Williams, with whom the band recently collaborated on an album (Can You Deal With It?). Since Williams is also in town for Voodoo, there's no telling what kind of mayhem could take place, onstage or off.
Valparaiso Men's Chorus
One of the first things to get straight about this large, rowdy choral group is that they are not trying to be pirates. These are not pirate songs. In fact, the group holds a dim view of pirates across the board. The chorus is singer/songwriter Alex McMurray's project, born out of a strange stint as the character Captain Sandy, singing classic songs of the sea at Tokyo Disney Resort. As the Valparaiso Men's Chorus, McMurray and friends " backed by the Tin Men " sing a lusty array of traditional sea shanties that can get quite ribald at times, and though they eschew the ongoing pirate-chic trend, they may well have you ready to loot and pillage.