To say Ani DiFranco is excited about her gig at the Voodoo Experience with Ivan Neville and Herlin Riley is an understatement. "I've seen Herlin playing live in town, and I've been blown away every time," she says over the phone, barely able to contain herself. "I've had a dream of playing with him, so here is a golden opportunity that was dropped in my lap. Ivan just did an overdub for my new record and just rocked this one song. He just came in and in about five minutes found his way to this brilliant, uplifting thing. It was amazing to watch him work."
The idea for the Voodoo show came out of a discussion with local talent booker Adam Shipley.
"He was looking for out-of-the-ordinary collaborations. And my mind went to Herlin and Ivan," DiFranco says.
The set list is comprised entirely of DiFranco's songs, and it may include music from her forthcoming album Which Side Are You On?, which she's spent two years recording in New Orleans. It drops in January.
"They have the overwhelming task of learning my quirky little songs," she says with a laugh. "I made a demo for them for the rehearsals. I didn't want them to hear the album recordings or what I think they're supposed to sound like. I wanted to say, 'Here's the song the way I play it. You can interpret it any way you want. .... Bring it wherever you want to bring it.'"
DiFranco's alt-funk sound delves into both jazz and funk, and Neville and Herlin expanded on that.
"At the first rehearsal, they brought some different takes to some of my old tunes which is great for me to be able to shift gears," DiFranco says.
New Orleans has had an effect on the way DiFranco approaches her music.
"I was at rehearsal with Ivan and Herlin and we were talking about some musician who had a shift when they came to New Orleans," she says. "I was espousing my theory that a lot of people whom I admire had epiphanies when they came to New Orleans: Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and I can't even think of all the musicians. I'm always hearing stories that musicians had spiritual awakenings when they came to New Orleans. I can totally vibe with that." — David Kunian
4:15 p.m. Friday
Le Ritual / Voodoo Stage
You may have caught Mates of State, the indie-pop duo consisting of married couple Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner, dressed in appropriately chosen Captain & Tennille costumes for their Halloween set at the 2009 Voodoo Music Experience. You also may have spotted the band combing the festival grounds with their young daughters, hitting up Voodoo vendors for candy.
"We told the girls 'Yeah, we'll definitely be able to trick-or-treat,' so we went around to all the different booths at the fest, and that was our trick or-treating with the girls," says Hammel, who plays drums in the band. The trip was successful: "They got enough candy," he says.
Mates of State's career of making infectious pop records and seemingly constant touring spans more than a decade, and they have managed to do it all with their daughters Magnolia, 7, and June, 3, in tow much of the time. The couple documents their roving family life on Gardner's blog Band on the Diaper Run, and Gardner recently formed a company that connects nannies with touring bands.
"It's very long days when we have the kids because we want to make it worth their while to be out there with us," Hammel says. "But at the end of it, if it kind of goes according to plan it's more than worth it. Everyone has a good time and we're happy to be artists as well as parents."
Managing their family has not prevented the duo from churning out well-received albums and EPs. The September release Mountaintops (Barsuk) contains hints of catchy pop sweetness, but some darker minor-key moments keep things from getting too sugary. Following the trajectory set by 2008's Re-Arrange Us, the band also continues to evolve beyond the organ-and-keys configuration that once defined its sound. "Total Serendipity" is a rousing, piano-driven gospel number with horns and handclaps — a different direction for the band, but not entirely out of place in their catalog of buoyant boy-girl harmonies and shifting pop melodies. Hammel says having a studio in the couple's Connecticut home has enabled them to experiment with different sounds.
"We started to record a lot ourselves in our home studio, so you can really take your time," he says. "When it comes to mixing, obviously we'll pull back, but you just end up coming up with so many ideas. It's like making pizza or something — you just throw a bunch of stuff on there, and if it sucks we'll start again."
The band has issued six albums and last year's self-produced mixtape of covers featuring poppy takes on songs by Tom Waits, Fleetwood Mac, Girls and others, but Hammel says the band isn't retiring anytime soon. He takes the same advice he would give to his daughters — who according to YouTube videos seem to already have musical inclinations — if they decide to become musicians.
"If you're serious about it, you just have to do it all the time," he says. "You can't get lazy." — Lauren LaBorde
On pedigree alone, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger qualifies for Voodoo's best in show: His grandfather is revered activist and singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, and he was weaned on the sturdy American folk traditions for which his surname has become a byword. But Rodriguez-Seeger, 39, has his own artistic bona fides. A cofounder of the roots-rocking Mammals (with Ruth Ungar and Chris Merenda) and the offspring of all-stars RIG (with Johnny Irion and Woody Guthrie progeny Sarah Lee Guthrie), he's done as much as anyone born after 1970 to pour the informed egalitarianism of his family's protest music into the solipsistic fishbowl of present-day pop and rock. Rise and Bloom, his self-released 2010 debut as the Tao Seeger Band, updates Pete Seeger classics like "Well May the World Go" and "Bring 'Em Home" — which in these hands become electrified ambassadors for peace, Celtic-tinged passion pleas sung in English and Spanish — alongside other covers and originals that display a cultivated love and equivalent mastery of just about every musical genre of his lifetime. Above all, country suits his resonant voice best: Snappy duet "Train on the Island" crackles and pops, Jim Garland's Depression-era lament "I Don't Want Your Millions Mister" sounds depressingly apt, and "Twelve Gates to the City" and the title track, situated back-to-back near the album's close, hike their banjos and strings to a stirring endless-blues overlook. In 2009, Tao and Pete recorded three songs with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for its 2010 Preservation compilation, the last of which was another stirring closer, "We Shall Overcome." Listening to this third-generation rebel, you get the feeling he won't quit until we do. — Noah Bonaparte Pais
You've heard the song at least one billion times. DJs Diplo (Wes Pentz) and Switch (Dave Taylor), combined as Major Lazer, plugged "Pon de Floor" into pretty much every brain, through TV spots or Beyonce, whose "Run the World (Girls)" liberally borrows the song's glitchy hook and skittering dancehall beat. The 2009 album Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do featured the singles "Pon de Floor" and "Hold the Line," both computer-world dance tracks with a Kingston dancehall influence. The album was recorded at Jamaica's Tuff Gong studios, the legendary Jamaican music imprint founded by the Wailers more than 40 years ago. Jamaican artists appear on both Guns and its 2010 follow up EP, Lazers Never Die — lead track "Sound of Siren" also sports a digitally altered M.I.A., the ferocious Sri Lankan rapper and electronic artist who tasked Diplo and Switch to produce tracks on her 2004 debut Arular as well as follow ups Kala and Maya. The producers set out for Jamaica and collaborated with dancehall artists in its club-heavy, synth-based and digitized under- and above ground. Diplo and Switch, already established DJs in their own right, wrangle oversexed melodies from bent, submerged synthesizers and unpredictable sounds — lasers, cell phone vibrations, broken plates, gunshots — while scattering snares and funky reggae pulses set the beat for wildly out-of-place R&B hooks. Director Eric Wareheim's gross-out nightmare visions compose Major Lazer's music videos, with "daggering" (Google it) choreography and future-pop, seizure-inducing imagery. Major Lazer extends the producers' legacy as globetrotting DJs, constantly refining and redefining the genres they find, whether it's Brazilian funk or Baltimore club. Their constant experiments are global collages, mashups of everything thrown into a warped blender and fed into dance machines worldwide. — Alex Woodward
Snoop Dogg's introduction (by way of Dr. Dre) upstages Dre on his own album, on the genre-defining single "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" from The Chronic, Dre's first solo venture. The skinny, lanky Snoop (real name Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr.) gave his debut rhyme a countdown ("one, two, three and to the four ...") over Dre's soul-sampling beat, a classic G-funk prototype. The West Coast's G-funk borrowed liberally from Parliament and Funkadelic samples and added slithering synth bass and hand clap snare hits to gangsta rap tales from the left coast. Twenty years later, Snoop returns with the sequel to his Doggystyle, the landmark 1993 album introducing "Gin and Juice" and Snoop's gangsta rap-meets-P-funk world of parties and violence, downplaying the thug life with his signature sleepy drawl and clouds upon clouds of marijuana. Formerly titled Doggystyle 2, Snoop's 2011 album Doggumentary hints back in time — the on-cue Bootsy Collins intro, hand clap disco beats, Roger Troutman-esque talkboxes, and sample credits that read like a vintage Soul Train playlist. Between albums, Snoop has gone from West Coast G, to murder trial star (cleared of charges in 1996), to a member of Master P's No Limit Records family, to absurd stoner TV star, all while sitting on the board of hip-hop royalty as a pioneer from its golden age. He loosened his inner goofball with film cameos (Old School, Starsky & Hutch, Soul Plane), reality TV (Snoop Dogg's Father Hood) and a short-lived late-night stoner comedy program Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, its title playing on Snoop's frequent "izzle"-ization of every other word. He stepped outside hip-hop to join Katy Perry on her 2010 single "California Gurls," on which Snoop pines for West Coast women and "all that ass hangin' out," an ongoing priority since Snoop revealed the album art to his 1993 debut. — Woodward
Because it hit YouTube not long after the commotion over Rebecca Black's "Friday" began to subside, it would have been easy to assume Kreayshawn's "Gucci Gucci" video was some kind of goof created to achieve similar "is this a joke?"-fueled viral fame. The tiny, tattooed white rapper's style seems to be a satirical appropriation of a number of consumer culture cliches: In one scene, she wears thick, cat-eye eyeliner with oversize Minnie Mouse ears and giant gold hoop earrings, like Hello Kitty by way of the 'hood. She spouts lines like "I got the swag and it's pumping out my ovaries."
Within a few weeks after the video was posted online, it garnered millions of views, and soon the 22-year-old inked a deal with Columbia Records. Kreayshawn was an Oakland, Calif., high school dropout who struggled to pay rent with various "hustles" while she made mixtapes and directed videos for Bay Area rappers before "Gucci Gucci" broke. When the video went viral, she became the subject of countless blog and media debates about the authenticity of her music and fashion styles. Many take issue with what they see as her offensive appropriation of black culture. Not helping that claim was fellow Oakland rapper V-Nasty — she, along with Kreayshawn and hype woman Lil Debbie call themselves the "White Girl Mob" — and her casual use of "nigga." Kreayshawn has both distanced herself from and defended V-Nasty, saying the word was a common part of her friend's Oakland childhood.
But beyond the controversy of Kreayshawn (her name a play on "creation" but pronounced "cray-shawn") the person/artist, there's no denying "Gucci Gucci" is catchy as hell. Anchored by the chorus "Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi Fendi, Prada / Basic bitches wear that shit so I don't even bother" and the sampled hook "One big room/ full of bad bitches," the song is an irresistible earworm — although she has yet to follow up with a second hit or release a full record. Regardless of the authenticity debate, with her unique sound and some famous fans that include Drake and New Orleans rapper Curren$y, she may well distinguish herself beyond one-hit wonder status. She's no Rebecca Black. — LaBorde
The young Los Angeles rap posse Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA, or just Odd Future) has been one of the most discussed groups in music this year and a popular search topic on the Internet, where dozens of its recordings were available for free download. From whole crew albums and mixtapes to solo projects by Domo Genesis, Hodgy Beats and New Orleanian R&B crooner Frank Ocean, Odd Future has given away some of the most solid, modern, hilarious, language-based hip-hop since the Wu-Tang Clan. The group also got attention for saying "faggot" a lot, and tossing off callous references to violence like, "And you call this shit rape but I think that rape's fun." It gets far worse. But the wordplay and production is so juicy that even those who disapprove often can't deny the appeal.
There are signs the racy stuff is a joke. The lyric above is from "Blow," a song goofily glorifying cocaine use, but Odd Future leader/producer Tyler, the Creator, 20, has denounced cocaine and says he hasn't tried it. In concert, the beats to cuts with homophobic lyrics are spun by DJ Syd the Kyd, who is a lesbian and smirks throughout. The lyrics can be more provocative than Eminem at his worst and as agile as Eminem at his best, but the guys in Odd Future don't seem outside the norms of modern kids overexposed to the Internet: technologically and culturally wise beyond their years, but carefree and often immature in what they say.
The strange story behind Odd Future also has attracted media attention. In 2011, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Esquire all wrote about Odd Future and The New Yorker followed with 8,000 words about the mysterious absence of Odd Future's now 17-year-old Earl Sweatshirt, who has never performed live with the group. Complex Magazine reported that when Earl's mother, a college professor, and father, a South African poet and political activist, discovered their son gleefully depicting kidnapping over beats on the Internet, they sent Earl (real name Thebe Neruda Kgositile) to the Coral Reef Academy in Samoa. (That's what all the "Free Earl!" chants will be about at Voodoo.)
Without Earl, the spotlight falls squarely on mastermind Tyler, the Creator. Tyler earned the MTV Video of the Year award for his stark, black-and-white, single-camera clip for "Yonkers," wherein he eats an exotic cockroach and turns into a black-eyed demon and then hangs himself. The song is a grimy, distorted take on Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life," with abstract lyrics that make sense only when Tyler is threatening to "Crash the plane that that faggot nigga B.O.B. is in / and stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus."
If the many videos posted on YouTube are any indication, Odd Future's live shows lack performance sophistication — or they depict a group that favors pure punk rock anarchy. Tyler, who has asthma, barks, shouts and stage dives and often loses his breath. The group's Voodoo show likely will entertain those interested in Odd Future's teenage spectacle, but it may disappoint looking for the artistic maturity beyond the slurs and youthful zeal. — Michael Patrick Welch