Last weekend was supposed to mark the return of the gangster when Andre 3000 and Big Boi played the first of 40 festival shows to mark the duo's 20th anniversary. However, things didn't go according to script. Many fans were turned off, even worse, bored by their set. How was this possible, many in the media thought. Debatably one of the most important and progressive groups of their generation reformed, yet many fled the scene. Some threw the dreaded "maybe they weren't as good as we remembered" thought out there, while others questioned the longevity of their catalog. While these thoughts should be dismissed as utter foolishness, the fact that those ideas are in some festivalgoers heads begs the question about Outkast.
Having seen the duo in their native Atlanta in 1999 in the period between Aquemini and Stankonia, I can say anyone who questions Andre and Big Boi's chops as performers are dreadfully mistaken. This show at Emory University was everything the first Coachella show was not. It was dynamic, frantic and important. Many who were at that show recognized that the duo were on the cusp something special. With only a small backing band as support, and a special guest appearance by Wu-Tangs Raekwon the Chef on Aquemini's "Skew It on the Bar-B," all eyes were on Outkast and they aced the test.
Seeing people questioning the mettle of Outkast after the lackluster performance was understandable. Something wasn't right with the first show. Between Andre's petulant behavior amidst a myriad of technical issues, it felt like the show either wasn't properly practiced or that some of the parties involved weren't vested in the performance at all. Granted, this was their first show as a duo in over decade, and maybe people who thought it was be an epic mind-blowing experience forgot to realize that Outkast needed some time to shake off the proverbial rust. However, a lot of this could have been accomplished had they played a show at the Tabernacle in their hometown. Informal and a proper warmup instead of jumping head in and playing the biggest festival in the land.
That said, the stakes were high for last night's do-over gig. Another paltry performance would signify that maybe lost in the hubbub of the 20th anniversary hype was that well, the money was too good to turn down and they would halfass 40 shows to the bank. But something funny happened on the way to Chase. When the lights hit at 11:05 pm, 25 minutes before they went on last week, there was a feeling this night would be different. Maybe it was because Andre returned to being Andre by wearing a strange black-and-white getup that was markedly different than his Super Mario look from a week ago.
Much like Wild Thing Vaughn recapturing himself at the end of Major League II, this was the Andre that dazzled Coachella, while Big Boi was his usual steady self. From the beginning of "B.O.B" the energy level that was lacking the week before was different. Both seemed happy to be on-stage, together, and fed off each other's energy. Instead of being frustrated by the sound problems of a week ago, everything was ironed out. The same goes for "Ms. Jackson," which was cut by a sound problem, and even "Skew it on the Bar-B" sounded solid, sans the Chef.
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Also, the pair interacted with each other more in the first half hour this weekend then they did during their entire first performance. You could sense chemistry there, which has always been part of their appeal--to stylistically different rappers from distant planets joining forces for something only they can pull off. The helping of Sleepy Brown for their dip into Speaker Boxx/The Love Below was also tighter this time around. And with 100% less Future cameos they found some space to get one of our favorites Killer Mike up there for his verse on "The Whole World" to cap their set. Considering that the rapper ironically got his mic killed last week when the group ran out of time, this felt like sweet, well-executed redemption.
So maybe the sky isn't falling for Outkast and their hyped reunion just fell victim to a false start. Is this version of Outkast better than the one of a decade ago? Probably not. But at least they took steps in reminding people why they were so important to begin with.