Rumors of Outkast's apathy have been greatly exaggerated.
Two weeks ago, pop culture outlets like Vulture were bemoaning the group's "underwhelming" reunion, offering ways to fix it. Andre 3000 was openly taking the piss out of the blatant cash grab, it was said, and not getting along with his brother in arms, Big Boi.
Well, perhaps it was the mind bogglingly large crowd, filling the southern end of Grant Park to capacity. Maybe it was the stunning view of the Chicago skyline afforded to the performers from the, er, Samsung Galaxy Stage. But Outkast's Saturday night headlining performance was one of those transcendent moments that Lollapalooza can still manage to serve up. It was impossible, as a viewer, not to get swept away by Outkast—and it must have been impossible for Outkast not to get swept away by their viewers and the view.
It starts like this. Big Boi and Andre emerge from a giant glass cube, spartanly furnished with a kitchen table and two chairs. The duo immediately jump into "B.O.B." Then the…let's say 80,000-ish people poured into the basin of Hutchinson field proceed to absolutely lose their mind.
Think about that for a moment. "B.O.B" is a weird song—a brilliant and joyous song, but a uniquely strange one, one that blends drum & bass, krautrock, gospel and Cadillac oomph, one that drops lines about premillennium tension, Pampers and "Yo quiero Taco Bell." It's the perfect song to open their set, as it perfectly balances both personalities (brainy space cadet and brainy old school gangsta) while simply making people go apeshit with its bonkers funk.
From there, the two run through the same setlist they have performed at the last couple dozen 2014 festivals they have headlined. It's a set that tosses out huge hits ("Ms. Jackson," "Rosa Parks," "So Fresh, So Clean") and wonderful deeper cuts that are essential to the Atlantans' story but perhaps over the masses' heads ("Skew It on the Bar-B," "She Lives in My Lap"). As an observer sitting at a computer, reading the same setlist day after day on your screen might seem dull, but in person, as you watch Outkast work through its unparalleled catalog, you smile ear to ear and rap along. What else can you do? Unless you are watching the group at every stop, you are displaying theoretical disgust at their inflexible setlist.
Horn players, back-up divas and a berobed Sleepy Brown butter up the lean-back numbers. Andre, the David Bowie of hip-hop, wears a black jumpsuit and white wig. At past gigs, the chest of his jumpsuit has sported cynical messages like "SOLD OUT" and "ART OR FART?" Understandably, this has made paying fans feel like he might not be fully engaged with this whole endeavor. Last night in Grant Park, Andre's jumpsuit read, "ACROSS CULTURES DARKER PEOPLE SUFFER MOST. WHY?" It could have been a message inspired by the incident with Dev Hynes at the festival on Friday, or the fact that this bougie bacchanal takes place a bullet's distance from a hotbed of gun violence. Whatever the case, it appeared as if Andre was fully engaged with his environment.
Which brings me to my theory on this reunion tour. There is nothing broken with Outkast. The two leaned up against each other, smiled, and deftly flowed through their verbose verses. Perhaps the hip-hop duo puts out what the environment puts in. "Lollapa-winners! Y'all are Lollapa-winners," Andre announced to the crowd after "Rosa Parks." (I'm betting I see that on a tank top as early as Sunday.)
Of course, those Lollapa-winners started to stream out of the field after a rapturous "Hey Ya!" turned the throngs into a choppy sea of arms and open mouths. The smash was slotted in its regular position, the 14th song out of 23. That exodus was not Outkast's fault. That's on the casual fans in the crowd. But I'm not complaining. It allowed me to push a little closer for "Elevators" and "Crumblin' Erb."
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