By Scott T. Sterling
Where the more fashionably flamboyant half of the group was notorious for cutting-edge looks next to the relatively more traditionally street wear attired Big Boi, when they took the main stage to close out this year’s opening day of the popular desert festival, Andre 3000 looked like he stepped out of 1994 wearing denim overalls, hoodie and baseball cap.
The band’s set for the most part was reflective of that same no-frills spirit, running through a selection of deep cuts reaching all the way back to Outkast’s 1994 debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.
Anticipation had been running high for Outkast’s live return throughout the day, generating a massive crowd crowding around the stage to get a glimpse of the duo side by side. Opening with the bombastic single “B.O.B.” from 2000 full-length, Stankonia, the crowd bounced along frantically to the song’s rapid-fire beat.
As they settled into the set, however, the deep cuts and throwback tracks slowly seemed to alienate the crowd, hungry for more recognizable hits like “Hey Ya” and “Ms. Jackson.”
They would eventually perform both songs, but only after delving into less immediately recognizable material, like “Hootie Hoo,” “Elevators (Me & You)” and “Da Art of Storytellin’ Pt. 1.” It was set that would have felt much more at home to a heavily hip-hop audience at a Rock the Bells show, as opposed to Coachella goers eager for the hits.
Outkast also made a point to call out famous fans in attendance, including Tyler the Creator (“I love what y’all doin’,” Andre said), record exec L.A. Reid and even Prince, who Andre called “one of my idols.”
The show was also the first time the duo performed many of the tracks from their GRAMMY-winning double album, Speakerboxx/The Love Below, playing such album cuts as “Bowtie,” “Vibrate” and the dreamy ballad, “Prototype.”
While they continued to delve deeper and deeper into the band’s catalog, the once-massive crowd steadily began to dissipate, as more casual listeners left for other stages while hardcore fans moved closer to the front.
The show served as something of a showcase for the group’s home base of Atlanta, featuring guest turns from Janelle Monae, who performed her song, “Tightrope,” before declaring Outkast her favorite band in the world. New-school ATL rapper Future was graced with an extended cameo, performing a pair of songs while Andre 3000 plugged the blond-dreaded artist’s upcoming album.
The mood turned up considerably as the show closed on a string of hits, including “Fresh and Clean” and of course, “Hey Ya.” They brought out another Atlanta artist, Killer Mike, to perform “The Whole World,” but Coachella’s 1 am curfew kicked into effect, and the show ended somewhat anti-climatically with Andre making a sarcastic remark about not being able to play a full set even after being a band for twenty years.
For Outkast’s first show back in so many years, both rappers sounded on top of their game, and seemed to genuinely enjoy performing together. But the sense that the crowd wasn’t fully into all of it was not lost on the band, with Andre repeatedly asking the audience if they were tired or questioning if the crowd was even alive.
It will be interesting to see how the Outkast reunion plays to other festival crowds this summer, and whether they’ll tweak their set to be more user friendly for those fans who are familiar with their biggest hits. For diehard fans, however, the Coachella show was pure gold.