The best hip-hop groups are those who can turn their live shows into out-and-out productions, and OutKast is no exception. Although their March 4 set at the Electric Factory occasionally fell short, it was just as often an amazing, sweaty, energetic romp.
Dre and Big Boi managed to upstage opener Ludacris without even trying. It only took the opening strains of the wild “Gasoline Dreams” – funky guitar, bouncing beats, Dre cavorting around decked out in a crazy blue space-suit, Big Boi in a more conservative sports jersey, and a quartet of break dancers – to make everybody forget Ludcaris’ weak set. Ludacris was only backed by two MCs and a rattling, bass-heavy turntable.
However, problems quickly became apparent. The duo extended the intro to “Skew it on the Bar-B” from 1998’s Aquemini to introduce their three backup singers, two guitarists and DJ. But once the song fleshed out, all that was audible was the beats, the bass and the boys; the guitar and the backup crew were buried. This continued for a while, but corrected itself for a sexy take on “Da Art of Storytellin'” in which all parts were sonically represented. The full sound lasted for a while, but fluctuated later on, particularly during a 15 minute stretch of the set when OutKast paraded a seemingly endless line of cohorts from the Dungeon Family clique on and off the stage.
To their credit, the first hour or so was decidedly filled with older material. “Wheelz of Steel” was jammed into an old-school crowd-participation jaunt, and “Aquemini” became a shout-along of sorts as well. Midway through the night, Big Boi turned to Dre and said “I think a lot of people here tonight think that Stankonia is our first album. That’s a damn shame.” The jab was tongue-in-cheek, though, as they immediately launched into “Players Ball” from 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik to the delight of older fans.
Soon the lights dropped and the eerie “I’m Cool” interlude from Stankonia ran over the speakers, after which the stage was bathed in blue and the P-funk-y jam “So Fresh So Clean” kicked in. Stankonia more or less reigned for the rest of the night. The ass-shaking “Humble Mumble” stood along with the grooving “Spaghetti Junction” and the intense “Xplosion” during which Dre and Big Boi seemed to just tap further and further into some endless supply of energy.
Saving their biggest hits for the end was, depending on how you look at it, either a brilliant move or an utter cop-out. Whatever the case, a fantastic “Rosa Parks” was followed by a weak “Ms. Jackson” whose utter sloppiness didn’t seem to phase the MTV portion of the crowd. “This last song we’re gonna do is kinda fast,” Dre said introducing “B.O.B.”, “so whatever you gotta do to keep up – do a line, smoke some crack – do it now.” Lets hope he was joking about the crack. At any rate, the song featured every other performer who had been onstage that night, and downright pummeled the Factory.
OutKast ambled offstage when it finished, ending a 2-hour-plus straight set which can be best summed up in one word: “Damn.”