The veteran rappers performed at Adult Swim's private Upfront showcase on Wednesday night.
Watching Outkast perform "B.O.B." live in 2014, surrounded by gentlemen in shiny suits and women swilling free cocktails, is a strange experience. On one hand, you're watching "B.O.B." performed live; on the other hand, you're among people who vaguely know the tune but can't rattle off any of the words.
Much of the criticism of Outkast's comeback performance at the first weekend of Coachella last month revolved around the inattentiveness of its crowd, which was believed to be the main cause of Andre 3000's evident frustration that night in the Indio desert. It was their first show in eight years; why wasn't the crowd packed with people who live and breathe Outkast, who can spell and spout every syllable of "Spottieottiedopaliscious"? But when the legendary hip-hop duo touched the stage at Adult Swim's Upfront event on Wednesday night (May 14) -- playing to an invite-only corporate crowd at New York's Terminal 5, its fifth official performance after the two Coachella weekends and performances in Georgia and Florida -- the expectations had been adjusted, and the set was better because of it. On Wednesday night, Outkast performed the hits for a little over an hour to a 3000-capacity room that was nowhere near capacity. The exclusive show was mesmerizing at times, provoking the suits to bust out awkward dance moves and the free drinks to be hoisted high in the air. As expected, Outkast's live show is rounding into form.
After Adult Swim previewed its new and returning slate of shows with a short video projected onto a screen in front of the stage, Andre 3000 and Big Boi arrived, and proceeded to barely acknowledge one another for the remainder of the performance. The chilliness between the two MCs that was on display at Coachella now appears to be a full-on fracture. The pair often occupied separate parts of the small stage, passing one another at the center but never glancing or smiling during the intersection. At the end of the performance, Big Boi and Andre 3000 each said a few words about how humbled they were to be performing 20 years after Outkast's debut album, but Three-Stacks gave a more loving shout-out to Tyler, The Creator -- watching from the crowd, mouthing along to the songs in awe of witnessing them live -- than to his longtime partner-in-crime, Big Boi. So, five performances into Outkast's comeback, tensions are getting more apparent, not less.
On the plus side, the duo's Terminal 5 set was more accessible and less rambling than its Coachella show, which centered on a hollow cube set-up that the New York club stage could not accomodate (but will return once the festival shows roll on). The solo sets from Big and Andre were mercifully shorter -- just the boisterous "Kryptonite" and "The Way You Move" from the former, and the elegant "Prototype" followed by "Hey Ya!" for the latter. The decision to bump up each member's "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" smash ("Hey Ya!" and "The Way You Move" had been saved for the finale at Coachella) has continued to pay off since Outkast reworked its set list starting at Counterpoint fest, as the set now ends with collaborative tracks "Roses," "So Fresh, So Clean" and "The Whole World." And that opening run of songs -- "B.O.B.," "Gasoline Dreams," "ATLiens," "Skew It on the Bar-B," "Rosa Parks," "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 1)" -- remains so potent, especially with a live band backing the Mighty O, that the pair could perform them with their backs to the crowd and still garner a huge reaction.
Fortunately, Andre 3000 did not turn away from his audience when "Hey Ya!" dropped, as he did at Coachella. Instead, he invited six girls onstage to shake it like a Polaroid picture behind him, and hugged most of them when the song ended. Wearing a bleached-blonde wig and a jumpsuit that read 'Distractions From Sadness.,' Andre stayed jovial throughout the performance, laughing along with his backup dancers while Big Boi reliably spat out his verses. Although the Terminal 5 crowd was not the group of diehard admirers that Outkast deserved at their first Coachella set, Andre 3000 and Big Boi seemed to have made their peace with that fact, if not with each other. Hopefully, that togetherness will be the next aspect of the reunited group's stage show -- a must-see, to those that have yet to see it -- that will evolve over time.