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Outkast’s Coachella Comeback: Rap Duo Returns With Important, Imperfect Performance

The highs of Outkast's Coachella performance were live-music apexes that few can reach, but there were missteps, edges that hopefully will be sanded over time, as the pair's summer-festival takeover…

On the one hand, the audience members at Coachella’s 2014 fest were incredibly lucky, being the first ones to watch the reunited Outkast perform in person when the Atlanta duo headlined the first night of the festival on Friday (Apr. 11).

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“What we are witnessing tonight is history,” gushed special guest Janelle Monae to the crowd midway through the performance: this was Outkast, one of the most celebrated musical duos of all time, rejoining forces after a seven-year stop. On the other hand, this was their first performance back, and at times, it felt that way. The highs of Outkast’s Coachella performance were live-music apexes that few can reach, but there were missteps, edges that hopefully will be sanded over time, as the pair’s summer-festival takeover moves from city to city.

After a high-energy day on the main stage at Coachella that also included performances from Ellie Goulding, Chromeo and Girl Talk, Andre 3000 and Big Boi emerged from the center of a hollow cube that remained propped up onstage throughout their set. The duo fulfilled every promise of an Outkast reunion in the set’s first third, starting with “B.O.B.” and jumping from “Gasoline Dreams” to “ATLiens” to a run of “Aquemini” songs, including “Skew It On The Bar-B,” “Rosa Parks” and the title track.

With material that strong, details like the stage show, live band and the duo’s vocal delivery could be waved off as fairly inconsequential. But those aspects were on-point too, with the giant cube flashing some neat graphics when it wasn’t transparent, the brass section adding pop to “Spottieottiedopaliscious” and Andrew and Big palling around like old times (or that’s how it seemed, at least). With Three-Stacks wearing overalls and a hoodie and Big Boi rocking a massive gold chain, Outkast came out looking fresh and sounding reinvigorated, as they proceeded to check off some of their classic songs.

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Half an hour into the set, however, Andre 3000 disappeared, and it was time for Big Boi to man the spotlight alone. Hopscotching through “Speakerboxxx” highlights like “Bowtie” and “GhettoMusick” as well as solo material like “Shutterbugg,” Outkast’s less flashy member got a deserved nod for his work since the hiatus began. After Monae appeared for their collaboration “Tightrope” and Big Boi jetted through “Kryptonite,” Andre 3000 then was given his own solo run, which pulled entirely from “The Love Below.” Songs like “Prototype,” “Vibrate” and “She Lives In My Lap” round out the more underrated half of Outkast’s 2003 double album, but gobbled up way too much time in the context of Outkast’s 90-minute show. When Big Boi returned for “Roses,” the crowd applauded feverishly — perhaps because they actually recognized one of the songs being played, after a string of non-singles.

And then the performance took a strange turn when Atlanta rapper Future took the stage to join Outkast for three (!) songs, including the Andre 3000-featuring “Benz Friendz (Whatchutola),” from his forthcoming album “Honest.” With time ticking away toward the 1:00 AM curfew for the festival, Andre and Big Boi hastily returned to the hits when Future departed, including early cuts “Claimin’ True” and “Elevators.” A sound problem cut “Ms. Jackson” off halfway through, and then Outkast coolly plowed through “So Fresh, So Clean,” “The Way You Move” and “Hey Ya.” During what should have been the most jubilant run of the evening, the rappers appeared to be losing their energy; for “Hey Ya,” Andre oddly turned his back to the crowd during the first verse, and couldn’t force a smile throughout the song. The pair then beckoned Killer Mike onstage, presumably to end the performance with “The Whole World,” but the 1:00 AM curfew had already struck, and the three MC’s glumly retreated to end the performance without playing the song.

To be fair, the Coachella performance was a unique night in terms of guest stars present, and cameos by Janelle Monae and Future likely won’t occur at Outkast’s upcoming festival dates (Andre 3000 mentioned that his “idol,” Prince, was also in attendance on Friday night, although the Purple One sadly did not come onstage). And perhaps the solo sets for each MC will be shortened at future shows, in order to give more time to proper Outkast tracks. It’s always easy to quibble about set lists, but when six songs are culled from Andre 3000’s “The Love Below” and only one is played from Outkast’s 1994 debut “Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik” — in the 20th anniversary of its release — any Outkast diehard would profess that there’s a wrong that needs to be righted. The Coachella crowd was invested in the entire performance, but the middle of the set was so barren of proper Outkast hits that it felt like the recent Academy Awards, testing the patience of its audience with middling fare while teasing the big prizes at the end.

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As for the chemistry between Andre 3000 and Big Boi, the 90-minute set was inconclusive. There were moments when the pair appeared as if they were having a blast together, like when Andre improvised his second verse of “Roses” and got his sidekick to guffaw at the spontaneous departure. There were also moments when neither member looked like they wanted to cross over and set forth on their partner’s side of the stage. Coachella was the first performance of a very long run, and it’s likely that Big and Andre will once again get used to each other’s onstage tendencies. It’s also possible that things could sour further, and future performances will be even more disjointed.

For now, however, let’s put the distressing details aside. Outkast is back playing shows again, and (for the most part) understand what type of show its audience wants to see. The duo’s Coachella performance was far from perfect, but the show did include some of the best hip-hop songs ever recorded, played live from a pair that had been apart for far too long. On opening night, that fact was more than enough to satisfy

Outkast’s Coachella Set List:

‘Gasoline Dreams’
‘Skew It on the Bar-B’
‘Rosa Parks’
‘Da Art of Storytellin’, Part 1′
‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious'(with Sleepy Brown)
‘Bowtie’ (with Sleepy Brown)
‘Shutterbugg’ (Big Boi solo)
‘Ghetto Musick’
‘Tightrope’ (with Janelle Monáe)
‘Kryptonite’ (I’m on It)(Purple Ribbon All-Stars cover)
‘Vibrate’ (Andre 3000 solo)
‘She Lives in My Lap’ (Andre 3000 solo)
‘Prototype’ (Andre 3000 solo)
‘Behold a Lady’ (Andre 3000 solo)
‘Same Damn Time’ (with Future)
‘Ain’t No Way Around It’ (with Future)
‘Benz Friends’ (with Future) ‘Hootie Hoo’
‘Elevators’ (Me & You)
‘Ms. Jackson’
‘So Fresh, So Clean’ (with Sleepy Brown)
‘The Way You Move’ (with Sleepy Brown)
‘Hey Ya!’