The booming voice introduced them as, “The youngest living legends on the planet.”
A bit hyperbolic, sure, but for a couple of hours, in front of their first of three hometown crowds this weekend, Outkast was indeed legendary.
As Big Boi and Andre 3000 ripped into “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)” at exactly 9:15 p.m., a zip of electricity could be felt in the air.
It might have been the collision of the molecules of 20,000 people who started packing into Centennial Olympic Park from 4 p.m., fans who have waited years for the Atlanta rap pioneers to finally return to the stage at home.
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Or it might have been the duo themselves, who sounded crisper and looked livelier than at their Rome, Ga., show in April, where they contended with soggy weather and a late start, but still kept the crowd enthralled.
For the next 100 minutes – the show ended moments before the 11 p.m. curfew – Big Boi, clad in customized Atlanta Braves gear, and Andre 3000, with his now-usual platinum shag and black jumpsuit, rolled through a set extremely similar to the one they’ve played throughout this 20th anniversary tour, but with a few ATL-tailored surprises.
Goodie Mob’s Big Gipp skipped out for an incendiary “Black Ice (Sky High),” while Sleepy Brown – a frequent guest on Outkast’s current tour – presided over the latter part of “Aquemini” and Big Boi’s “The Way You Move.” Announced guest “professor” Bun B. popped up toward the end of the set for “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” (he’s also slated to appear at Outkast’s final hometown show on Sunday).
No wonder Usher, Jermaine Dupri and L.A. Reid – spotted near the soundboard – were bobbing their heads and rapping along to nearly every lyric.
What has always made Outkast distinctive is their creativity. Not content to merely trot out a plodding beat and yell about women and sex (a couple of their Friday openers took care of that, anyway), Big Boi and Dre excel at soulful, meaningful hip-hop.
From the horn bleats and fat, swinging groove of “Skew it on the Bar-B” to the insinuating throb of “Ms. Jackson” – its chorus sung entirely by the crowd, of course – to the skittering high hat and rolling bass lines of Big Boi’s “Ghetto Musick,” Outkast’s songs filtered through the cool night air with precision and authenticity.
With a large live band – including unstoppable drummer Omar Phillips – and backup singers, Big Boi and Andre 3000 adroitly re-created more than two dozen songs from their catalog. They detoured for solo turns in the spotlight -- a frenzied, bounce-inducing “Kryptonite (I’m On It)” from Big Boi and a spirited version of “Hey Ya” from Andre 3000 that he actually seemed to enjoy performing – but spent most of the show at each other’s sides, just as fans want.
“It’s good to be back hoooooome!” Big Boi proclaimed, while the more introspective Andre 3000 expressed gratitude.
“We really appreciate y’all sticking with us for 20 years,” he said.
While the sound boomed authoritatively across the park (only during Andre 3000’s “She Lives in My Lap” did buzzing bass overpower his vocals), the view for fans in the back of the general admission section was a challenge, even with a pair of screens flanking the massive stage and another video screen set up at the front of the section.
But just hearing Big Boi and Andre 3000 trade verses with admirable agility – Andre’s nasal flow the perfect complement to Big Boi’s sturdiness – was all that was necessary, a welcome reminder of Outkast’s poetic inspiration.
All three dates of Outkast’s homecoming will feature opening acts ( the full lineups were announced last week ) and on Friday, Janelle Monae was the musical MVP, even though the crowd seemed more engaged with rappers Future and 2 Chainz.
Why Monae isn’t the biggest star in music continues to mystify, except that she earns a living in an industry that prides itself on rewarding mediocrity.
Every time she steps on stage, with her black and white motif that extends to her band’s instruments and clothing, Monae comes ready to play, whether it’s for 200 people or 20,000.
A tiny figure on the large stage, Monae compensated with her voice on “Dance Apocalyptic,” a perfect slice of funk-pop that contained the added bonus of her liquid dance moves and coordinated efforts with her band.
From the fresh-yet-timeless “Electric Lady” to an appropriate cover of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” to the stirring groove of “Tightrope,” Monae not only dazzled, but also demonstrated why she was a perfect addition to a show starring her longtime friends in Outkast.
Atlanta’s Future, a substitute for Solange as announced on Thursday, traversed the stage in his red kicks, running through a series of his featured raps (Ace Hood’s “Bugatti,” Lil Wayne’s “Bitches Love Me”) and own material (“Karate Chop,” “Move That Dope”) while backed by a DJ.
2 Chainz, however, opted for a live band as well as a DJ as he sprinted around in zebra striped pants and a bandana and unfurled “Freebase” and “Crack” with his gruff delivery.
The Atlanta rapper noted that he has a new album arriving in early 2015 (the title will drop in the next few weeks, he added) and kept the crowd entertained with a mash-up of ubiquitous club bangers “Turn Down for What” and “Talk Dirty” in between his own “Spend It” and “Where U Been?”
And give the guy props for honesty.
“I appreciate everyone coming out,” 2 Chainz said, “even if it really was just to see Outkast.”