REVIEW: At André 3000′s Atlanta concert, freedom trumps formality

‘That flute got something to say,’ an audience member yelled.
André 3000 performed the first of his six "New Blue Sun" shows at Variety Playhouse on Feb. 27, 2024. Photo credit: Tiffany Powell

Credit: Courtesy photo, Tiffany Powell

Credit: Courtesy photo, Tiffany Powell

André 3000 performed the first of his six "New Blue Sun" shows at Variety Playhouse on Feb. 27, 2024. Photo credit: Tiffany Powell

The last time André 3000 performed in Atlanta, about 20,000 fans filled Centennial Olympic Park to watch OutKast’s highly anticipated reunion show in 2014.

Today, nearly a decade later, André 3000 — sans bandmate Big Boi — is performing to much smaller and more intimate crowds as a part of his “New Blue Sun” tour. While walking into the Variety Playhouse for his Atlanta show Tuesday night, the first of six shows in his hometown, I felt a bit ill-prepared. I’d never gone to a flautist show before, and it was my first time at the Variety Playhouse. I was alone and a no-phone policy became the night’s only rule. Still, I was satisfyingly unnerved. An array of eight pairs of orange lights circled the stage — foreshadowing the night’s warm ambience.

“We’re making up everything as we go along,” the artist, born André Lauren Benjamin, said at the beginning of the show. “You might hear yourself sampled.”

Indeed, the rapper and flautist did not perform songs from his album “New Blue Sun,” which dropped in November. Instead, he delivered a freeform concert experience highlighted by improv and electrifying audience engagement. The goal: expect the unexpected.

He intended to replicate the experience of how “New Blue Sun” was made — fully inspired by energy and less influenced my practice. The album’s composers Carlos Niño (gongs, chimes), Nate Mercereau (guitar), Surya Botofasina (keyboards), Deantoni Parks (drums) joined him for the ride. Atlanta tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams, a frequent OutKast collaborator, was the night’s special guest.

In turn, the show felt like church service where the lighting and sounds replaced words. The musicians approached the stage to lush yellow lights and instantly began to play. André 3000, dressed in his signature blue-striped overalls, performed behind a lighthouse figurine that emanated a beam of blue light, alluding to the album’s title.

During André 3000's New Blue Sun trek in Atlanta, the rapper and flautist encouraged audience engagement and delivered a freeform concert experience at Variety Playhouse on Feb. 27, 2024. Photo credit: Tiffany Powell

Credit: Tiffany Powell

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Credit: Tiffany Powell

At the beginning of the show, the gongs and drums seemed to overpower the other sounds (thanks, in part, to Niño often playing with a giant tree branch that became one of the most interesting sights of the night). The solace of André's flute felt like a guide that directed the many colors of the lights. Sometimes, they would be green. Then, they would be pink. Then, red. Then, purple. And sometimes, they’d be a mix of all of those colors at the same time.

The doors for André's ambient, flute-drive church were open.

“We’re going to turn this moment into a slight jungle,” he said, encouraging a freeform audience.

That’s exactly how it sounded. Even if you didn’t know what you were hearing, you felt moved to simply embrace the perplexity. Freedom defeated formality. As the show went on, all instruments became equally uniform as the sounds fluctuated from total silence to total combustion, like a pendulum swing.

Some audience members felt inclined to stand, swaying to the beat of no destination. Others raised their hands, as if André delivered a sermon that mended their hearts. And others felt compelled for their words to be a part of the show, doing everything from singing along to the beat to delivering the oft-heard concert chant “ATL hoe” when the sound was muted.

One audience member yelled, “That flute got something to say.”

Seated a few chairs to my left was Organized Noize producer Rico Wade, who helped craft OutKast’s sound, and, by extension, Atlanta rap. His eyes beamed with joy.

“It’s chaos and calmness,” I heard him say during the concert.

"We're going to turn this moment into a slight jungle," André 3000 said during his first of six New Blue Sun shows in Atlanta on Feb. 27, 2024. The concert was mainly centered on improv. Photo credit: Tiffany Powell

Credit: Tiffany Powell

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Credit: Tiffany Powell

Midway through the show, André 3000 admitted that he hadn’t been in the city for a while. He noted that he often has to tone down his Atlanta twang in interviews, which is why he felt relieved once he returned home.

“But as soon as I got to the airport, the words stretched out,” joked the artist, who now lives in California.

He took a brief moment to talk more about “New Blue Sun” and his unorthodox journey to being a flautist, including the times he’d train on random streets. He joked about pedestrians, unfamiliar with who he was, giving him $20, thinking he was homeless.

More importantly, he acknowledged his growth. He proudly mentioned that he started with one flute and now owns nearly 70.

“I didn’t plan none of this, but I didn’t know I’d be in OutKast, so all of this is from the same place. Me and Big Boi started watching rap videos and we just wanted to try it. ... What you hear on the album is discovery. It’s newness, and I’m with all of that.”

He also thanked the pioneering Atlanta musical collective Dungeon Family for inspiring his creativity.

“That was the grounds for all of this. They taught me how to dream. Atlanta was that place because no one expected anything from us, so it gave us an opportunity to show out, and we’ve been doing that ever since.”

Throughout the show, the musicians did manage to slip in a few songs from “New Blue Sun”, like “I Swear I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album, but This Is Literally Where the Wind Blew Me This Time.” But most of the show was immersed in the magic and stillness of improv. The six-man band seemed to feed off each other, making the sounds feel effortlessly vibrant.

André 3000 kicked off his six-show Atlanta trek with a concert at Variety Playhouse of Feb. 27, 2024. The rapper and flautist delivered a freeform concert experience where he expressed his love for his hometown. Photo credit: Tiffany Powell

Credit: Tiffany Powell

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Credit: Tiffany Powell

There was thunderous bass, funky keyboard synths, bird-calling and André speaking in a very weird language that’s hard to decipher. To me, it sounded slightly Japanese, but, as someone who only speaks English, I couldn’t tell. Not to my surprise, those sounds were freestyled, too. He informed the audience that his garbled speech was inspired by a mix of Japanese, Chinese, Thai and southwest Atlanta.

Following in the rich tradition of the Black church, André dedicated a few moments for call-and-response. He told the crowd to repeat:

“Free Young Thug from whatever is ailing him. Free Young Thug from whatever is hurting him.”

Unexpected twists and turns of all shades, sights and sounds permeated the show. At times, I found myself charmed by an artist’s defiance in staying true to their creativity, regardless of what others think he should be doing. But most of the time, I was eager to figure out what might happen next (a surprise appearance from Big Boi, maybe?). Nope, but a girl can dream. However, he did end the night with another call-and-response:

“We love you Big Boi,” André led the crowd to repeat.

The rest of André’s New Blue Sun trek in Atlanta includes five more shows: Wednesday and Thursday at Variety Playhouse and Friday and Saturday (with two concerts on Saturday) at Center Stage. Only tickets available are those priced at $250 and more.


Andre 3000

Wednesday, Feb. 27 at Variety Playhouse. Additional shows Feb. 28, 29 and March 1 at Variety Playhouse; and two shows on March 2 at Center Stage.