September 23, 2010
@ The Regency Ballroom
Better than: Having no members of OutKast show up.
The question is: Big Boi
or Andre 3000?
It's a fun question, at least -- and perhaps an impossible one, because even though both members of the hip-hop duo OutKast
are in some ways opposites of each other, they couldn't be themselves without the other to reflect upon. Try as they might to emphasize their differences -- by releasing separate musical projects and heading off in seemingly divergent musical directions -- the baller (Big Boi) and the artist (Andre 3000) have something together that is far stronger than what each has alone.
That's at least how it seemed last night, when the spirit -- or maybe the absence -- of Andre 3000 hung over Big Boi's speedy, bouncy set at the Regency Ballroom. 'Dre wasn't onstage in the flesh, but his face was all over the videos being projected upon a huge screen at the back of the stage -- nearly of them videos of OutKast, the group, not Big Boi, the solo-for-the-moment gangsta/pimp/badass half of the Southern stylemakers. Not the guy we were seeing.
Onstage, Big Boi unfurled rhymes from the Atlanta duo's early days ("Player's Ball" got the room romping) all the way through the later hits that seemed to make the world spin faster on its axis -- anthems like "Bombs Over Baghdad" and "So Fresh, So Clean." But the absence of a crucial part of those songs was felt. BlackOwned C Bone, the rapper and capable hypeman, made a poor substitute for the maverick Andre.
But if we are going to play with this Big Boi vs. Andre question, Big Boi put in a helluva case for himself onstage last night. Dude came out in a black military shirt, black shorts, bright red socks pulled up to his trunk-like knees, a turquoise Atlanta Braves cap, and some shades. Big Boi rhymes so fast, he can't possibly move fast enough to keep up with his own groove, so instead he dances -- vertically more than horizontally -- and throws out his thick arms, I guess at the "you"s in his songs. I don't want to suggest he was throwing them at us, the audience, because that would be kind of scary. This dude looked like a general and swaggered like all he'd have to do is lean forward to destroy you. His mere presence is coercive. By the end, the turqoise cap had turned brown with sweat around the back, and Big Boi had ripped off the shades to better towel the sweat from his nearly hairless head.
Dude also proceeded to drop out his lines like a well-oiled German machine gun. With the funk clip inside. Certainly it helped that Big Boi's solo stuff -- especially last night's selection of highlights from the recent, densely intoxicating Sir Lucious Left Foot...the Son of Chico Dusty -- sometimes feels like the correct final answer to the him vs. Andre question. The snappy groove of "Shutterbug" (last night the floor was losing it)? Boom. The choral intro to "General Patton," followed by the monumental bass denotations that hit just as Big Boi busts into a slow-mo rhyme? Over. That nagging chorus brag in "Daddy Fat Sax"? Done. Big Boi, the baller half, wins it. His songs are just too far gone.
But not that simple. At the very end, when Big Boi gave us an update on Andre and assured us that he'd be back, it felt like we were discussing a long-absent family member during an important holiday. A tiny feeling of incompleteness lingered as Big Boi finished his fearsome performance and hurried off the stage. Which is no negative comment on the more brusque half of this hip-hop institution -- just an admission that the question we started with doesn't have a really good answer.
Personal bias: I was surprised how much Big Boi trotted out the trappings of OutKast onstage last night. His own logo is simply a version of the OutKast Cadillac shield with just his name on it. Except for his solo songs, all the videos projected had Andre in them. And Big Boi seemed to ask the crowd permission to play his new solo stuff instead of older Outkast hits. It seemed like he was trying to remind us that not all the elements were in place last night. Dude: we came to see you -- after (in my case anyway) a summer of bangin' Chico Dusty for anyone who will listen.
Actual personal bias: Originally a die-hard Andre devotee, I now go back and forth on the him vs. Big Boi question. I know everyone has their favorites, but I can't pick.
The crowd: Was pathetically small last night. What happened, S.F.? There was a merch table about two-thirds of the way through the room, and the crowd barely extended past it for most of last night. But those who were there were super into it -- at least, everyone except for those who streamed out before the end, looking faded from the cumulonimbus clouds of pot smoke.
The sound: Was not excellent, in typical Regency fashion, but got a whole lot better when Big Boi went on. It seemed like the venue had a special volume level reserved for the headliner, because when he hit the stage, the room shook and shuddered with a whole new heft of bass. It helped that the mixing had just the right balance of backing track and vocals.