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ACL Fest: Outkast leads a funky, dirty south hip hop throwdown

Staff Writer
Austin 360

At exactly 8:15 p.m. a deep voice boomed through Zilker Park “Austin are you (expletive) ready?” A wild cheer ripped through the insane crowd that pressed toward the Honda stage as he repeated the rallying cry. Moments later a cry echoed across the park “Hootie Hoo!” It was on. Andre 3000 and Big  Boi, stormed the stage and with a massive band detonating a chaotic, frenzy-inducing rendition of “Bombs Over Baghdad” the most anticipated hip hop show of the year blasted into Zilker Park.  With the hype level at a fever pitch, they stayed with “Stankonia” transitioning vigorously into “Gasoline Dreams” before dropping into their back catalog with a killer take on the 1996 “ATLiens” that had at least 30,000 of us waving hands in the air and shouting “Oh yeah yer!”

With the energy level still explosive, they kept the dance party going, throwing down the hits from “Aquemini,” “Skew It On the Bar-B” and “Rosa Parks.” Reports from Outkast’s earliest reunion shows found crowds failing to engage with the group’s older hits. That wasn’t an issue in Austin, where masses of people sang and rapped along and danced like we were breaking it down in the booty club circa 1998. “It’s good to be back in dirty south,” Big Boi said from the stage. The crowd went wild.

In interviews Andre 3000 has indicated he’s ready to retire, that he doesn’t really get much from performing any more, but he genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself in Zilker. And what wasn’t to love? Outkast’s musicality has always has always been at the forefront of the music and playing with a band they would later introduce as lifelong collaborators the layering of sound was incredible, glorious harmonies woven into rich sound beds.

The radio hits drew the biggest crowd response. “Ms. Jackson” was a full-throated top of the lungs sing-along and “Hey Ya” was a raucous dance party, aided by a group of ladies the band brought on stage. But some of the most sublime moments came from the deeper cuts. “Da Art of Storytelling” was a poignant reminder of when hip hop was just that —  a wordsmith’s game, about winding rhymes to give voice to incredible, occasionally heartbreaking tales. “Elevators” took it back to the streets and “Player’s Ball” retold the group’s origin story with a collage of vintage photographs floating across the backdrop.

Big Boi led the crowd in a brief sing-along of “Deep In the Heart of Texas”(he seemed tickled by the enthusiastic crowd response) and though hopes of a possible appearance by Ms. Badu didn’t come to fruition, Andre joked that “all my exes do live in Texas.”

“I’m kinda glad we skipped high school to listen to UGK and 8 Ball and MJG,” Andre joked, tipping his hat to their influences before segueing into a moving tribute to UGK with an emotional rendition of “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You).”

Embracing the universality of their sound they took the show out with “Whole World” with the entire crowd fittingly raising their voices to sing along. The show was a phenomenal reminder of everything that Outkast did to evolve the genre of hip hop lyrically, musically and with fearless creativity. If this is the end of the road for Outkast at least they’re taking it out on a very high note.

Personal highlights: “Da Art of Story Telling,” “Skew It on the Bar-B,” “Rosa Parks”

Wish they would have played: “Wheels of Steel,” “Liberation”