Detroit turns out new models every year, so why shouldn’t the Planet Funk? Using blueprints drawn up by George Clinton –and to a lesser extent, space-jazz pioneer Sun Ra — Outkast has spent the last few years chopping and channeling, streamlining and amplifying the funk engine for the road trip that brought them to New York on Friday.
For nearly two hours, the Atlanta-bred duo of Andre “3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Brown regaled the crowd — and overcame a mood-dampening, unnecessarily convoluted security phalanx — with tales both sexy and spacy, old school and new. The pair turned in nearly flawless perfs, swapping supple, unusually musical rhymes and working the venue’s large stage with rare aplomb.
Benjamin and Brown stand in stark contrast to one another onstage, the former fabulously freaky in hippie threads and fright wig, the latter more down-home in athletic jersey and baggy jeans. Their emcee styles are similarly yin-yang, with Dre more likely to take off on fanciful flights (like the low-slung anti-materialist screed “Red Velvet”) and Big Boi showing off a knack for jovial peacock struts like “So Fresh, So Clean.”
Outkast waved its Dirty South banner proudly on several of the set’s most well-received songs, including the 1994 chestnut “Hootie-Hoo” (on which Brown whipped the throng into a simultaneous bounce that would do any choreographer proud) and a dizzily swooping take on the Dixie-fried Gotham tribute “Wheels of Steel.”
Just as often, however, the group took off for parts unknown, turning guitarists David Brown and Donnie Mathis loose for a furious duel on “Gasoline Dreams” and crafting a chaotic catharsis with an extended charge through the provocative “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad).”
At this point in time, Outkast is certainly the most inventive mass-appeal band — of any genre — on the planet. And as long as they’re willing to continue leaving terra firma on such a regular basis, they’re going to be very hard to catch.
Opener Ludacris, on the other hand, proved only briefly diverting in a one-dimensional set (punctuated by a cameo from Foxy Brown) rooted entirely in sexual braggadocio. Transferring the full complement of boogie-band cliches — bare-chested strutting, polecat keening and big dumb riffs — to the hip-hop arena, the rapper, flanked by a pair of deejays, wore out his welcome minutes into a brief appearance.