In support of last year's excellent album New Blue Sun, the legendary André 3000 has brought a band to tour these musical meanderings and bring these sounds to life.
André 3000 doesn't like to do anything half-assed. In the '90s, as one-half of the greatest hip-hop duo of all-time OutKast, he lept from the lyrical page like a rainbow-colored leopard and brought with him a whole new look and sound that would be complimented by his partner in crime Big Boi and assert the South as a new frontier in rap music. When it was time for the duo to cash in on their long-awaited reunion tour, their debut at Coachella left a lot of fans scratching their heads. Dressed in a hoodie and overalls, an outfit not too far-off from what he's been wearing as of late, 3 Stacks seemed like he wanted to be anywhere else than headlining one of the world's biggest music festivals. His energy was low and he never matched Antwon's level of enthusiasm. It was apparent and folks could tell. The next day, André received a call from Prince telling him he couldn't repeat his performance at the festival's second weekend. He needed to be better. We needed him to be better. The remainder of OutKast's reunion tour received far greater praise than that opening show and for each night following their performance in the desert, André returned to the persona (both in demeanor and fashion) that had been so vital and influential for so many. In the years since, the return to the spotlight has been something fans have longed for and his occassional appearances on other artists' records have held out some hope that one day the greatest MC to ever do it would pick up a microphone one more time and deliver bars that can make your head spin.
So, in the fall of 2023 when the day finally came, when Mr Benjamin himself would announce that his long awaited solo-album wouldn't actually be a hip-hop record and would feature no bars, but instead it'd be nearly an one and a half of instrumental, flute-led ambient jazz, many fans became more confused than ever. Yet like I said, André doesn't like to do anything half-assed and for him to be true to himself as an artist, this was what he had to put out into the world. I, for one, am grateful. It's been said that Miles Davis changed music six or seven times in his career, and while I don't think Three Stacks has changed the world on this go around (he's certainly done it in the past), it's hard to think of a time when an artist has made this drastic of a shift in musical directions. In terms of social impact, it's like Dylan going electric at Newport, a career changing event to mark a pivotal time in their creative arc. It made me think back to what it must've been like in the late '50s when Ornette Coleman was revolutionizing the future of music with his landmark album The Shape of Jazz to Come and how outer-worldly it seemed at the time. Even Bon Iver's move from breakup album recorded in the woods to glitch-pop wonder felt more natural than the contrasts between Idlewild, OutKast's last studio album, and New Blue Sun, his solo debut.
Now, on his first ever tour in support of this new album and musical direction, André has assembled the musicians that recorded the record and is leading them through traditional jazz and atypical hip-hop venues, wrapping up the first week in New York at Brooklyn's esteemed St Ann & The Holy Trinity Church. After some logistical pain points of getting people into the venue delayed the show by about an hour, the band took to the stage at the head of the congregation and with massive lightbulbs behind them, proceeded to transport the crowd through time and space with their ethereal jams of weightless wonder. Drifting through New Age and Environmental music, André lead the band with magical purpose, at times appearing etched in stone as he held his flute with distinct purpose, lights hitting him on the side resembling a statue of epic proportions. Ambient tones weaved in and out, winding their ways through the pews and a crowd that was frozen in a state of wonder. The pulsating lights were transfixing and glowed with such stunning sensation that as the music slowly began to build, it felt as if we were bring primed for takeoff. Following no distinct rhythm or path, it was noted that just like when they recorded everything live in the studio, the music had the power to take the band in any direction possible, the vibrations and sonics never being quite the same as the night before, thus giving each show and performance a unique point of view.
There were moments when André would purr like a panther and encouraged the crowd to chime in with their own sounds and noises as they see fit. "We're not going to do a song and dance for you" he mentioned and told the crowd to just follow their instincts and respond in whatever way seemed best. Throughout the night, audience members would interject their own coos, growls, cheers, and wisps, joining the band and making for a living and breathing piece of art that was somewhere beyond a concert and more of a communal experience and exchanging of vibes. Everyone was part of the show and played a part in making the night unique beyond compare. At one moment the venue erupted in bird calls, the crowd echoing the sounds from the stage and joining in on the action. There were even times when it felt like the creaks of the building and shifting of the pews that added to the evening's overall texture. Lights spiraled against the backdrop of the church and up into the vaulted ceilings, also adding to the overall experience and transformative thoughts that filled the room. As the group headed towards the euphoria of free jazz, sounds whizzed the room, sparking a new direction towards vibrant intensity, the room coming alive with feelings of rejuvenation and enlightenment. The lighting intensified and at times replicated a fire behind the band, the church engulfed in flames as the music continued to swirl with rapturous embellishments. When things finally came to a close, everyone awoke from their state of mind and re-entered reality, but each of us will now have the ability to recall this time of pure elation and feeling of transcendence. A show that will forever be etched into minds and one that will remain heavy for quite some time to come. A spiritual odyssey of the most divine form. Now that's certainly something that can't be half-assed.