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FUNK FEST IN REVIEW

by Ryan Snyder

ryan@yesweekly.com | @YESRyan

What is the express measure for the “old school” crowd? Is it the audience dancing to jazz manturned-Quiet Storm lothario George Benson’s “Turn Your Love Around” at the John Coltrane Festival? Or was it the electro hounds popping and locking at the White Oak’s Midnight Star show a few weeks before that? That tag was rather ubiquitous in the lexicon of MCs at those two events, both aimed at an urban audience whose cultural footprints was set sometime between the late ’70s and early ’80s, the wide stylistic gulfs between George Benson and Midnight Star irrelevant.

Those are moving goal posts, at least in the eyes of the MC at the North Carolina installment of itinerant weekender Funk Fest at Charlotte’s Metrolina Expo. In this case, coming from the “old school” means your high school band might have played “Spottieottiedopaliscious” at football games, or you dropped everything when LL Cool J came on your MTV with “Mama Said Knock You Out“. Or maybe you just really liked “Friday”.

The concept of “funk” in Funk Fest was as elastic as well; only a single true-to-form funk band took the stage “” War played fairly early on Saturday; the Friday funk quotient, Morris Day & the Time, canceled several days in advance. Funk, in this case, simply referred to the state of groove, and being kneedeep therein.

Really, it was just a way to bring to gether a slew of great hip-hop and R&B acts under a common banner, and when one of those is Outkast in the midst of one of the most breathlessly awaited reunions of the last decade, it’s pointless to parse the intent. For Funk Fest, one simply had to endure schizophrenic weather, deal with historically tetchy security, and suffer for the comfort of anyone with a better spot that thought nothing of unfolding oversized umbrellas. Aside from that, the lighting was uninspired, the sound quality consistently drew the ire of the performers, and the set changeover was akin to being in a mid-tier circle of hell.

But then Andre 3000, Big Boi and Sleepy Brown walk out with an eight-piece band following a 75-minute storm delay to play a career-spanning set until 1 a.m., and the rest is trivial.

While the vibe between Andre and Big didn’t exactly feel entirely comfortable, the former also wasn’t the same mopey figure who awkwardly paced the Coachella stage back in April at their first show in 13 years. Hidden behind black shades and a platinum blonde wig, Andre was still belaboring the reunion’s faulty intent with a baggy jumpsuit that read “Hiders of Pain” across the chest and had an oversized price tag that read “Sold Out”.

His mood didn’t match the message though, as he wore the same beaming smile while delivering his verse for the UGK classic “Int’l Player’s Anthem” as he did in the song’s video, standing kilted at the marital alter, gleefully swearing off strange for good. He was having a good time, and wasn’t afraid to show it, at least in the eccentric manner of a guy on the verge of moving on from music for good.

For everyone else, it was hard not to join him in that. Big, as always, was incredibly into his performance, as was Sleepy Brown during his appearances. He and Big Boi flossed for the cameras for “So Fresh, So Clean”, and Brown’s delivery of the prologue to “Spottieottiedopaliscious” was a moment of exquisite beauty, rivaling the two backup singers slow comedown on the chorus for “Int’l Player’s Anthem” that UGK borrowed from Willie Hutch’s “I Choose You”.

Outkast acknowledged their solo careers dutifully, with Sleepy Brown helping Big Boi out on the Purple Ribbon Allstars jam “Kryptonite”, and then backing Andre for “The Way You Move”. The pair reunited for their gigantic hit, “Hey Ya!”, with Brown in his silk pajama suit having become an onstage fixture at this point. They navigated the gangster grooves of “Player’s Ball”, and the pop affluence of set closer “The Whole World” with the ease of a group who hadn’t been estranged until a few months ago, but it was “Elevators (Me and You)” accounted for everything that made Outkast great: Andre’s celestial prose and Big Boi’s street-level bluntness, thematic risk-taking and sing-along simplicity. Outkast’s return is probably not the start of a new era, but it’s one hell of a victory lap, at least if you’re part of the old school.

FUNK FEST HOT TAKES

ICE CUBE HAD A COUPLE OF GOOD DAYS

It was agreed upon following blogger Donovan Strain’s research that January 20, 1992 was the day of Ice Cube‘s ‘Good Day’ based upon the Lakers beating the Supersonics and the rough location of the Goodyear Blimp, but Cube might have sent that theory back to square one. “The Hornets beat the Supersonics,” he riffed for the Queen City crowd, which might then put that on January 14, 1992 and make for a good week if that were the case. It’s hard to vouch for the for the location of the Goodyear blimp that day though, and “Yo! MTV Raps” didn’t air on Tuesdays, so are we even supposed to know what day really was his good day?

B.O.B. IS MORE THAN AN OUTKAST SONG

Remember when the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership had the bright idea to pay homage to rapper B.o.B. during its centennial concert? He spent the first three months of his life as a Camel City native, so that counts, right? It would have made for an interesting set, nonetheless, as B.o.B.’s own show now accounts for more rap radio hits than most, and he ran through them all “” Ty Dolla Sign’s “Paranoid”, August Alsina’s “Numb”, and Jessie J’s “Price Tag”. When this old school crowd couldn’t seem to relate, he did what anyone would do and lit up a blunt and passed it around.

TURN UP FOR LL

There’s an old concert production trope that you turn everyone but the headliner down, and that was never more apparent than for LL Cool J’s closing set. It’s wasn’t merely because he had the legendary turntablist Z-Trip behind him; the bass at the LL show, particularly for closer “Rock the Bells” was relentless. LL we forgive you for Bigger and Deffer. !

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