Review: Big Boi at SnowBall Music Festival 3/2/12


The purple lights cast Big Boi in a Prince-ly hue. He's leading the audience through the chorus of "Ms. Jackson" and the entirety of the crowd is bobbing around like crazy. Big Boi is leaning back, with one arm up, casually steering an invisible Cadillac at about two miles per hour. His other hand grips the microphone. It might be the exact pose one could imagine him having all the time, perpetually cruising through life with a gangster lean and still on top of his game after nearly two decades.

The show opened, after a few awkward sound check moments, with an inspirational video montage about Big Boi -- a big swelling beat built the emotion behind scenes of him riding around Atlanta, offering up a few choice words on the Tao of Antwan Patton. Thousands of people in the crowd simultaneously wished they had an intro video like this, but none of us are Big Boi. He makes that clear over the course of the show, drawing on his experience and catalog to conquer the elements with a great set. Eschewing the traditional MC/DJ arrangement, a live drummer was added to the stage line-up, and it added a lot to the sound.

The early portion touched on some Outkast classics, including "ATLiens" and "Rosa Parks," the latter of which broke down into a gospel clap-along where all who were able rocked in double-time. (On a side note, thousands of people clapping in gloves and mittens in bitter cold doesn't have the same resonance as comparable clapping in less hostile conditions. Despite the enthusiasm of the audience, the effect was muffled.)

After a comment about how cold it was (10 or 11 degrees Fahrenheit), he countered that the rest of the show would improve the collective chill settling in our bones: "We tryna make it hot out here," he told the crowd.

The energy of the show was up, but the level on Big Boi's mic didn't always match it. On several occasions his hype man's mic was louder and crisper than his own. It did improve toward the latter half of the set, and it didn't effect Big Boi's presence on stage, but it did hamper what was a monstrous rendition of "General Patton." The beat was massive on the sound system set up for the main stage.

After an uptempo rendition of "Ghetto Musick" the DJ dropped in something real slow and soulful before flipping the fader to "Bombs over Baghdad," which, of course, drove everyone into a wild frenzy of controlled flailing -- trying their best to dance quickly on the cold, slippery snow pack under foot.

With the energy up, the show segued into "I Like the Way You Move" at which point 15-20 young ladies (pulled from the crowd) are leaked onto stage to shake around wildly and take cell phone videos of the crowd staring up at them. No one shouts "Spring Break, wooo!" because it's too cold out here to imagine spring yet, and we're all wearing too many layers of clothing to expect any flashes of nudity.

With everyone's blood flowing again, the set took the time machine way back to Outkast's first record, jamming "Player's Ball" followed by the ATLiens classic "Elevators." By this point, some of the younger, more electronic-music inclined among the audience began to make their way over to Mimosa's immanent start in the Groove Tent, leaving some holes in what had been a packed crowd from the stage front to the VIP tent.

When Big Boi announced he'd be going into a couple of new songs, one particularly perturbed fellow with well-coiffed, shoulder-length hair angrily said, "I didn't come here to hear new shit!" before stomping off into the distance. He apparently hadn't heard the Big Boi's last record had some good songs on there. What he and other early departures missed was a slamming version of "Shutterbug." At this point, the crowd is composed entirely of Big Boi devotees, as the rest of the fair-weather fans have drifted off to other stages. There's a sea of arms up. People are getting crunk; Sliding, shuffling, swaying, bobbing and waving.

To close it out, he jumped into "Kryptonite." Everyone -- mittens and all -- was singing along to the hook. The assortment of crowd-girls are gyrating and grinning as they take pictures of themselves and each other. The bass heavy club beat blasted out across the crowd. Even 1,600 miles away from Atlanta, in the freezing cold, Big Boi delivers.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal bias: I lived in Georgia for eight years, so there are lots of familiar references to places, people and food for me in Outkast lyrics.

Random detail: Big Boi announced at the end of the show that he'd have a new album out by the end of the year.

By the way: Big Boi's uncle runs a rib spot on the corner of 41st and Bull streets in Savannah, right in front of the Emerald City car wash. You'll be hard pressed to find better ribs anywhere.

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