Wednesday, February 16, 2011

ATL comes to Cali (Big Boi and Cee-Lo @ Club Nokia)

Keeping the Grammy vibe alive, I had the chance to see Cee-Lo and Big Boi two days before the show. This was the only tour I wanted to see this year because I knew it was gonna be funky, soulful and high-energy. I had seen Cee-Lo back in 2004 at my school and his show made me go buy his Soul Machine album the next day. And y'all know I've sang Big Boi's praises for releasing the album of the year so believe me I was hyped all week!

Club Nokia's one of the best venues to watch a show in LA as the sound quality is top notch and there's plenty of standing room without feeling overcrowded. I watched the return of Bone Thugs N Harmony there a couple years ago and I fully expected to blown away again. Unfortunately we missed seeing Ryan Leslie due to me having to take my video camera back to the car but we came back right on time for Melanie Fiona to introduce Sir Luscious Left Foot.

From the jump, Big Boi was amped as he ripped through OutKast songs with a fury. Armed with a band, DJ and dancers that reminded you of steppers from a HBCU, the entire place was rocking from start to finish. Sleepy Brown came out for "So Fresh, So Clean" and it was so cool seeing them do the dance from the video.

Unlike most acts, Big Boi has a stage presence that oozes cool but forces you to get involved. You can't just stand there and watch, you have to move and OutKast was one of the rare hip-hop acts that knew how to make you dance, think and just groove with the environment. The mood went from grooving to "Southernplayalisticcadlliacmuzik" and ATLiens "Elevators" to totally rocking out during "Bombs over Baghdad"

Oh by the way. Surprise of the night had to be Janelle Monae coming out and dancing during the end of "BOB" - and yes, I called it! Only wish they decided to "Tightrope" right there but seeing her groovin and movin was insane!!!!

Big's solo cuts got everyone moving as well. "Shutterbugg" and "You Ain't No DJ" had everyone vibin at the end while "Fo Yo Sorrows" and "Shine Blockas" add a "calmer" touch. And just when you thought the show was over - a Hawaiian dancer came out and I'm wondering what the heck?? Little did I know that was gonna set off "Tangerine", the best dance song on Big's album and you probably know what I ended up doing the whole time.

Throw in the band getting a chance to freestyle and a quick jump into "Kryptonite" and I was already sweating out my shirt. I figured Cee-Lo was gonna have to work hard to top this. That led into the 2nd surprise of the night that I called - the RETURN OF GOODIE MOB.

Most of the crowd didn't respond to Goodie except for those who knew that next to OutKast, no group out of Atlanta was more important. Cee-Lo started it off with "Free" and then they ripped into "Dirty South" and more hits like "Cell Therapy" and "They Don't Dance No Mo." Folks don't know how happy I was when they performed "Get Rich To This", the song that allegedly led to Cee-Lo leaving the Mob in 2000 cause it was too poppy.

The crowd sort of came back when Cee-Lo began his solo set but problems nearly started right away when his intro had to be cut short because his mic wasn't working and the drum mic wasn't working. I had flashbacks to 2004 when sound problems nearly doomed his set. Fortunately they were fixed but they crept up again later, badly when Melanie Fiona guested on a song and the 1st part of her verse couldn't be heard.

Cee-Lo has an great personality but somehow, it didn't translate to stage presence as he stood there mostly performing his songs off his fantastic Lady Killer album. But when I listened to the album on the way to the show, I wondered how they'd translate live because they didn't have the funky vibe of his 1st 2 albums. As I expected, the love songs didn't move the crowd and the buzz from Big Boi's set was mostly sucked out. My lady and I kept looking at each other like "ummmmm what's going on here?"

I was more fascinated by his all-female band Scarlet Fever. His bass player dropped some heavy grooves and had more presence, his keyboardist played nimbly as she danced on stage and his drummer dropping a solid rhythm. Finally "Wildflower" came on and it started to slowly bring a buzz back.

"Bright Lights, Bigger City" finally gave the crowd some reason to celebrate before he went into "Crazy" and "Smiley Faces" from Gnarls Barkley's brilliant first CD. Can anybody NOT dance or groove to either of those songs? Just try and look like a dork.

He ended the night of course with "F You", which he dedicated to all the single folks in the crowd, yet it felt like it was an abrupt ending. Almost like Cee-Lo said, "Thats it, see yall at the after party" - just like the whole show, it left me wanting more. I wanted "Closet Freak" from the 1st album or "I'll Be Around" from the 2nd album but he kept it solely from the Lady Killer. I wanted more stage presence to match his witty one-liners and vision.

When I saw him in 2004, the music was a bit more funky and people were trying to engage in his unique brand of soul. But this time, his sole focus on being the Lady Killer didn't lead to as good a show as I expected.Maybe that's why I wasn't surprised at his Grammy performance being more visual than memorable. It was fun to look at but compared to some of the better performances, there left a lot to be desired.

 I believe Cee-Lo's one of the most visionary forces in pop music after being one of the most underrated lyricists out of the South but unlike Big Boi, his natural cool draws you in but doesn't force you to "Git Up, Get Out and Get Somethin," to borrow from OutKast's classic 1994 duet with Goodie Mob.

If I had to grade both shows, I'd give Cee-Lo a B-minus (largely on the strength of Goodie Mob and the 2nd half) and Big Boi an A+. The whole thing made me wish Andre 3000 was there just to make it a full Dungeon Family reunion. But his partner in rhyme showed why the OutKast vibe remains one of the best things hip-hop has produced and I was glad to witness two of ATL's Finest bring their music to the stage.

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