Andre 3000 knows a thing or two about breaking molds: Over the course of his career, the man also known as half of the pioneering hip-hop duo OutKast has been known for furry Hammer pants, scoring a global hit single (“Hey Ya!”) by singing instead of rapping, and following that song and Grammy-winning album’s success with “Idlewild,” a low-key film and album about a piano player in the Prohibition-era South. And although he has made many featured appearances as a rapper on other artists’ songs since Outkast released “Idlewild” in 2006, his debut solo album, “New Blue Sun,” is an improvised instrumental album (with awesomely eccentric song titles) on which he does not rap but instead plays the flute.
And that is the album be brought to the stage of Brooklyn’s Crown Hill Theater for the opening date of his tour in support of the album Monday night — resulting in one of the trippiest experiences a rap fan who’s never done ayahuasca could probably have.
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Dre took the stage in near darkness, dressed in his trademark striped overalls, sneakers and woven beanie with a little ball on top. As the band oozed out the spacey chords of “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make A ‘Rap’ Album But This Is Literally The Way The Wind Blew Me This Time,” fans in the packed venue clapped and cheered. Was Andre really the wind instrument devotee “New Blue Sun” presents? Perhaps he’d rap, just for his “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” devotees? Instead 3000 played his flutes, pulling from a gaggle in various lengths on the stage beside him, and pressed pedals to manipulate the sound. The audience let the music wash over them as lights glowed behind the four person-backing band — comprised of Carlos Nino, Nate Mercereau, Deantoni Parks and Surya Botofasina, who were joined later by two special guests.
“How many of y’all can say you turned into a panther one time? I can,” Andre said, with a laugh as the crowd joined his nervous giggles.
“That Night in Hawaii When I Turned Into A Panther And Started Making These Low Register Purring Tones That I Couldn’t Control … Sh¥t Was Wild” — which is about an actual ayahuasca trip — began with its soft and repetitively shallow drum beats, windy cymbals and low sounding growls beneath his flute.
Down the aisle, a fan closed her eyes, perhaps to drift off into another world or nap quickly, while another, Emmy-nominated actor J. Alphonse Nicholson from “P Valley,” bobbed his head like he was blasting a brassy Trap track. Still another yelled out “Yeah!” at various ebbs.
Andre broke up the show with stories of meeting Nino in the fancy Los Angeles grocery store, Erewhon, describing his early melodies as “babies” and admitting that he never thought he’d be playing “fucking flutes.”
The performance didn’t really have a set list, the band wanted each performance to stand alone as they riffed on the “New Blue Sun” tracks. The aural journey flowed into one song that mirrored the madness of the 1971 “Willy Wonka” sleigh ride and then slowed down with melting orange lights. Sitar sounds and chimes mixed with ethereal keys and swirling yellow and green lights opened the next composition, before another song bubbled up with crickets and birds snickering. Andre spoke to the audience in a language he said he’d created — he said he and his late mother used to chat in it — and it is more about intent than words.
The final track was upbeat, like Dre was practicing his scales amid more animal noises and rising and falling synths. The theater was bathed in calming blue and green lights that gave way to orange, perhaps to wake the audience — because the performance was over.
For a guy who took a massive swing at Mesoamerican music and could’ve missed the mark, Andre received thunderous applause and a partial standing ovation. And for the fans that came to see their favorite rapper play a flute, 3000 thanked them and clarified that one isn’t ever too old to rap, he just hasn’t found an interesting way to say what he wants to say yet.
Maybe breaking the mold means trying something new and then doubling back to familiar ground? Time will tell. The “New Blue Sun” tour continues with residencies in five other cities before concluding in Los Angeles on March 5-9.
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