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Outkast, at last

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Outkast played what might be their last shows ever this weekend. This is what it was like one of those nights.

1. Centennial Park in Atlanta is the Olympic Park, so there is a statue of Pierre de Coubertin, half-stepping onto a set of steps and looking through Greek pillars and out to the east across the park. For three nights of shows, Pierre stared directly at the Outkast stage. He was draped with every manner of Atlantan at one point or another: men smoking weed in the open wearing old Braves jerseys, bearded East Atlanta bartenders in trucker hats holding tall boys of Heineken, what appeared to be a very, very intoxicated Jugalette in an Ed Hardy shirt and half of grown, folk-aged East Point on dates with their wives, leaning out and taking properly tagged Instagram selfies they hoped would end up on the big screens set up around the quad.

2. Some people got babysitters for Outkast. Some didn't even bother. A man pushing a stroller had his baby at the show. I looked in casually while walking by for a beer: the child was sound asleep. He bobbed up and down next to the stroller and stayed for the entire show. Some didn't need babysitters at all, like the two older ladies in country club gear next to me who appeared to have mistakenly wandered over from the Garth show. They had not, and knew most of the words to "Elevators."

3. So when 2 Chainz was through playing on Friday -- as it turns out, there is not a person in the city who doesn't want to shout out the line, "She got a big booty so I call her BIG BOOTY"-- Andre and Big Boi came on and opened with "B.O.B," a song I heard for the first time working at a restaurant with a huge porch, a place in Midtown where nearly every staffer was gay save for me and Joel. We would have prep hour, watching Magnum PI reruns on the porch, rolling silverware and filling salt shakers and pretending to work, all while the radio pumped through the speakers. When B.O.B. came on for the first time that morning, and this is not an exaggeration, everything just ... stopped. Nick, a male stripper who worked as a server on dayshift, stopped his morning Backstreet Boys routine on the steps and just listened. Oscar, the middle-aged host who beat a rude customer bloody with his fists in the middle of Piedmont one night, cocked his head while wiping menus and looked utterly befuddled. Ron, who'd ditch everything and become a chocolatier with his life partner, had a giant befuddled grin on his face behind the bar. I don't remember my expression. I was dead fucking broke and lucky to still be married or loved or alive, and all I could hear was this song that sounded like the entire city piped downhill through a speaker playing in the rising heat of a September morning. You couldn't get it out of your face. No one could. It wasn't just merely brilliant. "B.O.B." was so good it bordered on confusing.

4. Andre Benjamin may be the best live-patterer ever. It's mostly his voice, but also the sheer lack of fuckititude in changing his lyrics to "Do something out of the ordinary/ like catch a Jimi Hendrix movie or something/ no reason/ I think I'm in loooooooooooooooove agaaiiiiiiiin/ y'all know that opens this weekend..." Also he told the crowd we were stanky, and giggled through it like a 14-year-old boy while wearing a gray wig and a full jumpsuit and sunglasses.

5. They also played "Elevators," off ATLiens, maybe the angriest, saddest and oldest album ever produced by a pair of 20-year-olds ever. It opens with an intro called "You May Die" and ends with "13th Floor/Growing Old" and sounds like the two had been listening to massive amounts of murky Wu-Tang during the recording. It just sounds like it was recorded at 3 a.m., and not in a particularly good mood about anything. I heard that for the first time working in an unairconditioned warehouse in Gainesville, Florida in the summer, with someone playing "Wheelz of Steel" over and over again for some reason. No one minded; ATLiens is discontented and hot, the perfect soundtrack for four months when the money ran out and you were splitting a deplorable student apartment with someone for the summer and living off tomato sandwiches because they were the cheapest way to prevent scurvy. "Elevators" still sounds like Atlanta in the depths of the early morning: slow, a little ruined, chain link fences and and empty parking lots lit by the wasted lights of downtown.

6. Those two older ladies I mentioned were very nice, since I fell on them jumping around during "Kryptonite."

7. I guess the first point to any of this is that Atlanta is still a racially divided and confusing city, and that one of the few moments when there can be anything like a unified theory of the city is in the music and presence of Outkast.

That music is, in a lot of cases, really, really troubled, even when it's over a karaoke keyboard beat like "Humble Mumble" or as jaunty as "The Whole World." (No, on Friday, Killer Mike did not come out for his verse.) Big Boi and Andre have been rapping about diapers and kids and poverty and stress since they were way too young to know what that should all mean. On "Spottieottiedopalicious," Big Boi talks about getting rejected for a UPS job. It's hard to be less glamorous than that, or end up somewhere more logical than "Rosa Parks," a song recorded at Outkast's peak that's introed with two dudes at a record shop talking about how they were already done with the group. It's got a hoedown harmonica break, an otherworldly radar-ping beat, an acoustic guitar riff and a titular nod to the defining historical event in the city's history, the civil rights movement. It should not work at all, and yet it does.

What I'm trying to say is that Outkast, more than anyone else -- more than any TV show, more than any novelist could ever hope to claim, more than any humorist or standup comedian or professional local ever has -- did what is so hard to do about Atlanta: they explained each corner by name, and defined what this city actually looks and sounds like. Outkast wrote this character, and its audience turned out to be anyone who could get in the gates of Centennial Park: black, white, broke, rich, weird, and probably wearing some carefully chosen local sports gear to indicate depth, range and cross-demographic precision in taste. (See: the black dude wearing an Atlanta Thrashers Blueland shirt, and the skinny white kid from what had to be Cobb County wearing an Alge Crumpler Falcons jersey.) If I have any idea of what Atlanta might be, it starts and ends with Outkast.

8. I've never seen more people meeting people they haven't seen in years. Sudden cries and quick hugs and all that family reunion stuff you joke about. I saw someone I hadn't seen in 10 years, my wife saw some old co-workers she hadn't seen in forever and I think I saw a mini-family reunion up by the Olympic fountains. Slimm Calhoun showed up for the encore. (SLIMM CALHOUN, ALIVE AND RAPPING IN THE YEAR 2014.) People ran into far too many ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends, including Andre 3000 himself. Erykah Badu showed up for the last night, and like every other pair of exes I saw at the show on Friday they reportedly got along brilliantly.

9. Bun B made only the second-most important cameo of the night. The first was Pimp C rolling his verse on "International Players Anthem" out on video, the video where he's wearing a white fur coat and hat, and rapping from the pew at Andre 3000's wedding. They let him carry his verse, and when they did, something electrifying happened: the crowd got louder and more emphatic and threw up hands harder and just generally lost their shit to an incredibly intense degree because ... well, because Pimp C wasn't dead. It's been five days since the show, and it still kind of raises the hairs on the back of my neck thinking about it not because Pimp C shouldn't be dead, or because that was the last Outkast show I'll probably ever see, but because if anything, seeing the duo for the last time letting a dead man take his verse to the house reinforced the entire point: that Outkast's music has always been about having one foot in the grave and one on the grass, about being half one emotion and half another entirely different feeling all at the same time.

Anywhere else it might have been morbid, but "Da Art of Storytellin' (Pt.1) has two verses: one about getting some in a parking lot while you can, and another about finding out someone you really liked ended up dead with a needle in her arm. Big Boi's got a kid in college. Andre's making movies. Killer Mike owns a barber shop now; L.A. Reid, the man who signed Outkast, is 58 years old. Both of Andre's parents died in the past year, and when he says it now, it hurt a little to sing it along with him no matter how good the beat was: keep your heart, Three Stacks, keep your heart. There was Pimp C, who died, and Bun B, who lectures at Rice University now in his spare time. Big Boi was on the left and Andre was on the right, but Atlanta is not a place for nostalgia. If everyone was singing "I Choose You," it wasn't tribute or goodbye. It was because at 10:48 p.m. ET or so that night, it felt too impossibly good not to sing along.