Fluteway to Heaven: André 3000 Reside

Lil Wayne, André 3000 Set For 2024 Roots Picnic
Lil Wayne, André 3000 Set For 2024 Roots Picnic

The stained glass gives the air a gold haze in the nave of Knoxville’s former First Christian Church, the century-old site of André 3000’s woodwind seance on the closing afternoon of Big Ears ‘24. This Palm Sunday of Easter week is the 3K quintet’s first ever daytime show, but yet another held in a classic worship space, and now I know why.

More than simply cavernous rooms with angelic acoustics, old churches house hibernating spiritual energies. Residual emotions from weddings and funerals and the passions of thousands of services all sleep, awakening when the open-minded pack the pews.

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Upon entering this house of prayer, one meets a curious spread for vegan flute music: synths, effects pedals, laptops, amps, and a black ivy of audio cables crisscross the chancel, along with assorted xylophones, chimes and triangles, and stage center, and a traffic safety cone topped with a liquid-filled glass. Who knows.

The house music cuts, banana-yellow spirals light the walls and whirl. Slow-mo technicolor lights strobe. A tiny blue laser fires from the mezzanine and pierces the glass, forming a pint-glass lava lamp that roils all afternoon.

André emerges from the vestry to explosive applause, bearing incense. He barks ceilingward. Shamanic vibes abound. His four-piece follows, smiling and waving. André, head bowed, appears oblivious. He turns, consults a spread of flutes, and as the drums swell, shit gets real.

For the next 90 minutes, nothing from New Blue Sun seems to be played save for some melodies. The show is one long sonic invocation, possibly in just one key, paused four times for narrative and, I testify to you, it works. André’s flute game is serious stuff.

Neither drummer uses snares or hats, only drums of resonant depth. No stick-strikes occur. Mallets coax congas and toms in patient rhumba rhythms. Now and again, the constant low-end bulges with the bass boom of an Outkast album.

Makeshift sound tools are used, including what Amazon calls a “Jumbo Whirly Tube”— those plastic things that make lightsaber noises when swung, and when mic’d and processed, whisper ghost breath. A guitarist shoegazes and triggers samples; a joyous synth guy fools with synths.

After the first ‘song,’ a bloom of mesmeric juju that makes a writer wish he wasn’t taking notes, an extended standing ovation occurs, forcing 3K to shush us like Obama at an early rally. He wears the same visage and best-pal smile as Barack.

In his debut February residency at NYC’s Blue Note, André barely spoke a word. Today this inverts.

Granted silence, he lets it rest, then speaks of the moment—“The realest thing ever is happening right now. This only happens once.”—and invites participation—“I want ya’ll to make wild noises at any point in the show. Let’s overgrow the jungle into the church”. 

Andre 3000 in 2004 with Outkast (Credit: R. Diamond/WireImage for NARAS via Getty Images)

During ‘song’ two, some take him up on the offer. Within the music, distinguishing between his and their occasional utterances becomes difficult. I intend to keep mum, though actually experience chills at times, and whoever I am makes sounds of gentle exclamation. 

The second break arrives and André speaks in tongues, which most assume to be a foreign language. Revealing it as a self-sired dialect called Kweeko—“Ya’ll thought I was really saying something, didn’t you?”—causes wide-eyed gasps, then laughs.

By ‘song’ three, we enter the space of a lite southern Baptist service. What seers call the Spirit may be here. A smattering of us make leonine noises, perhaps but twenty of four hundred, though many openly meditate. Some pray. Suddenly, an uptight Vice bro to my right is freed, starts to quietly chant, and rock laterally. It’s odd, and I feel good for him.

During the final break, André speaks of flauting in the streets, passersby mistaking him for a busker. Watching his sounds “make babies stop crying, and grown men and women start crying”. The day a man with a mysterious eye gleam said “It must be a blessing to share such beauty with people”—the moment he decided to record an album.

We reach the rite’s vertex. “They’re giving me signals we’re out of time. Is it ok with y’all if we just blast off?” None of us object, André shouts a bit of Kweeko, and a brutal instrumental upthrust occurs. For five minutes the worship space rattles and howls like a shuttle booster rocket, and after a palm-punishing standing ovation, this petty life resumes.  

Afterwards, I sit beneath a highway underpass and cry for a bit, and I’m not sure why. It wasn’t because the show was a $92.50 add-on for all Big Ears ticket packages, although it was. André summoned a certain sanctified something in that century-old church, and though pews are in no way ergonomic, I’d advise people of all faiths to seek out 3K’s Holy moly.

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