When I first discovered Atmosphere 5 or so years ago, I remember thinking that perhaps it was like the grunge movement for hip hop. It’s minimalist, dirty sounding, but still melodic and catchy with smart lyrics. In a market crowded with Dirty South, Corporate Hip Hop, and remnants of Gangsta Rap, it stood out. Also, Slug reminded me of a guy I would hang out with in high school, an approachable lead guy kind of in the same vein as Dave Grohl. I particularly loved his vocals, which are velvety and intense, their storytelling heavy songs, and performances that highlight a subdued anger that can only come from someone who has had a rocky past.
I’ve seen Atmosphere at least 2 times before, on hot nights at Emo’s Austin. They were great shows. This show, however, was like seeing an entirely different artist. It felt like Atmosphere Lite.
The show opened with fellow Rhymesayers artist Abstract Rude, who was….interesting. From LA, they powered through a long set of soulful hip hop tracks, including a Sublime cover that they contributed to a tribute album. One member, ‘Zulu Butterfly’ added some flavor to the set by performing what could best be described as interpretive dance moves while wearing white gloves.
From the moment I first heard Guarantees, off their new album When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, I knew that they had matured. However, I was not prepared for the lovefest that we witnessed last night.
After starting the night with Less One, I thought we were off to a good start. Then he told the crowd “Please no crowd surfing, I want this to be a happy show”, I was a little worried. Happy? We would hear that word several time throughout the rest of the night.
Slug was totally on his game, he barely took a break the entire night, and many of the newer songs stretched his vocals more than I had seen before. He performed a track that he had never done before, the very happy and light You. I hated it.
The set list was long and weighed heavily on older material. The crowd knew the words to most of the songs, which is an impressive feat. Many of the songs were remixed into ‘softer’ versions, the standout being Shrapnel, which amped up the Middle Eastern vibe, and ended by Slug singing the last lines while he walked off stage.
He came back after his back up singer did a song of her own, and performed the ‘encore’ (he said he didn’t want to leave the stage and wait for obligatory clapping to come back out), which included Guarantees and Not Another Day, for which he told the crowd not to clap because he really enjoys singing this song. Trying to Find a Balance didn’t make the cut. Perhaps ‘respect the cock’ is not part of his vocabulary anymore. He made a heart with his hands and left the stage.
Since Slug is from Minneapolis, he mentioned that he wanted to grow up to be Prince before he discovered LL Cool J. Now it all makes sense. As he left the stage for good, he introduced himself as Sean, and I realized that he’s shed Slug now and has moved on to a different phase of his musical career. It may or may not be one I am interested in.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a great show for what it was. But I was nostalgic for the old Atmosphere, the dark, gritty, mad one. I think he’s off drugs and has found God. This was not what I expected. Good for him, bad for me.
Good videos from other shows:
Lovelife and God Loves Ugly
Not Another Day
Atmosphere performance: 7/10
Abstract Rude performance: 5/10
venue (The Grand Ballroom at the Regency): 7/10
value ($25.00/ticket): 7/10