Monday, August 8, 2011

Concert Review - Atmosphere at Metro, August 5, 2011

Sean Daley is an endlessly fascinating individual, at least if his rhyming is anything to go by. He spits under the name Slug and, along with his producer Ant, he's been putting out amazingly heartfelt, angry, bitter, tender and insightful records under the name Atmosphere for over a decade. His songs are self-absorbed forays that deal with aging, anger, drinking and failed relationships (family and romantic). He works as a classic unreliable narrator, mixing personal history with three dimensional character studies and second-hand narratives that are never anything less than honest and compelling.

It was the prospect of catching those rhymes live that drew me into the belly of the beast on a rainy Friday night for a pre-Lolla set. The show kicked off the Atmosphere's aptly-named "Family Vacation Tour" and sure enough, a sense of familial love pervaded the evening. The tour includes labelmates Blueprint, Evidence, and DJ Babu as openers and all were of a similar mind and very well-received by the early-arriving crowd. The work ethic and appreciation for the audience that Slug carries himself with was clearly not lost on those farther down on the bill. In a genre known for endless delays and indulgent hype men and DJs, the Rhymesayers crew moved quickly and delivered the goods with a passion that burned through every song. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you run a tour.

Evidence w/Babu on beats
I only caught the last two songs of Blueprint but can report that they were enough to make me wish I had left for the show a little earlier. After they left the stage, DJ Baboo immediately set up and started spinning a well-chosen mix of classics by Dead Prez and Public Enemy, keeping the crowd moving and excited before fellow Digable Planets alum Evidence started his set a mere 15 minutes after the end of the previous one. Evidence shares Slug's love of jazz and soul as well as his blue collar attitude and for an Atmosphere crowd the songs went down like tonic. His 35 minute set did it's job perfectly; he established his skill for those new to his work, kept the energy high and never came close to letting his welcome wear thin.

But it was Atmosphere that the crowd was here to see and as soon as Slug took the stage, the room became electric and the audience started moving. The band was commanding, even overpowering Slug for the first few songs as Ant's beats and swelling keyboards and guitar from Erick Anderson and Nate Collis respectively, drowned out most of the lyrics. The music and the mix quickly fell into place though and the group warmed up by powering through a series of songs from early albums to a rapturous audience who had clearly lived and died with this music for years.

Though Atmosphere has moved artistically from that early sound with each album, they clearly haven't lost any steps with age. Songs from new album, The Family Sign were equally powerful on stage as the hits. The album's family focus doesn't mean it shies away from heavy topics and meditations on love, violence and aging as "The Last To Say", "My Key", "You Don't Know" and "She's Enough" carried the crowd as easily as old favorites. Slug also showed he's just as effective using character and allegory as personal experience on a propulsive, slow-burn live debut of his man-into-wolf drama, "Became". Other highlights included staples "Sunshine" and "Trying To Find A Balance".

Atmosphere, accept no substitutes
The set was well-paced and diverse, as Atmosphere's four members hopped effortlessly from the brash bombast of "You" to the understated guitar on "Guarantee" and the bouncy soul piano of "My Notes" which closed the main set. Even after an hour-and-a-half of energetic music the crowd was still bouncing and screaming when Slug freestyled during an equipment malfunction before starting the encore with "The Best Day" from last year's underrated double EPs, To All My Friends; Blood Makes The Blade Holy. By the time the time last notes of "Yesterday" faded into the morning at 2am, everyone from the stage to the back row was sweaty, tired and still buzzing from three hours of celebrating life, love and hip-hop.

On Saturday, Atmosphere would step onstage in Grant Park for a late afternoon set in front of a Lollapalooza crowd with tens of thousands of people in it. I'm sure that some of them ended up loving it, some probably didn't get it and many were probably far more interested in beer or the next band. But on Friday night Slug and his "family" were kings for 1150 people and all was right with the world, however briefly.

Don't ever fucking question that.

Sunshine - Atmosphere
Guns & Cigarettes - Atmosphere
Became - Atmosphere
Yesterday - Atmosphere

He's got lots of albums and they're all worth your time. I might start here though.

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