Collis even sings sweet and soft backup, beautifully crooning "Papa said he'd bring a brighter day" over an added intro to "Scapegoat." Heiruspecs had already perfected Ant's beats, but the new approach seems purposely looser, and risks corniness. There is one clinker in the set, in fact: "Woman Tonight," in which Collis's "Be my/woman tonight" refrain rides its steel horse into Bon Jovi territory.
I ask Ant about the tune, identifying it as "that groupie song."
"They're all groupie songs," he says, laughing.
Turns out the track is from a forthcoming release by Felt, Slug's duo with rapper Murs, but produced by Ant. It's based around a vocal sample.
Ant agrees that the chorus is wack. "I'm going to tell him not to do that song anymore," he says. His authority is apparently final.
DAY 3: THURSDAY
The band keeps playing "Woman Tonight," anyway.
Everyone at First Avenue is calling this "Slugfest" by now, and the rock feel of that title fits. There are rock openers almost every night, from the Dames to the Swiss Army. Slug's band opens its set every night with the drowsy, scratchy, Flipper-like burial groove of "Cats Van Bags."
This week is also about the very "rock" idea of the cover song. Word-for-word hip-hop covers of anything are, in fact, so rare that until Brother Ali's ferocious live update of Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue," which he performed earlier this evening to a sample of the "Mannish Boy" guitar riff, I could not name one after the Run-DMC-Aerosmith "Walk This Way." Slug's whole set is basically "covering" his own songs with Ant.
When the band plays "God Loves Ugly"--an obvious crowd favorite--they take it down a notch from the album version. When Slug raps, "Go to sleep, my little time bomb," Collis and drummer Armitage quietly exchange clicking sounds.
"This is my job now," says Slug, ad-libbing during the slow build of "Shrapnel." "And it turns out that every single one of y'all is my boss today."
He riffs on this idea for a while until the band kicks in loudly, and he thunders, "Where's my dental plan?!"
DAY 4: FRIDAY
During his opening set, P.O.S. raps an a cappella song about his uncle, who was killed last year in a hit-and-run. When Musab performs, he has a verse that goes, "You ain't never missed a meal in your weak-ass life."
Somehow, the headliner's romantic masochism seems more ridiculous against a backdrop of genuine hard knocks--and he knows it. During the opening bars of "F*@K You Lucy," Slug asks everyone to turn to the person on his or her right and say, "I love you." (Fortunately for me, the person on my right is actually a woman I do love very much.) "Now turn to the person on your left and say, "Fuck you!" (Unfortunately, the person on my left isn't my landlord, but she takes it good-naturedly, anyway.) "Now you're as dumb as I am."
The band finds its legs tonight, helped along by the front-loading of high-energy songs: After "Cats Van Bags" Slug veers into "Always Coming Back Home to You," a customary show-closer. The audience fills in the line: "South side is my resting place!"
And hey, "Woman Tonight" gets a reggae outro!
DAY 5: SATURDAY
Slug seems to be fighting a bad mood tonight--or maybe it's the crowd. At one point, he addresses somebody, "You, get over there. And you, stripes, get over there. You're interrupting my shit."
Later, the tiff on the floor spills into a brawl with security, and Slug stops the show cold until it's over. "We're still friends," he tells the guy being hauled off. "Just come back when you haven't had too much to drink. Where's his boy at? Are we cool? Good."
Someone offers Slug a drink, but he turns it down. "I'm not drinking. That's the realness."
Behind me, a guy is yelling loudly and repeatedly, "More keyboard!"
DAY 6: SUNDAY
Having caught a sore throat the night before, I'm in a feverish blur tonight, slam-dancing breathlessly to Dillinger Four. Suddenly I'm seized by a pillow of a woman who happily swings me in circles before depositing me onstage.
"Everybody here got in for free, so I expect you to have a good time," Slug announces during his set, but I'm exhausted, and the band seems to be letting their cocktail jazz mellow rather than flushing it down. I leave early.
DAY 7: MONDAY
Reportedly, Slug gained momentum after I ducked out, his neck veins bulging to their usual proportions. Tonight he starts slow again. "It's like a fucking lounge band," says the guy behind me during "God's Bathroom Floor."
The rapper's voice is skirting hoarseness, and the energy feels lower in the room for unknown songs.
"You guys actually like the old stuff better, don't you?" says Slug.
Besides revising the music of "Scapegoat," he had added a new last verse, which includes the punch line, "The problem with drugs is they're too fucking good now." But even as people cheer, they must know the MC means the line as a critique.