Figures that Atmosphere would deliver their best album in time to become a self-contained phenomenon. Despite festivals, late-night appearances, sell-out tours, and a slow-week debut in the Billboard Top 10, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (Rhymesayers) is a three-stars-now, four-stars-later fan record that will one day be pried from its status as a treasured secret. Meanwhile, Atmosphere shows at First Avenue have become parties for people who go to Atmosphere shows at First Avenue. Yet there's so much here for the curious walk-up crowd: slide guitar, flutes, electro synths, Tunde Adebimpe backup vocals—Ant makes them all sound like blues under Slug's husky vocals, which have never sounded more at ease with the power of a perfectly put couplet. He raps about those cravings for love and oblivion where we all began and will end, about the people we can't help caring about—the larger circle you call "family" when you're in a charitable mood. His honesty is shocking, at a time when honesty is about the only thing left in hip hop that can shock us. And Lemons turns this compassionate mercilessness on fictional characters, though you can hear autobiography in his cigarettes-as-pimps song, his galactic-hangover-as-disillusionment one, and in the little girl being rocked to sleep by hip hop to drown out her fighting parents. "Daddies drive around, mommies work night shift" isn't his debut as singer, but it's the first Atmosphere song where you can imagine Mary J. Blige picking up the melody, and her audience should find this. With Abstract Rude, Blueprint, DJ Rare Groove. All ages.
Sun., Nov. 2, 5 p.m., 2008