November 27, 2010
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Saturday night was Atmosphere's first of two extraordinarily sold-out shows in the Mainroom, and the buzzing crowd and comparatively intimate environment (much smaller than the group's outdoor shows at Soundset and Taste of Minnesota earlier this year) lent the evening a sense of immediacy. As an aggressive crew of scalpers hassled concertgoers for extra tickets outside the club and flipped them for what was likely an obscene profit, young kids piled into the venue in rows and rows, eager to revel in a performance by the local hip-hop royalty.
[jump] After Atmosphere's headlining Soundset gig back in May, I remarked that Slug seemed unusually serene, a sharp contrast to his normally scoffing, smirking stage persona. Likewise, a very introspective and humble Slug led the crowd through Saturday's Atmosphere show, pausing between nearly every song to address the crowd directly.
"I guarantee I don't take a single one of you fuckers for granted," Slug said toward the beginning of the set, shortly after an eager fan shouted their request for the song "Guarantees." "I also guarantee I'm intimidated by about 90% of you. Real talk."
Slug seemed intent on taking the time to pay his respects to local fans, sincerely connecting with the crowd. "People always ask me, 'What's it like living in Minneapolis? What's it like to be part of a scene like that?'" he remarked, scanning the crowd with a warm smile. "I always look them in the eye and say, 'You don't live here, fool.'"
Atmosphere's set list was certainly crafted to please his hometown crowd; their song choices flowed into one another seamlessly, taking the audience through several of the tracks from their new two-EP set, To All My Friends, Blood Makes The Blade Holy, while expertly splicing in old favorites ("Guns and Cigarettes," "God Loves Ugly," et al). In fact, some of the best moments in the set came from artful pairings of old and new songs; "Modern Man's Hustle" bled perfectly into a newer reflection on music industry life, "The Major Leagues," while "God's Bathroom Floor" matched the mood of older songs "Shrapnel" and "Scapegoat" perfectly.
Thankfully, only a few of the songs at Saturday's show suffered from the spare, slow-as-molasses, momentum-killing arrangements that plagued so much of their Soundset set; for the most part the group kept things moving forward for the entire performance.
I would be remiss to gloss over perhaps the most significant aspect of this particular Atmosphere show, and something that was surely on the minds of many as they watched the performance unfold. It was the group's first show since the passing of fellow Rhymesayer artist and longtime Atmosphere collaborator and tourmate Eyedea in October, and Slug's first public appearance since he emceed the Celebration of the Life of Mikey "Eyedea" Larsen on November 9 in the Mainroom.
The significance wasn't lost on Slug. Toward the end of their main set, a stage tech brought a stool out to the center of the stage as Slug waxed reflective once again. "This next song is kind of a touchy song," he said. "I've never done it live, I'm not even sure how to perform a song like this. This song means so much to me." As the crowd cheered appreciatively, Slug scanned the room. "Go on a trip with me and visualize how you can make yourself and your world better."
Oddly, the group followed up that mini-speech with the Number None, a song about a first love who goes on to fornicate with one of his best friends; not exactly the tribute song I was expecting at that point in the night.
"That was kind of silly," he said afterward, laughing to himself.
During the encore, Slug tore down any remaining walls between himself and his audience with a moving monologue. "I was worried about a lot of things coming into this show," he confessed. "I was worried about the leg brace," he said, motioning to his pantleg, "I was worried about the new material, but there was something else big I was worried about: This is the first time I've had to get up on stage and perform since my homeboy Eyedea passed away," he said, pausing as the audience clapped and shouted their respects. "I was concerned about getting up today and putting on my clown face, woop woop. But you guys made it very comfortable for me, and I thank you."
With that, Slug called for a moment of silence, and all 1,800-some attendees fell quiet for a long, heavy pause. Atmosphere wrapped up the show with the sobering "Yesterday" (a song originally written about Slug's father but which carries even more weight now in the wake of Larsen's death) and the nostalgic, sweet "The Best Day," a poignant end to a joyous and moving night crammed into the corner of that big black club.
<b>Reporter's bias:</b> I've been a little hard on Slug this year, especially after what I felt was a disappointing performance earlier this summer, but Saturday night's show revived my love for these long-running heavyweights.
The crowd: All ages, with lots of pale, lanky, flailing limbs.
Overheard in the crowd: "R.I.P. Eyedea!"
Random notebook dump: I loved it when Slug formed his hands into the shape of a heart and all the kids mimicked his gesture immediately.
New bass-heavy jumping song
Guns and Cigarettes
Between the Lines
God Loves Ugly
To All My Friends
Modern Man's Hustle
The Major Leagues
God's Bathroom Floor
The Number None
Trying to Find a Balance
The Best Day