photos courtesy of Michael Stegmaier
Atmosphere’s Paint the Nation tour comes to Omaha
I’m a big fan of Atmosphere. I’ve talked before about how much I liked their latest album but really their entire body of work is a must hear for all hip-hop enthusiasts. The group is comprised of DJ/programmer Ant and emcee Slug. Their partnership has constructed some truly innovative hip-hop over the last ten years plus. Slug’s personal and, as of late, reflective lyrics are complimented by Ant’s ever-maturing productive talents. Like I said, they’re kind of a big deal and I’m a huge fan.
So seeing them live tonight for the first time was the kind of experience that grows rarer the older I get. There aren’t many bands left that I like as much that I haven’t seen live already. Radiohead, Crowbar, the never-gonna-happen reunion of Faith No More, Sage and Aesop are just about the only ones left on the list. It’s an occurrence that reminds me what it was like discovering bands as a kid and the thrill of going to see my first show (Gravity Kills at The Ranch Bowl). That show was packed like adrenalized immigrants on a Spanish Galleon. The energy was off the charts and, while the choice of band may be suspect to some of you, they tore the place up.
Tonight was very reminiscent of that show oh so many moons ago. The sold out venue was wall to wall with diverse merriment, the uninhibited expressions of a good time painted on the faces of every representative of nearly every music genre. The delegation noticeably absent from this brand of hip-hop show was the true thug trove. This was not the kind of rap show that embraces violence and the by-any-means-necessary way of survival. Atmosphere brings real life to the table, the tales of single moms and homeless fathers, not the glamorized fantasies of the modern day thug. Which is, again, a large reason why I enjoy their music so much.
I’ve always thought that hip-hop should be about people, real people and the lives of adversity that they live on a daily basis. Fuck the fantasies about rims, bling, and bitches. There are very few things as American as the word on the street and hip-hop is supposed to be just that. Give me the news that isn’t deemed important enough by the media. Paint me a picture of the underground and make me understand why you or someone you know can’t break a drug addiction. Hold up a mirror and show the world how every one of us has a ghetto inside ourselves with gutters full of our own intimate garbage.
This is what Atmosphere does best. Slug brings the chronicles of those every day fighters to the ears of those who can and can’t relate alike. His sympathetic approach and compassion is a rare element in hip-hop. He shares his stories and reports back to you of the ones he’s witnessed. But, again, it’s not done so with a corporate depiction. Fans of Atmosphere feel, foremost, that Slug understands them and is in someway comforting them by simply letting them know that everybody struggles. Everybody, at some point, is handed lemons.
This communal element makes Atmosphere’s live show more like a family reunion or a late night barbecue. They’re a celebration of the struggle; an acknowledgment of the effort put forth by those who are simply trying to get by. This night of music and booze is a well deserved respite from the familiar tales the gathered fans nod their heads to. The connection between the crowd and performer is something seen all the time at folk or country shows. The relation and shared outlook is something that those genres have always had with their followers. It is, however, uncommon for a hip-hop show I think. Sure, many people can identify with smoking weed and getting in a fight or two. But once an MC starts flowin’ about owning mansions, murdered out whips and stables full of hoes, you start to lose the connection with a large fraction of the fan base.
Atmosphere’s set list runs the spectrum of their entire catalogue. While I would have loved to hear more songs from Godlovesugly, every album was given a respectable nod with at least one track plucked from each. Most surprisingly was how well the songs from their latest album translated to a live performance. When describing their latest effort, upbeat club music is not the likely adjective one would use. But the songs “In Her Music Box”, “Guarantees”, “Your Glasshouse”, and “Like the Rest of Us” slipped nicely into the set on the coattails of “Shoulda Known”. Noticeably absent from the set were party hits like “You”, “The Arrival”, and “Musical Chairs”.
The addition of the live band to the performance, something that has been omitted in previous performances from what I understand, was a great touch. While the usually focused and intense Slug rhymed over the top of flawless yet loose instrumentation, his backing vocalist and guitarist were usually grinning ear to ear. Ant wasn’t free from the overwhelming euphoria either, smiling through a Heineken and an always present cigarette.
The set ended with a freestyle session between Slug, Blueprint, and Abstract Rude to the loosely based foundation of Atmosphere’s single “Smart Went Crazy”. Up to that moment, the show was already top five material. The lyrical manage a trios took the show through the roof, into the night sky, and perhaps explained where the group’s name Atmosphere originally derived.