“How long has it been, Chicago? Three months? My, how you’ve grown. So big!”
Following an on-par opening performance by Abstract Rude, Atmosphere’s frontman, Slug, took the stage; coat on, hood up, gloves donned. “It’s fuckin’ cold out,” he explained.
Atmosphere’s Paint the Nation tour had the potential to be incredibly disappointing. Paint the Nation is derived from the title of the group’s most recent album, When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold, which was an album with fantastic highlights (“Puppets,” “Guarantees,” and “Yesterday”) but was loaded with several mediocre tracks as well. The fortunate thing about Atmosphere is that it has a truly dedicated following of listeners, many of whom consider themselves loyalists to several Rhymesayers (Brother Ali and P.O.S. among them). This being the case, Slug didn’t have to play to new fans, but sampled tracks from several albums, including those as early as 1997’s Overcast! Slug feigned surprise that Chicago was so familiar with his work, but following an “Atmosphere Karaoke Night” a few months back, there is no way he could have been truly surprised at his fans’ lyric-memorizing prowess.
The success of the evening was therefore due to the latitude allotted Slug, Ant, and others by the crowd. This was augmented by Slug’s subtle showmanship that could most aptly be described as “Minnesota Nice.” Colloquial but not overzealously profane, Slug’s anecdotal approach to guiding the audience through the show reflected the story-telling styles of St. Paul’s Garrison Keillor, sans heavy breathing into the mic. Humoring in an unabashed fashion, Slug tended towards such complimentary rhetoric as “How is it I bring you snow, and you just give me sunshine in return?” and “You people just love the sound of your own voices… I love the sound of your voices.”
Fans were also treated with a discussion of the creation of Atmosphere’s most recent hit, “Guarantees.” Slug shared how the beat was spun in Ant’s basement for Brother Ali, who decided not to use it, and how guitarist Nate Collis offered up the guitar melody that he was using for a track in his own band. Seeing group members banter about the construction of the track provided an insight for concertgoers as to the inherently organic nature of piece assembly that make Atmosphere rhymes so brilliant. The communal nature of the group itself and of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Rhymesayers family made itself apparent throughout the show.
The set list was pleasantly varied, from heavy-beat tracks to guitar and keyboard fused ballads, Atmosphere proved its versatility through the various talents of its members. Crowd favorites were carefully selected from over a decade’s worth of street poetry, and the energy in The Vic never died.
Slug, who grew up in the streets of Minneapolis, was classy and humble throughout the show.
“I know this is where we are supposed to walk over there, and you are supposed to do that hockey cheer thing, but I was wondering, could we just do the encore now?”
Following an encore featuring the volcanic “Trying to Find a Balance,” Abstract Rude was invited on stage to free-style with Atmosphere. Being the fact I’ve been to shows where opening acts are never thanked, and on one occasion where the opening act’s name was plain forgotten, this was proof enough for me that the members of Atmosphere are true gentlemen (or “ladies,” in the case of vocalist Mankwe Ndosi). This veritable rhymefest finale made me almost as gleeful as the closing scenes of Return of the Jedi, you know, when the Ewoks and the Rebels dance around fires on Endor. But this was live.