Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Atmosphere at Marathon Music Works (Nashville, TN)

Published in Blog, Break on a Cloud. Tags: , , , .

“If you’re gonna rap all of my words back at me, what the fuck do you need me for?”

Denying that Slug is an elite MC seems a silly proposition. His ability to make an audience feel appreciated appears effortless. (During last night’s show he inserted various calculated local references throughout without appearing to pander.) His presence has few cracks. His flow, casually impressive. The group’s other members are hardly any less worthy of the label. That said, I’ve been trying to blow these guys off for years.

Taking the stage at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works, Atmosphere represented both their city and label well, with constant Minneapolis shoutouts bouncing off a mirrorball-like Rhymesayers logo which hung immediately behind Ant’s DJ set-up. Keyboardist Erick Anderson and guitarist Nate Collis filled out the four-piece for the night, but aside from an organ solo and acoustic showcase late in the set the focus was primarily on Slug.

“Why did it rain all day?” the frontman tossed out before laughing to himself and glancing at Ant, smirking while he joked about how that’s where the DJ was supposed to drop the beat to “Sunshine.” Ill-timed stage-improvisations or no, the weather was terrible all day, which might have made the warm ambiance of MMW seem that much more comforting. It almost felt like home.

Relying heavily on Lucy Ford-era tracks early on, the group mixed up a varied selection of songs throughout the night: old favorites “The Woman with the Tattooed Hands,” “Guns and Cigarettes,” and “GodLovesUgly” were balanced by the likes of later-stage singles “She’s Enough” and “Just for Show.” While much of the set revolved around slower-flowing tracks and sentimental reflections, the power of the road-tested veterans was showcased with “Trying to Find a Balance” and “Scapegoat,” the night’s most booming selections.

“This is as close to church as some of us are gonna get,” joked Slug somewhere around the middle of the set. Oddly enough, I’ve avoided Atmosphere (live, at least) for so long because of the group’s place as a sort of deity in the Twin Cities hip-hop scene.* It’s not like I haven’t had my opportunities to see them: I came of age in the Midwest, spending many good years in Minneapolis and its surrounding suburbs, coping with its icy landscape in the winter and fending off its muggy heat and flocks of mosquitoes in the summer. For all those years I was turned off by the idea of how an Atmosphere show might play out — that mistake’s on me.

Somewhere late in the set Slug rapped something about being from Minnesota and wearing camo and I had to laugh at myself a little. My unwavering appreciation for camouflage aside, Atmosphere is the kind of group that makes me feel homesick for a place I don’t particularly ever feel homesick for, and Thursday night I felt a bit of pride for having once lived and loved in the city that they proudly call home. They didn’t lean on party anthems (like “You” for example) as I’d expected but instead laid down a well-rounded set combining classic tracks and deep cuts. The show was efficient, the set tight, and the talent was… elite. It’s been a minute since I was staunch supporter of their albums, but to answer Slug’s question: what the fuck do we (still) need Atmosphere for? Maybe only to help remind ourselves to smile at the endless array of moments gone by. Thursday night provoked that exact reaction — a smile — though I ended up not reflecting on the good times gone by, but regretting having waited a decade to let down my guard and just have some fun with these guys.

*As a sidenote, if you’re looking for a proper introduction to the TC hip-hop scene, Guante has done a great job in accumulating a list of names to check out that includes show-opener I Self Divine. Unfortunately due to a bus driver’s inability to open his damn eyes and pick me up at a scheduled stop I missed ISD and most of Blueprint’s set as well. I did catch “Radio Inactive” however, which Blue killed as his set-closer.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]