Apr 29, 2009 - 12:00 AM
I remember going to my first Atmosphere show back in 2001 or 2002. It was around that time that labels and crews like the Living Legends, Def Jux, Project Blowed and Rhymesayers, with their flagship act Atmosphere, were blowing up. And this new “underground” fan base was attracting alternative audiences. Following the DIY punk ethos, Atmosphere’s fame was spreading through word of mouth, with Atmosphere’s Slug being the darling of the indie rap scene. And they were moving units hand-to-hand at their personal and intense live shows. They’d even start mosh pits with the tour DJ, Mr. Dibbs, remixing Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” I remember thinking, “This is how a concert should be.”
Forward to 2009 and it doesn’t seem odd at all to see a non-traditional hip-hop audience selling out San Francisco’s historic Warfield Theatre (with a max capacity of 2,250) on 4/20. It’s the kind of crowd that geeks out to P.O.S.’ “De La Souls” because it pays tribute to both De La Soul’s “I Am I Be” and Bouncing Souls’ “Argyle”—and they understand both references. Drums-and-guitar duo Attracted to Gods opened the evening with their classic rock sound, which was slightly reminiscent of The Black Keys, but that may be because it’s the easiest connection to make. Both vocalist/guitarist Nate Collis and drummer Brian McLeod have played in Atmosphere’s touring band in the past. It was a loose segue to P.O.S, whose music mashes punk and hip-hop.
P.O.S opened with “Let it Rattle” off of his February release, Never Better where he rhymes: “They’re out for presidents to represent them / Do you really think a president can represent you?” He went into “Yeah Right” off 2007’s Audition and then jumped into the crowd. His pounding drum beats moved the crowd as if exorcising demons from them. He even brought out Judah Nagler of Bay Area indie band The Velvet Teen to sing with him before closing his set with “Optimist.”
When Atmosphere stepped on stage, the crowd lost their shit as if Slug was the second coming of Christ. Backed by producer Ant on the turntables along with a guitarist, singer and keyboard player, it was a much more mature Atmosphere than in the past. Gone are the rock mash-ups (he’d often break into Tool’s “Sober”) and randomness (he also used to have a girl from the crowd get on stage and slap Dibbs). Maybe it’s the age. “I sweat like I’m old and fat,” Slug announced.
Though tamer than expected, it was far from boring. They played gems off their classic 2002 album, God Loves Ugly, which was re-released earlier this year, as well as cuts from last year’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that Shit Gold. The highlight of the night however was the five-song (or more) encore that included older songs and a surprise guest.
“You’re the realest,” Slug said to the audience. “You know my first name … Is it cool if I bring out a friend and freestyle for y’all?” NY-to-SF transplant Aesop Rock jumped on stage for some impromptu rhyming. “Fuck 4/20, it’s Atmosphere Day” Aes said before leaving the stage. When they closed with “Sunshine,” the 2,000 or so folks in attendance sung the hook in unison: “Sunshine, sunshine, it’s fine / I feel it in my skin, warming up my mind…”
The show took me back to my backpack rap days when I’d knock Mystik Journeymen and Swollen Members in my Discman all day. I left the venue with 2001 stuck in my head.
Zoneil Maharaj is editor-in-chief of Oh Dang! He's the asshole who doesn't respond to your emails.
Lorenzo Escalante is a chaser of destiny, a poet of pain and a videographer of vengeance. What?!