It would be tacky to start an Atmosphere review with a description of the atmosphere, but in this case, I really don't have a choice. Just know I do it while gritting my teeth.
The sweaty, steamy, rain-hungry crowd at Mesa Amphitheatre last night was nothing short of magic. Sure, much credit can be given to Slug, Ant, and their touring keyboardist and guitarist, but this show was the perfect example of the crowd feeding off of the love of the artist and vice versa.
For all the bluster of their live sound, the group casually walked into the spotlight at the theatre. Atmosphere are known for their humility, evidenced earlier in the day when they did a meet-and-greet at Mesa's Cheba Hut.
Openers Evidence, Blueprint, DJ Babu and Prof warmed up the crowd, but there was a definite vibe change as soon as Slug and crew took the stage. As soon as he said "I'm going to need all the children to come down to the lake," the crowd packed into the standing room at the front of the theatre. Suddenly, they moved as one unit, bouncing and swaying their arms to opener "Until the Nipples Gone."
Phoenix has a reputation for bad crowds, but you wouldn't know it last night. Everything Slug said was countered with enthusiasm, and as soon as a fight broke out near the front row at the start of the concert, Slug let it be known that wouldn't tolerate violence at the show. He stopped the whole show to let it be known, in fact.
"We don't come here to fight. We come here to get pregnant," he said, asking Ant to cut the music. It was just the first of the weird pregnancy comments. "Act like a fucking hippie and move, man."
He proceeded to move, but not remove the fighters in question. It's just another one of those trademark "Slugisms." He's carved himself out a niche as a peace-loving rapper -- sort of an aggressive-sounding hippie. It's a refreshing turn in rap to hear someone rapping about how much they love life, despite having undergone adversity. You have to respect that.
And you can tell these guys are true lovers of music. As they said on "You Played Yourself," it's unusual, if not frowned upon for a rap group to travel with a live band. "You ain't The Roots/You ain't The Roots/Why you got a band, man?" But the country-soul voice and perspective of Nate Collis and keyboard stylings of Erick Anderson just add new depth and heart to the rhymes.
The band first shined on the heavy, rock-influenced "Puppets," when Collis showed off his gritty, powerful voice as backing vocals.
Critic's love to note Slug's intelligent lyrics, and live, they were on full display. They pack a punch and leave you in thinking mode, even if all you wanted to do is dress in minimal clothing and drink, like just about everyone else in the theatre did.
The love vibe spread throughout the venue. It was just contagious when Slug was sending out those "fucking hippie" vibes with lines like "Make a pancake, make a painting, make a baby," telling the crowd to carry their positive energy when they leave the venue.
Slug peppered his set with self-deprecating humor, saying how much he loves Phoenix and telling the crowd "You don't even make fun of me for my non-ironic soul patch and cargo shorts."
They might have if they were paying attention to such frivolous details, but with good vibes like this, nobody really gave a damn.
A whole hearted stab at Atmosphere's set list (not flawless):
Until the Nipples Gone
Guns and Cigarettes
Musical Chairs ** (Not sure about this one)
Just for Show
Modern Man's Hustle
If You Can Save Me Now
God's Bathroom Floor
The Last to Say
** Not sure about this one
Always Coming Back Home to You
Say Hey There
Trying to Find a Balance
Last night: Atmosphere at Mesa Amphitheatre.
The crowd: Uncomfortably white.
Personal bias: I'm not an avid listener of rap, but I do appreciate the intelligence of Slug's rhymes.
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