Manhattan Heats Up
By Nell Alk
Comprised of dynamic duo Slug (Sean Daley) and Ant (Anthony Davis), the two-man-band better known as Atmosphere invaded New York City’s Fillmore at Irving Plaza late last month. In the midst of their Paint the Nation tour, the pair took Manhattan by storm, drawing a diverse crowd consisting of fake ID bearing college students and veteran hip-hop connoisseurs. What young and old, intimately familiar and newly acquainted alike shared in common was an indisputable respect for the artists breaking it down on stage. Avid fan or first-timer, Atmosphere commanded the audience’s attention – and admiration – from the initial syllable to the end of their 90-minute set.
The dual-level venue was stuffed with hipster kids and wannabe MCs (one in particular, a balcony-based fanatic, perpetually gesturing with his hands and lip-synching) obvious Long Island imports and Manhattan dwellers like myself. All came together to bask in the glory that is Atmosphere. Yes, we were divided – VIPs upstairs, lay listeners downstairs – but that’s nothing new. It made no difference where guests stood, as Slug spoke equally to everyone (both literally and, as always, figuratively), maintaining eye contact from first tune to last.
Dressed in blue jeans, a black cap and a black hoodie, Slug looked more thuggish than his eloquent rhymes would imply. Midway through, he ditched the sweatshirt, donning a plain white tee underneath. This revealed his support to cure cancer, sporting on his wrist the trendy, yellow Livestrong bracelet. The tee-and-jeans look transformed him from modern day bad boy to classic rebel, a lyrical genius meets James Dean, 36 and continuing to kick ass and take names.
Atmosphere performed several songs from their latest record, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold. Instead of focusing solely on himself, this 15-track disc features Slug directing attention elsewhere. Different from previous releases where subject matter largely centered on personal trials and tribulations, the album veers in an alternative direction, casting off genuine introspection in exchange for riveting fiction. “Your Glasshouse,” with its foreboding and eerie aesthetic partnered with the gritty theme of a reckless lifestyle, translated well from pristine version to live medium. And the punchy “You” had everyone jumping up and down, arms in the air.
Slug’s storytelling ran the gamut that night, ranging from conventional to confessional. He adopted the role of teacher (not to be confused with preacher, as that he is not) as well as psych patient. We, as apt pupils and enthralled therapists, watched in awe as Slug and Ant turned out sweet beat after sweet beat, both new and old. There were quite a few throwbacks, in fact, including my personal favorite, “Trying to Find a Balance.” Their set that night certainly succeeded in that feat.
Father to a young son and witness to the hardships of life (lemons, anyone?), these experiences arm Slug with bottomless knowledge and attitude to boot, well suited to share lessons learned. And share he did, when occasion called for it. A fight broke out between two boys in the sea of people. Wise and direct, Slug sternly spoke: “You people don’t even believe in the police, do you?” This rhetorical quip could be easily shrugged off, but it left an impression. While he may have meant it facetiously, nevertheless his remark suggests we – mostly middle class Caucasian kids – haven’t bumped shoulders with the law. And, he’s quite likely right.
For a lot of us, the NYPD is more of a myth, something fabricated for our own amusement, like the tooth fairy. We hear the sirens but, chances are, they aren’t after us. While no doubt some attendees attract attention from authorities from time to time, for all intents and purposes Atmosphere’s fan base that evening was largely populated by sheltered adolescents. We know our way around the mean streets of the city that never sleeps, we can swipe a Metrocard and make our way from point A to point B (and even to point Z), but frequently we misbehave and disregard the prospect of repercussions. Often because there aren’t any.
Before the ridiculous combat, Slug indirectly predicted a testosterone-motivated altercation. The moment he hit the stage he relayed, half-plea, half-command, “We’re not gonna have no dumb shit tonight.” Apparently Slug’s touring has equipped him with a particular brand of wisdom, an intuition about the disposition of his show-goers. In an attempt to extinguish the rising ire, Slug joked, “You ain’t supposed to fight, you supposed to impregnate tonight.” That invited ample laughs and we were back to the matter at hand: music.
As always, Ant laid down his synthesized sounds with the skill of a producer/DJ who’s seen a few things. Casual and relaxed, he smoked a stogie on stage, shaking his head from side to side from his raised platform. Accompanying the talented twosome were three contributors to the tour; guitarist Nate Collis, keyboardist Erick Anderson and vocalist Mankwe Ndosi. This amounted to five ear-pleasing music sources. The latter proved especially essential, her velvety voice complimenting Slug’s raw rapping. It didn’t hurt that the acoustics at The Fillmore were nearly faultless.
Sporadically pouring himself grapefruit juice from a Tropicana carton, Slug seemed at ease the entire time. (Maybe it’s the vitamin C?) He kidded with the crowd, addressing us as “Ugly motherfuckers” before seamlessly transitioning into the oldie but goodie Atmosphere enthusiasts never tire of, “God Loves Ugly.” So enamored with them, Slug had us chanting “Make dinner dinner, make dinner dinner,” only to promptly announce that he couldn’t believe we “fell for that!” Despite his peculiar sense of humor, Slug’s poking fun never became mockery. In fact, he appears to maintain a love-love relationship with his supporters, solidifying fan devotion wherever he travels, whatever moves he makes.
Before inviting Abstract Rude back to the stage for some “exit music,” Atmosphere ended the event on a high note, performing his deep, beat-laden and beautiful “Always Coming Back Home to You.” No doubt Atmosphere devotees across the country and throughout the world wish that line were meant for them; but, alas, Slug and Ant hail from Minneapolis. Once having painted the planet gold, these platinum prodigies will conclude their journey in early 2009, making their way back from whence they came, the Midwest.
Originally published on JamBase.com