"This is as close to church as some of us get," said Slug, MC for Minneapolis hip hop group Atmosphere as he addressed the packed audience at Congress Theater on Thursday night. If that was close to church, then the audience members were more than honored to be its congregation. On the last date of the To All My Friends tour, each of the performers treated the show more like a celebration of their sounds and hip hop instead of the end of a month-long tour.
On the road in support of the recently released To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EP's, Atmosphere used their nearly two-hour performance to showcase why they are one of the most respected hip hop group with a set that melded old classics and newer favorites. With each beat and groove, the group (comprised of Slug, DJ/producer Ant, keyboardist Erick Anderson and guitarist Nate Collis) and the audience fed off of each other's energy. For hand in the air and head bobbing there was Slug and crew executing numbers like "God Loves Ugly" and "Guns and Cigarettes" with pinpoint precision.
Opener "Trying to Find a Balance" began with a slow bluesy introduction which weaved itself into the number's booming rhythm while Slug exploded onto the stage to deliver the lyrics. Elsewhere, the keys of "Freefallin'" seemed to be sprinkled on top of its laid back groove and "Guarantees" offered a small breather during the performance with it's delicate guitar and almost sing-song rhyme style. These are the benefits to incorporating a live band in their sound as they revitalize the classic Lucy Ford-era material and flesh out the newer When Life Gives You Lemons tracks.
Supporting the amazing performance from Atmosphere were the equally enthusiastic sets from Blueprint and Grives and Budo. Before and in between each of the sets, DJ Rare Groove served as both a hypeman for the concert and as an MC of the night's festivities. DJ Rare Groove built the audience's anticipation with a set of hip hop classics. Tracks like Ice Cube's "Check Yo Self" and Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere" kept the attendees bobbing their heads but there is only one song that is almost 100-percent guaranteed to rev up a hip hop crowd, Black Sheep's "The Choice is Yours." Without fail, you could hear the excitement in the audience over that one little song.
Northwest duo Grieves & Budo made the most of their 35 minutes with a very charismatic set. The duo play well off of each other as Budo's mix of organic instrumentation and programming worked well with Grieves' energy as an MC. Throughout the set, Grieves roamed across the front of the stage and looking into the crowd with more of the intention of connecting with the audience instead of just rapping. In the background, Budo supplied steady beats while switching between the trumpet, keyboard and guitar surrounding him.. Their set more than helped to set the pace of the show. It was more of a statement to say that they are definitely a duo to watch in the near future.
Blueprint's set served as the missing link between old school, boombox blasting hip hop and the example of what's missing in a lot the current mainstream hip hop, heart. At the root of his sound is an homage to the classic sound of late 80's hip hop but Blueprint delivers it in a way that makes very contemporary. "Boombox," "Big Girls Need Love Too," and "1988" were key examples of this particular sound. With each beat and rhyme, Blueprint consistently engaged the audience even to the point of him and DJ Rare Groove breaking out Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It" as a lead-in to "Fuck a Job" in which he had the audience keep their middle fingers in the air for the entire song. His 40-minute set ended with nothing but blue lights covering the stage, his music playing and the wish to hear more.
You would have been hard pressed to find another show on Thursday night as packed and enjoyable as this one. Enjoyable to the point that I saw four people carried and thrown out of the venue before and during Atmosphere's set. It was a night where indie hip hop reigned supreme and proved that while the mainstream may have all the money and flash, it, for the most part, lacks substance and, to a degree, realism. On this stage were MC's, instrumentalists and DJ's who did an amazing job of not just putting on a great show but did an amazing job of celebrating their art and the art form they love deeply.
DJ RARE GROOVE
GRIEVES & BUDO