Returning for their third show in Chicago this year — after selling out the smaller Metro back in April for two nights — Minneapolis hip hop duo Atmosphere knew exactly what to do to complete the hat-trick.
My pre-show talk with DJ Anthony Davis (a.k.a. Ant) served as a nice primer to what I would experience during the show, and the humbleness Davis conveyed during our chat made perfect sense. I smiled, marveling at how far the duo has come since their days of playing to just a handful of fans in Chicago’s smaller bars and clubs over the last several years.
The Vic Theatre rumbled and bounced to the beat of the duo’s trademark mix of Davis’ boom-bap samples and Sean Daley’s (aka Slug) first person socio-psyche storytelling, riling up fans — new converts and faithful followers — to a feverish frenzy. Daley did what he’s always done, but this time he played the jovial jester with a more precise and focused aim, blending hip hop’s old school call-and-response anthems with his own style of stand-up comedy and goofy punch lines. The only difference tonight from the last ten years, is that the stage and crowd is bigger, as Daley realized with a grin, “It’s been a few months. And you’ve grown.”
With help from a live band, Davis laid down the new sound, a seductively synth-y mix of soul and funk, while Daley wore his heart proudly on his sleeve, seamlessly mixing witty song intros and fan appreciation. “This your first snow fall today, right” Slug asked mid-set, “I don’t understand it? We bring you guys a snowstorm while all you bring us is ‘Nothing but Sunshine’.” The crowd roared their appreciation as Daley brush-stroked his fans with golden rays of righteous rhymes.
Daley was on a mission to show his emergence into a craftier, defter emcee whose persona has grown from a borderline self-destructive yet articulate, self-conscious rapper to a thoughtful, third-person-reflective emcee who’s deeply pondering the lives of those around him.
Daley’s cadence was crisp and clown-crazy mesmerizing, like a great adventure through the hearts of hard-luck characters in a carnival fun house. Flashing silly smiles and grabbing swigs of grapefruit juice between songs, he jumped from the seriously sacred and mundane blues ballad “Guarantees” to the unashamed call ’em like you see ’em “Puppets.” Embracing the old jewels and the new gold, the crowd yelled along when Daley extolled them with the vintage Atmosphere anthems “Love Life” and “God Loves Ugly.” In the past, Daley borrowed from the sad clown persona to share his rhymes, but tonight his makeup was all gold.