I started listening to Atmosphere in high school — about 12 year ago. I listened pretty steadily up through You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having, dubbed by Slug as "the mohawk album," released in 2005. I listened to a little bit of When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold! — but after that, I stopped buying every album. It was an end of an era for me.
When I heard they were coming to town, I was excited, but with a grain of salt as they had just released a new album and were going to be singing the new songs. But, at least I would get to photograph the guys who rap some of my all time favorite songs. That would still be really cool.
As I thought about the show a few days before the event, a Murs song played over and over in my head. It goes, "So when he stopped on tour, in my town for a show, I played a true fan and was in the front row. As he started doin' classics, then stopped and said 'no,' we had to say we love the new shit, before he did the old." I felt like I was going to live out this song at the concert. I was wrong
I watched people filter in. Some of them sporting Atmosphere shirts. The only other obvious hip-hop shirts I saw were two Wu-Tang Clan shirts. Some people think it is "dorky" to wear a band t-shirt to that band's performance — though I don't know how I feel about it. I used to be a kid who cared a lot about my band t-shirts. Not so much anymore. I did, however, pick up a God Loves Ugly t-shirt from the merch booth.
Below, Dem Atlas.
I think Dem Atlas might have rocked the crowd a little better than B Dolan, though that's not to say I didn't enjoy the latter.
Below, B Dolan.
I actually prefer B Dolan's style to, well, most other rappers. The lyrics are well thought out and every word contributes to the message. The lyrics remind me of Sage Francis. While his delivery and tone of voice reminds me of Brother Ali. For me that is a juicy mixture for my headphones but it may have went over the crowd's head at times.
He did get the crowd interested when he called for the best b-boy in Champaign-Urbana to come up on the stage to have a dance battle. A local R&B singer, Ant Dog, made his way onto the stage to do some breaking while B Dolan performed a throwback LL Cool J song.
Then it was time for the big show — Atmosphere.
They started off playing a song from the new album. I only recognized it because I gave the album a quick listen a few days prior to hear what I was in for. They played few songs off of the new album and then they gave us an Easter egg, a surprise.
Below, "Fuck You Lucy."
Below, "Fuck You Lucy" video footage from the concert.
They played an old track, then another old track. And then Slug said, "we don't care if you don't like this old shit, we're going to play it anyway." The crowd loved the old shit. They ended up playing hits from all of the albums that I used to have on repeat.
Below, video footage of "God's Bathroom Floor" from the concert.
The crowd was in shock. Before the songs slug would say, "this next one is an old one," and the crowd would go nuts, to which he would reply, "you don't even know what we are going to play."
It was too good to be true and I waited for it to be over and for them to go back to playing off of the new album. But it never happened. They played all of the hits.
Below, "Woman with the Tattooed Hands."
I've seen Atmosphere at the Canopy Club twice before. One of those times, I had a bit too much to drink (— whoops). The second time they were with a live band and I had partied just enough. The set was just OK though. They played good tracks but that is about it. No talking in between, no stories, no interaction. This time, however, there was a lot of interaction.
Slug talked to the crowd about how much fun they were having, how they were going to play the old shit, about the all of the police bullshit going on in the world, and a lot about peace and love and the great energy that "Urpain" (Slug's way of shortening Champaign-Urbana) brought to the Canopy Club. It felt more personal and I appreciated that.
The way they performed and organized the songs also contributed to a great show. The show had a high energy feel but the group also performed mellow tracks and the flow kept the crowd on a rollercoaster. Near the end of the show, Ant and the other DJ walked off the stage, and left Slug rapping one of those mellow tunes to us and we thought it was over. Then he said, "Instead of us walking off and then you chanting our name, we're just going to do a few more songs." The DJs came back out and they rocked three more oldie tracks.
We thought it was over but it wasn't. Slug brought Dem Atlas and B Dolan onto the stage for a freestyle. Again we thought it was over but then they played one more oldie track, a real high energy track, and then walked off the stage. Wow.
Below, the freestyle session.
Atmosphere really came hard at the Canopy Club this year. They played their greatest hits and did it in a way that kept the crowd interested and satisfied. I am honored to have photographed them. Bravo. Really, bravo.