Some portion of Sean Daley’s conscience must survey the under-achieving audience at a typical Atmosphere show and realize, “I’m writing lyrics for an audience that’s already lost.” Daley, aka Slug, of Minneapolis-based Atmosphere and producer Ant attracted seemingly every at-risk teen and minimum wage-earning Millenial in Utah to their Salt Lake performance on April 12.
It was Easter Sunday. Their album, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, is a step above typical hip-hop hubris. But that is all pretty well lost on stage, where Slug’s stage persona announces early in the show, “I’m just a clown up here!”
Atmosphere doesn’t clown around, but they certainly don’t offer any of the subtlety of the studio versions of When Life Gives You Lemons. The album’s best cuts all get fabulous performances: “Puppets,” “Shoulda Known,” “You,” and “Can’t Break.” But the independent hip-hop artist who dedicates Atmosphere’s recent album, “To All Dads,” and wrote the biting lyrics about a neglected daughter in closer, “In Her Music Box” also makes eloquent quips between songs like, “You all don’t make us jump through hoops or ask us to be some shit we’re not.”
I’m not sure I even know what that means.
Slug also introduces previously-unheard lyrics into “Guarantees” about killing his work supervisor and poking his dead body with a stick like road kill. He then pleads with the audience not to upload it to Youtube before it appears in an upcoming film because, “This shit is just person-to-person, you and me!” Then he insists he wants to sing a happy song, and launches into “Yesterday,” where he mistakes someone for his dead father. What boundless joy!
The atmosphere (lower case “A”) was electric, the audience was juvenile, and the banter was inane.
But then after every few songs, Slug seemed to retreat back into a more cerebral frame and write elaborate notes to himself. Or at least that’s my best guess. I’ve never seen a frontman spend minutes at a stretch writing in a notebook right in the middle of his set. Maybe it was a to-go order, but I prefer to think he was making lyrical notes for Lucy Ford’s next appearance.
Driving home tonight I finished another listen of When Life Gives you Lemons, which I considered one of the top albums of 2008. It still strikes hard. Maybe I would have enjoyed the show in a more intimate setting without In the Venue’s squalor and elbow-to-elbow GED’s. Or maybe Atmosphere just doesn’t play to lilly-white 39-year-old middle managers.