As Senior Atmosphere Reporter at Impose, Slug of Atmosphere has done a lot for me during my tenure. He’s entertained me for three hours in Minneapolis while I’ve investigated his label, Rhymesayers, he’s made fun of my name, and he’s helped me reserve a parking spot in front of a venue. Oh, he’s been one of the few reasons hip hop shows are still worth attending. In a genre that is either clueless to the art of live performance or merely piggybacks the styles of their contemporaries, Slug has been at the frontlines of entertaining the masses. He’s the sad clown with all the new tricks and funny quips that sell out venues worldwide. Plus, you can still see him for under 30 dollars.
Another perk to the Atmosphere tour is the opening acts. It’s a rite of passage at Rhymesayers Entertainment to tour with its signature group. Blueprint is a veteran to the Atmosphere tour, having acted as hypeman by filling opening slots in previous treks, but to my knowledge this is the first venture for Abstract Rude (though we do have proof that Abstract has gone out on tour with Brother Ali). Hopefully this tour will be the influential experience that elevates his live set the way it has for past Atmosphere tourmates, since Rude’s songs and stage presence lacked the crowd interaction that artists like Blueprint and Slug have mastered.
Its no secret Slug is an Obama supporter, but it seems his values have not been swayed by recently-nominated sexy librarian. “Bird Sings Why The Caged I Know” always had political connotations, but Slug has introduced it back into the live set with a renewed vigor, ending his biting verse with “fuck her and that old man.”
Slug might have started touring with a band to challenge himself, which is swell, but the true gift of a live band is the rejuvenation of his catalogue. I could have easily left “Trying To Find A Balance” in back in 2003 (he could have done the same), but let a capable musician learn such a song and it transforms from so-so single to a fist-pumping live set energizer. The same can be said for “Shrapnel”; what once was a moody sub-par closer from God Loves Ugly is now a brazen guitar-based indie anthem.
Familiarity with your catalogue seems to be one of the few secrets to longevity in music. Slug could just burn through his hits over the years, channeling the lyrics through some cognitive memory triggers and the people would respond. But, to devote yourself to finding new approaches to old songs is the mark of a musician destined to play through the gray hairs. The numerous times I’ve seen the Wrens or Modest Mouse live, they’ve always blown me away with the additions or adjustments made to songs I always perceived to be perfect. I never thought “Trailer Trash” needed more lyrics, but Isaac Brock thought better of it. Slug seems to recognize that if he’s going to be doing these songs for the rest of his life for people who will never tire of “Woman With The Tattooed Hands” he should at least continue to make it interesting for himself.
Cases in point: “Guarantees” is a great acoustic song, crafted for a live setting, but “Not Another Day” slowed for the acoustic strum is equally chilling. We’ll need that recorded version to get through the day, but the slow version will get us through tonight.