God Loves Ugly

Atmosphere & Evidence & Horrorshow
Hi Fi Bar, Sydney
12th May 2012

Hey what are you doing over there?”
”I’m just waiting for.... he might come out...”
”Who are you waiting for?”
”The guy from that show...”
”Who Slug?? You’re waiting for fucking Slug?”
”No... I mean... well.. yeah...”
”Fucking Slug?!??”
”I love him.”
”Oh my god, he is so fucking ugly!!
— GodLovesUgly

When the show is over I can never go home right away.  It's like when the movie ends and I can't walk out of the theatre until the credits finish.  I just have to savour that moment as long as possible, because as soon as you step outside, the magic quickly fades away.  It's like that for a live show only 100x as strong.  Once a live show ends, the moment can never be exactly recreated.  Unlike a movie which is designed to be watched over and over again, the feeling, vibe, and atmosphere of a live show are literally lost the minute the music dies.  As soon as the lights come on, it's like we're stung with the harsh reality of the situation.  It's why sometimes I get nervous as each song passes, because I'm anticipating that ending. 

I would go as far as to say that being at a show is like jumping off a cliff with a really long freefall and no parachute.  In the middle of it all you forget that you're plummeting and get lost in the panoramic view: the majesty of the mountains, the endlessness of the sea. Nothing can stop you, you're in the moment you're free. You're not falling, you're flying.  And then the harsh reminder comes that this cannot last forever.  The band stops playing, the characters walk off stage, and the lights dim.  So you beg and you plead and you yell and you scream for more.  Just one more hit please. You can't leave us like this. And they do come back, they always come back.  But you're reminded now, that the ground is fast approaching.  Nothing can prepare you for that sharp impact, that fatal fall. Terminal velocity.  Curtain call.  The next time, they don't come back again.  The band is no longer just hiding behind the curtains. They're stomping off backstage, grabbing beers, and giving cheers to a night well spent. And here you are devastated, blinking in the too-bright lights as they play house music. And all that means is move along people, nothing to see here anymore. Out the door. And so what do I do to soften this blow? 

Like waiting through the credits, to see if there will be a hidden scene, I hang around and wait, just hoping maybe there will be an Act 2 tonight. Maybe I can meet you.  Just say hello, share our very different perspectives on the evening before we depart.  Maybe I'll make an impression on you that you'll never forget.  Something you can file away under vague memories of tour dates, names, and faces. And I can get a photo that prompts me to tell the story again and again, remembering word for word what was said.  We’ll have a memory then, that won't fade away, something from that night that we can keep. 

Last month Australia was lucky enough to get a rare visit from the hip hop heavyweights, Rhymesayers themselves.  Not only do they have the best name going for a record label, but they are one of the largest independent hip hop record labels in the United States.  Although not necessarily in the spot light, the Rhymesayers family has grown since their beginnings in 1995 to include a stellar line up of artists that sell out shows across the country and around the world.  The label runs an online and physical store from their home city of Minneapolis as well as hosting their own summer hip hop festival each year since 2008.  So which artists did they send to rep Rhymesayers down under? Atmosphere of course- the group whose members co-founded the label and Evidence-of Dilated Peoples fame, who recently signed onto the label for his solo projects.  Being American, this concert was very special to me, as I had not yet had the opportunity to see Atmosphere although they had performed around the area that I am from several times.  Atmosphere is an important group to me, laying the foundation for the love of hip hop that I have today, but I will get into that a bit more later.

Of all the hip hop groups I've seen so far, the only group that even came close to how comfortable that Atmosphere felt on stage was the Herd. That obviously has to do with experience and musical maturity.  Both of those groups have been together for more than ten years. And Atmosphere has been performing for almost 20.  It’s like over the years Atmosphere has defined itself, not with a static style per say but with a fluidity and adaptability that has made the group more than just what is defined in the songs that have gone to press, but that each song takes on its own new life on stage. With Slug up there performing, it was as if he wasn't even trying to put on a show.  It was like we knew each other for years we were just chilling out and knocking back drinks together, while he told his stories.  Sure, they were stories we had heard a thousand times before but just when we thought we knew what the punch line was he would suddenly swap a word or a phrase that would change the meaning of the song entirely.  Slug is hip hop’s answer to comedic improv.  And like any non scripted performance he doesn't always hit the mark but when he does its pure genius. Anything he does is unique to the single experience that he has created on the night.  And so we’re all drawn into it because we feel like we've become part of something that isn't pre-processed or manufactured, but something unique that will never be seen again except in this moment.  We’re creating the atmosphere just as much as the group on the stage is. In fact we are the atmosphere and there a lies the paradox. I'm sure there’s something really meaningful behind that statement, but pardon me I think I've had a bit too much to drink.

The set started off with a long DJ intro from Ant.  The anticipation was rising and rising like the ocean reaching higher and higher up the beach when the tide is rolling in.  Just when we thought we couldn't stand it any more, Slug appeared and everyone shut right up when he did a haunting version of Became.  It was an intense way to start the set as it is a deeply metaphoric and chilling song about a friend that gets into the wrong crowd.  Slug wishes that he could save him, but he finally comes to realise that his friend has become what he was trying to save him from.  After that intensity, they lightened up the mood with a head nodding Guns and Cigarettes.  Other musical highlights included Modern Man's Hustle, Trying to Find a Balance, GodlovesUgly, Shoulda Known, and Sunshine. Throughout the whole of Atmosphere’s performance I never got scared of that ending. I was riding through, so lifted that my feet never thought about touching the ground.

Say hell yeah! Hell Yeah! Say hell yeah! Hell Yeah! Say hell yeah! Hell Yeah!!!
Why do we say hell yeah? What the fuck is up with that?
— Slug

Slug made us laugh, almost cry, and feel inexplicably close to strangers.  A good example of his lyrics change up was during Sunshine where the line is, "And every woman looks better in a sundress." On the night it became, "and every woman looks best when she's undressed."

"You guys don't even need me up here, you could just do some Atmosphere karaoke," Slug teased us, as he could see the crowd was screaming out every word.  The crowd can really make or break a performance.  Not only does the performer take energy from the crowd, but we all feel and absorb the energy in the room. With the help of the artist on stage we can really create something more than what is the sum of it's parts.  And that's why we all go to the show, because we just want to feel that thing, and be that thing, and live in that moment.  And that well and truly happened in the room that night.  We gave Slug what he needed and in turn he gave it back 10 fold.  The room certainly had a lot of die-hard fans in it, a lot more than I was expecting seeing as we are all the way on the other side of the globe.  

“You’re too kind, you’re too kind. In fact you’re so kind it kinda makes me wonder what you’re trying to hustle? But it’s not even like that right? Cause you’re my people you would never try and hustle me. In fact I look around at your faces and I think, ‘These people are just like me, they like to start fires and drink beers out of cans and shit.’”
— Slug

And so after the show we did wait around.  Even in the bitter chill that reminded us of a fast approaching winter. With no jackets, we waited.  With the security guards eyeing us off, just wishing that we’d move along. With other hopeful groups of people after the crowds had thinned, we waited. I felt like I was completely on point after the show.  Everything was so clear and I remembered everything.  Not like the usual bleary, drunken, vague moments I remember from most shows.  This was different.  Now I felt like something really special was going on and I was ready to talk.  So it was lucky that right then Erik Anderson (who was on the keyboards for this performance) came out and walked straight for us.  

Our conversations Erik and Slug ranged from, "Why is it cold, I thought Australia was supposed to be warm." To the song Like Today and how it changed my whole perspective of hip hop back in 2002 when I first heard it. (I had first seen the lyrics written down and I thought it was a poem.)  I also expressed genuine respect for the creation of a show that is flexible and variable night to night when the norm is a set playlist for each tour.  It makes the audience feel special because each show is a unique experience.

Finally we headed out into the night and onto the road. We drove 3 hours to Canberra for the Groovin the Moo festival the next day.

Don’t think just because I wrote about Atmosphere first, like a little kid that just wants to eat dessert, that I forgot about the other two acts.  In reality from the very first beat that was played on stage that night it came from a place that was close to my heart and without the opening the whole night wouldn't have had the same magic that it now holds. 

Horrorshow opening for Atmosphere came as a surprise announcement a couple of weeks before the show.  Knowing that Nick especially is a huge Rhymesayers fan I was so excited and happy for them.  The first time I met Nick and Adit, a year ago, we had a long conversation about Rhymesayers (Atmosphere and Grieves in particular) so what a great conclusion for me to see my favourite American hip hop group, Atmosphere, and one of my favourite Australian hip hop groups interacting and performing together.  It was a fantastic union of my two cultures. It’s like now I've come full circle and everything in my life is slowly becoming integrated.

Nick and Adit got onstage after a DJ set from Joyride, which included a lot of Beastie Boys music as this was shortly following the death of MCA. Seeing them up there with the Atmosphere banner made me feel so proud of them.  They already are Rhymesayers family in my eyes, a group that could fit right into their culture and vibe.  In fact the first time we talked Nick and I discussed how he would love to do a collaboration with Grieves, another member of the Rhymesayers family and one of my favourite artists for the past couple of years.  I'm absolutely dying to see this happen, as I think a lot of us are.

Horrrorshow haven’t performed together in their hometown since Bliss n Eso’s Running On Air tour last year, and I think that combined with the fact that they were opening for one of their idols must have made them nervous.  They started off with a bit of a shaky version of their newest song, Public Consumption, a free track that they released last year.  Moving on to Waiting for the 504 that nervousness stuck around.  It was during Walk You Home that the performance started to get more comfortable.  By the next track, The Show, which is basically their anthem, they had finally completely relaxed and got into doing their thing.  Nick made a joke before the song started, “Some of you out there think you’re big Atmosphere fans.  Well I’m an even bigger fan, so I’ll see you in the parking lot.”  As soon as they had finally gotten really comfortable and smashed out a crazy version of The Rain to get everyone jumping, their set was over. 

The anticipation of Atmosphere coming out was a bit overwhelming.  Evidence made his appearance and the vibe certainly changed, from the softer hip hop styles of Horrorshow to a rougher, old school, gangster rap vibe.  The crowd started going a little crazy and a fight actually broke out right in front of us so one of the guys next to us had to jump in and save us from being shoved around.  Anyone who starts these kind of fights probably needs to rethink their life. This doesn’t have a part in this culture at all.  Apart from that though Evidence was pretty dope.  It was obvious that the crowd was there to see Atmosphere but Ev did shake hands with one guy up the front that had some lyrics tattooed on him.  I did lose myself in the music during a couple of the songs.  The song I was waiting for came almost at the end, it was Late For the Sky this has a great opening sequence with a sample of the Jackson Browne song of that name and it sucks me in every time.  Slug does a verse on this track so I was almost positive he would make an early appearance on stage for this song.  Unfortunately I was insanely disappointed when they cut the track short.  It actually kind of ticked me off.  Not that anything could have ruined that night...

One bit of advice that I have for you is to follow Evidence on Instagram (@MrEvidence).  Not only is he an amazing lyricist but he is an equally good photographer.  Not only that but he is an expert at editing photos on iphone.  If you don’t know the extent to which some people can edit iphone photos you need to check his out because they are masterpieces.  He uses several editing programs on each pic.  

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better night.  The venue was great, the sound was good. For the most part, people behaved themselves.  And I was finally able to see the group perform that got me into hip hop as I know it.  Atmosphere not only met but exceeded my expectations in so many ways.  Slug being so comfortable on stage made everyone comfortable.  The way he ad libbed and changed his songs as he went is certainly something that I admire.  It didn't feel like he took himself seriously, and so the whole mood was very light and happy. The light show was fantastic, and the set was quite lengthy and extensive over their whole range of music. (Although I would have liked to hear a couple of tracks from You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having.) I am keen for them to come back again soon and not wait another 13 years!

Anyway if you made it through reading this far, big ups. You are a legend!

Originally posted on 27 June 2012
By Jennifer Weidman