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Live review: Atmosphere at the Hollywood Palladium

August 20, 2009 |  1:44 pm

It’s no secret that the depressed economy has finally caught up with that last bastion of revenue for musical artists: touring.

Even marquee artists are finding themselves playing to far less than full houses, with promoters offering a host of premiums and discounts in order to get as many butts in seats as possible.

But for Minneapolis independent hip-hop stalwarts Atmosphere, it might as well still be 1999. Spending the better part of the last decade working the road harder and more intensely than most touring bands has resulted in a massive, dedicated and exponentially growing audience of fans that continue to fill larger and larger venues.

The act recently filled the legendary Red Rock amphitheater outside of Denver, reportedly selling upward of a staggering 8,300 tickets. And on a Wednesday night in L.A., Atmosphere sold out the 4,000-capacity Hollywood Palladium, an especially impressive feat for an independent act of blue-collar dudes from the Midwest.

“There are way too many of y’all out here tonight,” marveled Atmosphere’s rapper, frontman and ad hoc inspirational leader Sean “Slug” Daley, surveying the scene from the stage. “And I see a lot of new faces,” he added, marveling at the relative youth of the crowd. “But I met all of you outside, so we’re old friends now” (Slug routinely meets and hangs out with fans before shows). 

But what really makes Atmosphere shows unique is the women. There are just so many of them, an anomaly in the world of hip-hop. In pairs, packs or clinging to a significant other, the huge number of female fans in the audience is testament to Slug’s easily accessible persona -- equal parts hard-working everyman and wounded Lothario, with a passion for hip-hop, booze, cigarettes and ladies.

Leading his longtime band of guitarist, keyboard player, female singer and producer-DJ “Ant” on turntables, Slug has developed into one of hip-hop's most consistent and authoritative performers. While the prevalent subject matter has progressed from songs about relationship drama more toward state-of-the-nation commentary, his observational lyricism on life as a young, middle-class American in 2009 is resonating with far more listeners that most realize (the song “Guarantees” could be an anthem for anyone in support of public health care).

Leaning heavily on their landmark 2002 album “God Loves Ugly” (the current tour is in support of the recent re-release), and their most recent full-length, “When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That ... Gold,” the band put down a thick and soulful groove in support of Slug’s commanding vocals. They even showed impressive range, stretching the song “Shrapnel” into a sprawling epic akin to a hip-hop remix of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”

Closing with the downbeat optimism of “Sunshine,” Slug and company had effectively showed why more than 10 years after their debut, Atmosphere is still the best-kept secret in hip-hop.

-- Scott T. Sterling

(Atmosphere will appear as part of the 2009 Epicenter Festival at the Fairplex in Pomona this Saturday, August 22. They're appropriately scheduled to perform at 4:20 p.m.).

Photo: Atmosphere in 2008. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times