You’d be hard pressed to find a stage during Summerfest’s 6:30 p.m. time slot that was better attended than the Miller Lite Oasis during Minneapolis hip-hop outfit Atmosphere’s hour-long occupation Friday evening. That became utterly apparent as I arriving with little time to spare before the posted start time struggled to find a spot in the crowd, which packed the sea of metal bleachers, covered picnic tabletops and extended all the way to the Sky Glider.
Miraculously, I spotted some space near the back of the bleachers. A crying girl slumped over a fresh pile of what appeared to be a combination of pizza, mud and (I’m guessing) a decent amount of booze lent clarity to the adjacent seating vacancy. Still, with little time to spare and even less space to stand, I took reluctant residence downwind of the pungent pile just as Atmosphere masterminds Slug and Ant, as well as a pair of Atmosphere stage musicians took the stage. At that point, Slug vehemently laced into the first verse of ancient-yet well-received set opener “Trying To Find A Balance.”
They chased “…Balance” with natural Seven’s Travels follow-up “Bird Sings Why The Caged I Know” as the contingent of onlookers (many wearing jerseys of obscure, retired NBA players) knowingly looked at one another with excitement, preparing themselves for a show heavy in oldies and goodies from the veteran Midwestern indie hip-hop royalty.
Atmosphere didn’t disappoint, populating the glut of its set with both hits and deep cuts from cult favorite albums God Loves Ugly, Seven’s Travels and You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having. The audience’s appreciation and excitement seemed to incrementally increase with each aged anthem Atmosphere employed, reaching a crescendo with the flurry of fists inching ever closer to the I-794 overpass during “Guns And Cigarettes” off the 11-year-old Lucy Ford EPs.
Recognizing the enthusiasm, Slug asked Milwaukee “Can we go to the Safe House and have a drink after the show?” before treating us to another longstanding Lucy Ford favorite, “The Woman With The Tattooed Hands.” Of course, Atmosphere slid a few songs from the more recent subdued, piano-driven portion of its discography into the performance, including “She’s Enough,” “Sunshine” and a rousingly popular rendition of “Puppets” in which Slug implored the still-swelling crowd to throw their scissors (a peace sign, basically) in the air and cut the strings, to which Milwaukee gladly complied.
Before we knew it, Ant, Slug and the other insects on stage returned to the front pages of the group’s catalog for the home stretch, playing “Shrapnel” and “Little Man” in the set’s waning minutes, to a now-expected positive reception… especially from Slug himself, who gave sweat-soaked producer Ant a moment to rehydrate by talking about the group’s first Milwaukee show (at Y-Not II, of all places!). The usually Minnesota-centric Slug seemed to feel at home at Summerfest, making sure to liberally slide in a heft of “Milwaukee and “Wisconsin where “Minneapolis” and “Minnesota” traditionally stood. As 7:30 neared, Atmosphere also showed fans love by closing out the set in a rare way: with Midwestern ode, the vinyl-only “Say Shh” ensuring everyone maximized their 6:30 slot fun at Summerfest.