Atmosphere & Evidence @ The Hi-Fi, Sydney (12/05/2012)

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Long-reigning kings of American independent hip-hop, Atmosphere returned to Sydney for their first show ‘round these parts since January 2009. The last time I saw Atmosphere, Slug was performing solo with a mic and a CD player (though he still murdered it), while this time around the emcee is travelling with a guitarist, keyboard player and most importantly, his long-time DJ and producer Ant. That in mind, the chance of seeing Atmosphere at full strength was an opportunity every self-respecting hip-hop fan should have grabbed with both hands – and that’s exactly what I did.

This was to be my first look inside what used to be The Forum at Moore Park, which has since been renovated and is now part of the Hi-Fi chain of live venues. My first thoughts on the changes are positive ones, as they haven’t got rid of the things that made The Forum good: there are still bars on each side of the venue, and although it’s not open tonight, the mezzanine is still there. The major differences are a much bigger dance floor, and most importantly improved overall sound quality. The bass and sound is coming through heavy, yet the words are crystal clear all night.

Anyone who listened to more than five minutes of Horrorshow would have heard the obvious influence that Atmosphere have had on their sound, and it’s a rare treat for fans of the style to see them on the same stage tonight. Opening up with Thoughtcrime, the group go on to play a new jam amongst a selection of favourites from across both records. The set highlight is easily won by Waiting for the 5.04 which they change up by dropping it over the beat for Respiration by Black Star.

More of a double bill than a support act, Atmosphere bought along a friend and label mate. Evidence (who is probably better known as one third of Dilated Peoples) released his Cats & Dogs album on Slug’s Rhymesayers label last year. He spits in his distinctive and slightly disjointed style, jumping on beats from numerous producers including Alchemist and Premier. The Weatherman gives an upbeat set, whose highlights are Mr Slow Flow and Chase the Clouds Away.

The lights dimmed as one of those distinctive piano riffs Atmosphere are so adept at melted its way out of the speaker. As the intro reached its final notes, Slug made his way to the mic for the opening track Became . Hip-hop in front of a live band gives familiar songs that brand new dimension, and it seems to be those songs based around piano riffs that the live aspect works the best with tonight. The Woman with the Tattooed Hands and Onemosphere are early key-heavy standouts, and we’re also treated to a remixed version of Guns and Cigarettes , before Slug makes a spirited announcement. “You guys are all so courteous for allowing us to play our old shit, thank you,” he began. “But I don’t know what kind of dummy you think I am? I did not get on that plane to come all the way over here just to play old stuff. I fully intend on shoving some of the newish shit down your throats, now open up and say ahhhhh!”

Slug then launched into Just for Show, a track from their most recent album The Family Sign. One of Atmosphere’s best attributes as a band is that they switch up styles so regularly it makes it a really easy listen. There are a couple of really heavy moments in Bird and probably the best track of the night in Shoulda Known : It’s dirty and grumpy synth, carving a path out of the speakers, as if daring people to put their ears in its way. While at the other end of the spectrum, there’s haunting stripped back tracks such as Sunshine and Guarantees. The set is bought to a stomping close using Godlovesugly , Trying to Find a Balance , Shrapnel and Scapegoat.

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