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Atmosphere @ The Pabst Theater

Oct. 15, 2007

Dec. 12, 2007
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October 18, 2007

Amazingly, even after the embarrassing turn-of-the-century rise of rap-rock, there are still those who push for the expanded role of live bands in hip-hop and talk as if the genre has some mythological potential that can never be unlocked through just turntables alone. This idealism is mostly misguided. Sure, a band can occasionally bring new dimensions to hip-hop, but in most cases a band is no substitute for a tried-and-true DJ, who can provide a faster, more efficient show.

Take Atmosphere, for instance. Pared down to just a rapper-DJ combo, the nimble team blazed through their latest album, 2005's You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having. For Atmosphere's current tour, however, rapper Slug traded in the DJ for a five-piece band, and although this fuller lineup sounded great—especially fleshing out sparse, barroom rap romps like "God Loves Ugly"—they lacked a DJ's swiftness. Their limitations were most apparent during the quicker tracks, like the You Can't Imagine blitzkrieg "Panic Attack," which they slowed into a graceless, messy jam. With five scenery-chewing musicians weighing him down, Slug simply couldn't work up the record's dazzling momentum.

Opener Mac Lethal certainly didn't have that problem. Backed by—yeah, you guessed it—just a trusty DJ, he darted from song to caustic song, barely wasting a second of his set. Balding and curmudgeonly, Mac Lethal speaks for everyone who came of age during '90s hip-hop, but can't muster the same excitement for current music. He went on tirades against modern R&B singers like T-Pain and Ciara and pop starlets like Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson ("She smokes meth—look it up on Wikipedia!"), and, as if to prove his allegiance to the bygone era of his youth, he rapped the Konami code: "Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A."


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