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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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Old school hip-hop artist Atmosphere took the Miller Lite Oasis stage Friday night.
Old school hip-hop artist Atmosphere took the Miller Lite Oasis stage Friday night. (Photo: Summerfest)

Atmosphere still entertains despite sluggish crowd

Three days into Summerfest, an unfortunate theme has quietly bubbled up to the surface at a number of significant shows: sleepy spectators. The crowd at Arctic Monkeys’ opening night performance could barely be bothered to cheer for an encore, and judging from some of the reviews, even Lady Gaga had to continually implore the Amphitheater crowd to get up and get moving.

Unfortunately, that theme carried into day three, as old school hip-hop artist Atmosphere powered through – and eventually mostly won over – some feeble fandom Friday night at the Miller Lite Oasis.

The show marked the third straight Summerfest appearance for the Minnesota-based duo of Ant (DJ Anthony Davis) and Slug (rapper Sean Daley), who came out and opened the set with "January On Lake Street" off the group’s latest album.

At first glance, Daley looks more like a 40-year-old dad – which he is – than the frontman of a hip-hop group. However, he has a sneakily good flow and beat, and he’s an energetic performer, spitting out his personal lyrics and stories with heartfelt enthusiasm.

Going into the second number "Puppets," Daley called the crowd a "pity party," and judging by the lukewarm response near the beginning of the show, it wasn’t an inaccurate statement. It wasn’t for lack of effort on Daley’s part, who threw in all sorts of requests to get the crowd hands up and moving (like asking for people to put their "scissors up" on the third song, "The Loser Wins") and a Milwaukee shout-out for seemingly every song.

Not that there weren’t a few technical issues for Atmosphere during the show as well. "Scapegoat" seemingly started off with no lights at the beginning – an odd moment – and periodically throughout the show, Daley’s vocals seemed a little quiet, briefly fading out and almost disappearing into a difficult whisper on numbers like "God Loves Ugly," "Sunshine" and the poetry slam-like "The Woman With the Tattoed Hands."

Still, the core of the music – flowing old school lyrical hip-hop and personal storytelling lyrics delivered with vigor – stayed strong and slowly willed the crowd into action, (Daley’s best plan was, in his words after a temperate response to "Kanye West," to "play something that we f*cking recognize").

By the time Atmosphere reached "Dirty Girl" near the middle of the set, the audience was growing louder and more active overall. As he got through "Between the Lines" and "Idiot," more hands were going up and staying up.

Atmosphere completed its set with a nice collection of honest, personal selections, including "Happy Mess," a selection Daley said he wrote for his wife; "Little Man," a rapped ode directed toward his son, his father and himself; "Yesterday" and "Flicker." The gang left the stage, and it was time for an encore … except the crowd wasn’t making any noise or earning it. Off stage, Daley spoke into his microphone, saying they weren’t going to leave without coming out for an encore.

After about a minute of tepid anticipation, Daley and company let the audience off the hook, coming back out for "Trying to Find a Balance." The song got the biggest response of the night. After 80 minutes, the large audience at the Miller Lite Oasis finally got loud – albeit for an encore much of the crowd hadn’t particularly bothered to earn.

The fog from the first two days of Summerfest may have lifted, but the audience Friday night still seemed to be in a haze – due in no part to the performers on stage. 

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