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Monday, June 30, 2014

Atmosphere @ Miller Lite Oasis, Summerfest

June 27, 2014

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For the last few years, Minneapolis rap powerhouse Rhymesayers Entertainment has pretty much had free reign over a stage for a full day of Summerfest, populating the opening slots with artists from their comfortable roster and usually culminating in a performance by label co-founders Atmosphere. It’s completely understandable that they’d seize the opportunity—they’ve essentially been given their own label showcase—but becoming a Summerfest fixture should also raise a few alarm bells, since, while Summerfest isn’t exactly where irrelevant acts go to die (they’re generally put out to the pastures of state fairs and casino side-rooms for that), it’s the perfect place to start settling into past-your-prime status. Atmosphere hasn’t crossed that line quite yet, but they’ve gone from big get to predictable staple, with an unsurprising setlist to match.

Despite having just recently released Southsiders, their first new record in three full years, much of the duo’s new material was dramatically overshadowed by an almost endless parade of oldies, one that reached back more than a decade for many of its cuts. There’s certainly something to be said for appeasing your die-hard fans with a few classics, but between “Scapegoat,” “Guns and Cigarettes,” “Party for the Fight to Write,” “The Woman with the Tattooed Hands,” “GodLovesUgly” and a host of other throwbacks, it went beyond playing to one’s base, often seeming like they were touring behind a round of reissues and not a brand new album. Some of the fresh songs, like the sarcastic, upbeat “Idiot,” did make it into the mix, but they felt more like an afterthought than the main attraction.

It may be counterintuitive to criticize a group for doing something many fans adore, and their performance itself was as solid as ever, but hearing so many well-worn standards, it was hard to shake a distinct sense of déjà vu. Even Slug’s mid-set speech about how great it was to once again be playing Summerfest, where people come from miles around “for the music” (could’ve fooled me), felt oddly familiar. That’s not to say they need to totally reinvent themselves every time they hit the road, but some signs of significant growth would be greatly appreciated. It’s easy to see why Atmosphere returns to Summerfest year after year, yet, at this point, it appears comfortable repetition is what keeps the crowds coming back.