Review: Atmosphere and Common at Icelantic's Winter on the Rocks, 1/27/12

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Under a star-speckled sky and with freezing temperatures, Atmosphere delivered a greatest hits compilation at Red Rocks Amphitheatre for the inaugural Icelantic's Winter on the Rocks. Nostalgia aside, when he greeted everyone at the venue and opened into "God Loves Ugly," 10,000 winter-ready people joined in the lyrics and seemed to appreciate the beautiful chance of a lifetime to see raw, independent hip-hop displayed for the first time, during winter, at one of the most famous venues in the world.

"What up, homie" isn't how most artists grace the stage at Red Rocks. But to all of us anticipating the final headlining act, Atmosphere, it was more than appropriate. Atmosphere can literally claim that each person last night was his friend. For the most part, we all grew up with the Minneapolis-based group. We were there for his struggles on "Lucy Ford," we felt the plight during "God Loves Ugly," and we all drooled over the various "Sad Clown Bad Spring/Summer/Fall/Winter/Dub" mixes that have dropped since the year 2000.

Last night, however, a culmination of decades of hard work paid off in a monumental way for both hip-hop and the Rhymesayers legacy. Pushing independent "backpack rapper" hip-hop to the national level, Sean Daley and Anthony Davis, better known to the rap masses as Slug and Ant, have been able to connect with a generation like no other indie rapper. Weaving genuine emotion -- relative to all the struggling, identity-seeking youth in need of an idol -- Atmosphere taught us how he dealt with problems rooted in women, life, kids, fame and failure.

Last night, that bond was cemented. Jumping from the 2002 single "GodLovesUgly," in which the autobiographical lyrics show more of a defense mechanism than a braggadocio, directly into "She's Enough," whose words shower a faceless love with promises of commitment, Slug connected with each and every person who has ever felt the skirmish of soul searching and finding happiness. Classic songs from the early 2000s inspired venue-erupting sing-a-longs that rained down cheers from the top of the amphitheater. When Slug said "put your hands up," we put 'em up. When Slug said "throw both your hands up," we threw 'em both up. When Slug said "give a cheer for the homie standing next to you," we followed suit.

Directly after "The Woman With The Tattooed Hands" was delivered, Slug remarked on the singularity of the Colorado music scene. He stated that not only does the rest of the country copy what we do, but what we do is the right thing. He then made some jokes about how we say ridiculous things like "stoked," and instead of things being "fresh," we call them "sick." Last night, the show was so fresh and frigid, it's safe to say that since we all enjoyed ourselves so much, sweating and panting and screaming, we all left sick.

We were treated to "Little Man" from "You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having," and given some very special insight into the life of the lyricist. At the end of the track, Slug paid tribute to his father, Craig Daley, who would've celebrated his 59th birthday. A brief undeclared moment of silence was broken with the opening pianos of "Yesterday," and we all got right back into the moment.

Granted, any artist booked for this first Red Rocks-during-January gig would pretty much guarantee a sell-out, if not for the fan base, then at least for precedent-setting event. As it stands, Common and Atmosphere are such parallels in the music world in terms of popularity and talent, they could pretty much come out and stand on stage without rapping one note and still receive standing ovations.

Common came out guns blazin' with "The People," a classic collaborative effort with Mary J. Blige that immediately warmed the crowd from the inside out. Traversing the stage from heater to heater, the swagged-out R&B vocalist didn't make any missteps during his entire set. Working the crowd and his live band with occasional directions to "drop the drums and let the keys take over," Common cruised his way through a decades worth of music.

The MC brought a lucky lady up on stage and proceeded to serenade her -- and Red Rocks, for that matter -- with a mouth-dropping, eye opening freestyle about snow, Colorado, Red Rocks and all things pertinent to the night. Yes, it was impressive. Yes, each bar worked. And, yes, every girl coveted the location of the young lady's locale. With finesse and swag (like, real swag), Common succeeded in warming the crowd. He gave a performance that is to be remembered in the annals of Red Rocks concert history, and one that will surely be ingrained in the memories of all those in attendance.

If it wasn't "Punch Drunk Love" that heated the crowd, then the first few notes of the hypin' "Universal Mind Control" certainly sent the formerly shivering crowd into a frenzied state of movement. The Neptunes-produced song has all the characteristics of a club hit, but with Common's smooth vocals laced over, especially in the tempo-lifted version we heard last night, it was impossible to not give all your energy to the beat. That is, if you wanted to continue staying warm.

The temperatures, though freezing and biting in all of its 14 degree crispness, really meant nothing. Once the music got going, whether it was Get Cryphy dropping a mixed-up amalgamation of every hip-hop banger from the last fifteen years, or Grieves (aka Benjamin Laub) expressing his love for Colorado, the steam began rising and the bodies kept moving. It wasn't cold. It wasn't freezing.

It was quite simply the highlight of year for thousands of people.


Personal Bias: Atmosphere. Just a ten letter word. Slug's lyrics have helped many through struggles, and I am not scared to admit it.

Random Detail: It really was 14 degrees last night at Red Rocks, but no one cared.

By The Way: Ant scratched with utter smoothness, despite his obviously freezing hands.

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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