I enter Metro. A venue on Chicago’s North Side that looks like it used to be a swanky theatre until someone realized the acoustics were better suited for underground rock and tattooed bartenders. DJ Keezy spins as Atmosphere devotees begin to file in. They come in all shapes, sizes, styles and especially—ages. It’s a mixed bag of brace-faced, bald, bearded and beanied. They might look like unlikely friends in any other space, but here they’re all part of the atmosphere.
The crowd comes to life when DJ Keezy throws on a Biggie throwback and announces Nikki Jean. She takes her place behind the keyboard in a soft spotlight, pulling the crowd into her dream with a calming welcome. Her music reads like smooth calligraphy from your own diary, swaying you gently into the meditation of her sung stories.
The music is so delicious, much of the crowd doesn’t even notice Sean “Slug” Daley and Anthony “Ant” Davis perusing the balcony, listening. “She has a really sweet energy,” Ant says shyly playing the role of the concert-goer rather than the headliner. The duo makes an effort to roam the venue before every show. “I like to get a feel for the room and honestly, I don’t know what else to do with this time,” Ant confesses as people begin to notice him.
“I’ve been listening to your music since I was 15,” one woman approaches him, “I’m 30,” her age acting as the punchline. I watch as Ant makes his way through the entire venue mingling with fans and posing for photos with a humble, down-to-earth spirit he’s preserved through the duo’s rise to fame.
When The Lioness is announced, the energy in the room intensifies. The strong messages in her lyrics are backed by DJ Keezy to create an explosiveness that turns the crowd’s sway into a hands-up bop. “Everything I do comes from the heart,” she said in a post-performance interview—but to the crowd, it is obvious.
When Atmosphere bounds onto the stage, the excitement shakes the room, overflowing into the merch store where the openers meet their fans. When Slug goes in, the room becomes electric. “I love you Slug,” people scream as they reach toward the stage. Long-time Atmosphere followers as well as new Atmosphereites scream the lyrics to their hits, sometimes even competing with the microphone.
If Slug periodically crying out, “I love you,” to the crowd doesn’t prove the group’s pure devotion to their fans, their high energy piercing through the extended encore has to. The duo makes the crowd leave a little more grateful by showcasing the simple yet powerful joy of being alive echoed by their call to, “Clap your hands if you’re happy to have mother f—ing hands!”
Atmosphere’s lyrics and vitality have the power to form a deep connection with every fan, no matter the age. Their success is best summed up in a quote from The Lioness, “Atmosphere has love. They have the love for what they do and that’s why they have longevity.”