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First Avenue traditions: Prince, The Replacements … Atmosphere?

The hip-hop duo Atmosphere played in town less than four months ago, for Soundset 09 at Canterbury Downs. Six months before that they performed a pair of sold-out gigs at First Avenue. And yet almost immediately after they went on sale, ducats for the Atmosphere shows last night and tonight again were snapped up by those looking for another memorable experience at the old bus station kitty-corner from Target Center.

No musical act will ever be as closely associated with First Avenue than Prince, who famously staged the concert footage in the film “Purple Rain” at the club in the mid-’80s. But it is also fair to say that First Avenue and its notoriously grimy (albeit less-so with the smoking ban) companion venue, The 7th Street Entry, are where most successful Twin Cities music acts go to signify their roots. Sure, those on the cusp of The Replacements story can regale you with tales of their shows at the Longhorn, back in the day, but their gigs in the Entry and the Main Room (as First Avenue proper is called) have a cherished place in the band’s local history somewhere between the Longhorn and the CC Club.

Now Atmosphere is threatening to join that pantheon, at a level generally reserved for the halcyon days of purple funk and flannel-shirt rock. On one level, they already have: Back in 2005, the duo (Slug and Ant, rapper and DJ, respectively) broke the ‘Mats record of consecutive Entry sell-outs by logging eight straight nights of sardine-can bliss. And although I’m more partial to the torrid flow of Brother Ali, it’s undeniable that Atmosphere put the Twin Cities hip-hop community on the national map, with Slug’s romantic and personal-political dramas and innovative rhythm schemes deftly complemented by Ant’s relatively spare but spicy seasoning. They were, and are, original, artists true to themselves and their native environment.

A lot of silver stars are painted along the black, fish-eyed-lens-shaped wall outside First Avenue. But to be a star in the firmament of the First Avenue legacy is something much rarer and more indelible. Atmosphere will continue to make their case for that kind of status at tonight’s all-ages show.

Here is Slug (Sean Daley) wowing the crowd at Golden Gate Park last week at the Outside Lands fest (warning: a mobile phone ad precedes the vid). And here is another song, “Less One” from the same show.

Atmosphere at First Avenue, tonight (Sept. 9); doors open at 6 p.m.; tickets were $20 but the show is sold out.

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