BERKELEY — On “The Best Day,” rapper Slug (Sean Daley) of duo Atmosphere laments a bad day—nay, year—he’s having. The 2010 single, which came in the second half of the group’s show at the Greek Theatre on Thursday, was nowhere close to whiny, however. Even though Slug acknowledged his last 18 months have felt more like five years, he was full of joy in Berkeley, dripping with gratitude with his words, his voice and his movements on stage.
The Minnesota duo, which includes talented DJ Anthony “Ant” Davis, Latino hip-hop torchbearers Cypress Hill and all-star DJ Z-Trip were in the Bay Area as part of a 17-date U.S. tour.
The cannabis-friendly show brought even more smoke to the Greek, which was already shrouded in wildfire haze.
Atmosphere, which included a second DJ, started things off with hit “Puppets,” off 2008’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (which was also appropriate). The bass-laden, melodic tune set the night’s momentum. Slug paced the lip of the stage for added emphasis, overlooking fans who had been lit up by the LED screen behind the long DJ table. He and the two DJs kept up the pace with the anthemic “The Loser Wins” and “Shoulda Known.”
Slug had a clever and funny way of introducing the group, in rhyme. In fact, most of his mid-song banter consisted of rhyming lyrics that also served to introduce what was coming next.
Even though “Fuck You Lucy” was mid-tempo and slinky, Slug didn’t slow down himself, yet. Shortly after finishing the angry song, he needed to wipe the sweat off his glasses.
Explicit language notwithstanding, “God Loves Ugly” had some impassioned spitting that could have fit in the middle of a church sermon. “Sunshine” was a clear fan favorite from with a simple sunny melody and joyous lyrics. But Slug wasn’t not going to get dirty at some point during the show, and that moment came with “The Woman With the Tattooed Hands,” the first verse of which he delivered in spoken word, like a poet.
Other Atmosphere highlights included an uptempo “Say Hey There” and jazzy “Yesterday.” The group saved some of its bigger hits, like “God’s Bathroom Floor” and “Trying to Find a Balance,” for the end. Slug had an empathetic way of delivering most of the songs, which seemed to connect with fans. The DJs were mostly obscured in shadows. Perhaps surprisingly, Atmosphere didn’t offer up much as an advance of its next album (WORD?, scheduled for an Oct. 8 release).
Cypress Hill came before Atmosphere but performed for about as long, serving up a smattering of weed anthems, protest songs and fan favorites—starting with “Real Estate,” off their 1991 debut LP. “A to the K” was an early track that got the early attendees (the venue was less than half full, and the crowd was late-arriving) moving along. Songs ran from one to the next, coming fast and furious.
B-Real, Sen Dogg and percussionist Eric Bobo were joined for the show by DJ Lord (Public Enemy), who added extra oomph to “When the Shit Goes Down.”
“We have a lot of history here, and it’s good to be on this side of California,” B-Real said during the first real break in music, a good chunk of the show in, before launching into “Sound of da Police,” a KRS-One song. “Latin Thugs” had B-Real banging along on some congas and Sen Dog doing some salsa dancing.
The two harmonized beautifully on “Tequila Sunrise” (OK, so they were really chanting rather than singing here, but it sounded well-rehearsed and, dare I say, pretty). DJ Lord and Bobo then did a bit together, highlighted by the latter’s conga percussion.
At this point, Cypress Hill was just getting started. A giant blow-up skeleton on a throne and holding a giant joint was inflated ahead of “Roll It Up Light It Up Smoke It Up,” and he remained there, watching over the crowd for several songs. Attendees stared at him as they swayed along to “Dr. Greenthumb” and “Throw Your Set in the Air.” The group saved many of its early hits for the end of their set, cranking out 1995’s “Illusions,” a slow-burning yet thumping cut; 1993’s “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That” (a set highlight), 1991’s “How I Could Just Kill a Man” and “Insane in the Brain,” among others. They concluded with House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”
Mashup pioneer DJ Z-Trip both opened the show and performed a second shorter set between Cypress Hill and Atmosphere. Z-Trip performed a mix that he’s also released and is selling on this tour. His breezy second set included a mix of classic hip-hop, rock and even some Latino music, traveling from Marlene Shaw’s “California Soul” to Daft Punk, Alice In Chains’ “Man in the Box,” The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now,” DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat,” Linkin Park, Queen and Metallica. It was a brief yet high octane trip through the wayback machine.