I recently attended my first show at Red Rocks and it was as good as everyone has hyped the venue to be. The scene is beautiful, with a huge stage and brilliant sound (suggesting they had some good engineers, and good luck with the weather). We were also seeing some of my favorite acts: Atmosphere headlined, supported by Brother Ali, Lizzo, and the 16-years-defunct punk band LFTR PLLR.
If one of those bands seems out of place its because LFTR PLLR is not only an art punk band but one of Slug from Atmosphere’s favorite bands. There’s even a song named for the band in one of Atmosphere’s most famous records, Seven’s Travels, and a line in “Reflections” on the same record borrowed from the LFTR PLLR track “Roaming the Foam.” Slug and LFTR PLLR have been friends since the early 90s. According to the story Craig Finn told on stage, the friendship started at a bar in Minneapolis in the late 90s around the time Atmosphere was about to put out a record called Overcast. At the time Atmosphere had five members: Slug, Spawn, Ant, Stress, and Beyond (now Musab). Despite all this history that long-time Atmosphere fans might have known some of, a lot of people were pretty annoyed by this punk band taking up the stage.
The whole show got me thinking about my own appreciation of hip hop, and my discovery of Craig Finn’s current band, The Hold Steady.
When I was in high school I worked at a place called THE GARAGE. At THE GARAGE we had shows every Friday and Saturday night on two stages: The main stage and the (smaller) lounge stage. We did a wide range of music, usually themed by night: punk, metal, prog rock, hip hop, jam bands, and plenty of music that didn’t fit neatly into any of those genre. One night, punk and hip hop were happening on alternate stages on the same night and there was some harassment and antagonism from, in my memory the punks, against the hip hop crowd. During the week THE GARAGE did a wide range of programming led by the youth, and the week after that show, I remember our adult supervisor, Eric, led a dialog between the punk and hip hop bands and fans who were at the show the previous night. The goal was the help each side understand the underpinnings of the music in hopes that it would develop some empathy across the aisle.
Most of my friends weren’t into hip hop and, let’s be honest, it was probably a little driven by racism. I really only knew about the main stream stuff they’d play at school dances and I didn’t get it. Plus, there were a lot of older white folks in my life telling me hip hop was “diarrhea of the mouth,” (:point-left: guitar teacher, he was Nugent fan. It was a thing) and other such derisive terms. That night’s discussion, I learned that hip hop and punk aren’t necessarily that far apart, and there was a lot of interesting rap music coming out of our scene.
Atmosphere was my introduction to hip hop. Specifically, the Seven’s Travels album. I learned about Brother Ali from that album. I first saw Atmosphere during the You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having tour at First Avenue where he was supported by a rapper called POS, who repped a crew called Doomtree. I didn’t know what any of those words meant but I was fixin’ to learn. POS had just put out an album called Audition and featured a few punk rock voices on his tracks. One of those tracks, “Safety in Speed (Heavy Metal)” opened with Craig Finn:
I’ve only walked out on one single movie
It was an action-adventure
It was a blood-sucking summer
I dug in to those lyrics in a pre-Genius era of googled lyric snippets and liner notes and found that this guy was behind The Hold Steady and that band from that Atmosphere song, “Lifter Puller.” It turned out that POS was in a punk band called Building Better Bombs. Later, I learned about a band called The Plastic Constellations, and that Aaron Mader from that band was a DJ in Doomtree.
It was endless. I love finding connections in music, whether its learning about jazz through De La Soul or discovering the diversity in my local music scene, they give me a better appreciation for the artistry behind the music. Like all things, diversity makes your scene better. It was for that reason I was excited that night at Red Rocks (and to see a band I never thought I’d get to see). It’s also why I’m excited to live in a city now that can support such diverse artists as Wheelchair Sports Camp, Brent Cowles, Dressy Bessy, Nathaniel Rateliff, and, of course, the Flobots.
It’s also why I don’t really understand the people who were upset about the punk band being on stage. I know they probably came there to hear some hip hop, but as Prince once said:
If you free your mind up baby, maybe you’d understand.