ATHERTON at Harlem (67 Richmond East), tonight (Thursday, June 7), 10 pm. $7, free w/ $28 NXNE wristband. 416-368-1920. Rating: NNNNN
Toronto-via-Ottawa MC Atherton gets all self-deprecating when I ask about his comedic live show.
"I try to make jokes," he says from his crib.
What, do they fail?
"They backfire sometimes, yeah."
Fortunately, the hiphopper's got a solid-gold set of songs to fall back on when he hears crickets in the crowd. His self-mocking style carries over into tracks like ATM, where he spits over a manic, bluesy piano loop about how broke he is.
Other times he's just intensely clever, as when, on a track about smoking, he likens the Belmont Milds brand to a butler with a double life.
But Atherton, who once humbly rapped that his fans were his friends and vice versa, is starting to see the crowds building, a relief after playing a few near-empty rooms.
"For sure, the audience is growing," says the MC, who last year dropped his debut album, A Different Way Of Doing The Same Old Thing, with ex-producer Sire.
"I've signed about 10 autographs for strangers," he says. "It's always an awkward experience."
At this rate, he may have to start wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap in the street especially after his NXNE show, in which he'll be backed by a live four-piece band with a sax player.
What's so uncomfortable about it?
"It's a whole ball of stuff, you know? I'm like, "Are you sure you want my autograph?' My penmanship is pretty sketchy," says Atherton. "I write like I'm in Grade 4. I think it actually lowers the value of the CD."