When local hip-hop artist Taylar Elizza Beth was approached by The Vera Project to open for Catherine Harris-White, who performs under the name SassyBlack, she wasn’t playing shows at the time. But when she learned about the event’s unique venue, she quickly decided it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“I definitely couldn’t say no,” she says. “How often do you get to perform at the Laser Dome with lasers that are set to your music?!”
The upcoming live show is the first in a series that will pair local musicians with the visual spectacle of the Laser Dome, part of an ongoing collaboration between The Vera Project and the Pacific Science Center. The psychedelic, futuristic jewel in the PSC’s crown, the Laser Dome, the longest operating laser theater in the world, remains a Seattle institution. Eighty feet in diameter, it is also the largest, and with a brand-new 23-watt laser system and nine laser projectors, it contains the most full-color lasers currently installed in any laser dome in the world. Beth remembers visiting it in elementary school, and Harris-White, who proudly sports a “Thriller” tattoo on her arm in honor of the King of Pop, recalls catching a Michael Jackson-themed show at the Dome a few years ago.
Both artists’ dreamy, galactic stylings are perfectly suited to the Laser Dome’s space-age atmosphere. Like Beth, Harris-White was thrilled to be a part of the show: “I was super-honored, because sci-fi is my jam, and what’s more sci-fi than lasers?” she says. The “holographic funk” singer/songwriter and self-identified Trekkie’s love of science fiction is well documented: Her debut solo album No More Weak Dates played off her affinity for geek culture with tracks like “Comicon.”
“Sci-fi is really important to me, because it’s always established that there is space for me as a black woman in the world,” Harris-White says. She admires the progressive element that propels science-fiction: “Like portable laptops and computers … a lot of different science-fiction series have these things that predate the actual invention and inspire people to take the next step to do that. That is what inspires me as a creative, as an inventor, and a human. That’s why it means so much to me to be involved with things that are beyond.” (Her e-mail signature on her phone reads “Sent from my Star Trek Communication Device.”) This January, Harris-White released Pop Treasury Vol. 1: *NSYNC, a 10-minute mix made entirely of samples of the boy band. She plans to follow it with more mixes sampling her favorite pop artists, while simultaneously working on her next full-length album.
To prepare for the show, each musician submitted a set list in advance so the laser artists could work on creating customized visuals. For Harris-White, who is apt to improvise at her live shows based on the crowd vibe, sticking to a fixed set list was a new challenge: “That was kind of complicated for me because at this stage in my career, I play everything by ear and by my feelings,” she says. “But I got it done and I’m excited to see what they’re gonna do.”
When I talked to each, neither musician had gotten a chance to glimpse the laser artists’ handiwork yet. “I kind of like that I don’t know,” says Beth. “It’s going to be really magical and beautiful.” The show will also be in the dark and most of the audience will likely be lying down, an unusual experience for the performers: “It’s up to us what kind of tone Cat and I want to set with our music, and what we’re going to ask of the audience,” Beth says, “but I think it’s gonna be pretty groovy.”
Beth, who premiered the video for her track “Daisies” with Seattle Weekly last summer and put out her debut record, THE BLK EP, two years ago, will perform songs off her unreleased LP Fresh Cut Flowers, which features local producers Luna God, Sendai Mike, and Wolftone. This will be the first and only chance for audiences to preview the album performed in its entirety before its projected release later this spring.
Beth hopes this performance will be a chance for audiences to heal and commune with positive energy in a shared space. “I’m really into astrology … I believe really strongly in the powers of the universe,” she says. “With this new moon in Aquarius on Friday … I felt a lot of emotional shedding, just going through these layers of growth and grief. I was going through some personal things and I felt this overwhelming need to share with people. It clicked with me that that ultimately is what performance is. Every single time I perform, I feel like I’m giving as much as I’m getting back from the audience.”
The night promises to be a comforting, cathartic release, something we could all use right now. Guests are encouraged to show up early to nab a choice spot, bring blankets and pillows to nestle in, and prepare to bask in the chilled-out, cosmic glow.
“I think it’s going to be very therapeutic and spiritual,” Beth says. Live in the Laser Dome: SassyBlack and Taylar Elizza Beth. Pacific Science Center, 200 Second Ave. N., 443-2001, pacificsciencecenter.org. $15. All ages. 8 p.m. Thurs, Feb. 2.