Another Take on Shabazz Palaces' Show Last Night: They Cleared Some Space Out, Did You Space Out?

Nick Feldman
Shabazz Palaces: All Black Everything.
I was at the same Shabazz Palaces show that Chris Kornelis was at last night--I was standing just next to him--and then again I wasn't. I may have seen a different show entirely. And granted, this could be due to the fact that I was dancing with a grip of friends, drinking, definitely not smoking pot [it's illegal, bro], and chatting up a girl, while Kornelis--with a significant height advantage, I might add--was attentively watching the show. But I like to think that I had an accurate and authentic experience of what went down last night. And frankly, I found it all a little subdued.

Shabazz Palaces put on a risky show last night. They front-loaded their set with new material, and they relied on more negative space, both sonically and visually, than most bands would dare to allow onstage. These were courageous choices, even if they might have confounded an audience expecting more outright fireworks.

(More after the jump . . . )

Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire took the darkened stage to "Chuch" ("survival/with style"), Butler kicking a little introductory freestyle. Next, they played Black Up album opener "free press and curl," and were joined by two black-veiled dancers, their faces obscured but outlined by gold, who moved like two shadows across an already dimly lit stage. They played "32 Leaves..." ("Do it for my people/So you now y'all can have it"), Butler and Maraire doing their secret handshake over the chorus but losing some of the vocal emphasis away from the mikes. They played (unreleased? new?) track "Bop Hard" (as heard live on KEXP the other day), Butler cracking his voice for emphasis, the track opening up into an instrumental dance break. After another new track and then Black Up snarler "yeah you" ("you corny, n***a"), they dropped what might have been the night's manifesto, the smeared vocal looping "Recollections of the Wraith," with its imperative, "Clear some space out/So we can space out," and its chant, "Tonight!"

This was what we saw last night: Shabazz Palaces cleared some space out, and it was up to the audience to space out within it. From where I was standing, though, it seemed like a lot of the crowd didn't know what to do with all that negative space. There wasn't dancing outside of a couple of clusters of people, there wasn't much in the way of chanting along, there wasn't much energy being reflected back from the crowd.

There were some highlights in the second half of the show. The "Push the button/Start the show" chant of "Gunbeat Falls" gave way to a clap-along a cappella and then an extended percussive breakdown led by Maraire, before unexpectedly swerving back into the song. There was the "Allahu Akbar" song, with its references to Reaganomics and having "ain't never taste no Cristal." There were the requisite songs with THEESatisfaction, including what sounded like a new one; these are great acts on their own, but together they're something else. There was the moving "If talk about it, it's a show/If you move about it, that's a go" chant of "Swerve... The reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding)" and the ecstatic "it's a feeling" chorus of "Are you... Can you... Were you? (Felt)."

But there were also a lot of dangerously quiet moments and open spaces. Friends tell me there were technical glitches: drums not miked closely enough, Butler's MPC sliding off the front of his tabletop (I didn't see this--can anyone confirm?). In all, I think last night's show was a less-than-ideal demonstration of Black Up's considerable power. (I do stand by my rave reviews of Black Up, both here and for Pitchfork: this stands to be one of the year's best albums, for Sub Pop, for Seattle, for hip-hop, and otherwise--and where some might see a mere hype frenzy, I see well-deserved critical consensus.)

Last night was a stark contrast to Shabazz Palaces' previous performances at Neumos--both their electric early-2010 live debut there and their more relaxed but showmanship-filled late-night-tv-talk-show style set with THEESatisfaction earlier this year. The one thing you can count on from a Shabazz Palaces show: It will not be the same as the last Shabazz Palaces show you saw.

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