Thursday, July 29, 2010

Seattle Capitol Hill Block Party I - Reviews

Eyewitnesses present testimony of SP's second sonic assault on Seattle.

-The Three Imaginary Girls blog said:

There have been criticisms and speculations that Shabazz Palaces' set was hampered by some struggling sound problems and that it should have been in a less airy, open environment. Due to the music being connected to metanoid images of relational decay and underground struggle, some reported they would have preferred the performance held at Neumos down the block instead of the main stage. I agree in theory, but performance just isn't about sound, it's about vibe. SP actually sound like they have a staggering root in hardcore communal scenes like DC's Go-Go and syncopated, anthemic groups such as King Sunny Ade and other Juju performers. Because they are as prophetically prayed for and prized as a band like The Clash in the early punk days, people have extremely high expectations. As for the sound, well, it was the first humungous show of the BP, and festivals always have early kinks to work out, so all eyes and ears were wide open to catch any flaw. The problem is, for their second show, Ishmael and his collective created music that was extremely hard for most bands at the CHBP to follow. Sour grapes, anyone? Props to the scheduling people for being so assertive and kicking things off atomically with SP.

-As for the Seattle Subsonic blog:

I kind of figured going in that Shabazz Palaces might end up TOTALLY RULING. And guess what, their sun-shrouded, mid-evening set TOTALLY RULED. It was the best thing I saw all day, and my day included U.S.F., Champagne Champagne, Mahjongg, and Holy Fuck. The mystical afro-centric output from these cloak-n-dagger rap wizards put his eminence (at this point, you have to use a word like that) Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler on full point in front of a full main stage crowd. People were overheard using exclamations like “Houdini” and “a modern Rick James” (probably due to the dark purple shirt unbuttoned halfway down Ish’s chest; FLY!). I wouldn’t necessarily advocate repeating those analogies to anyone, but I can understand their inception. If you’ve slept on Shabazz up until now, I highly suggest you rectify that because, with all due respect to Sir Mix-A-Lot, Vitamin D, the Blue Scholars or any other local hip-hoppers to make tall waves, Butler and his congo compadre Tendai Maraire have put such a magical and heretofore unfathomable spin on a tired genre, that it’s practically a crime if you don’t. High praise indeed, but it’s hard not be struck by Shabazz Palaces unique concoction of intelligent thuggery and wide, Central District-born worldviews, all presented with a modest Islamic militancy, window rattlin’ bass, and swirly, crazy-ass electro beats. I can only think of two other rap albums that I might place the 2 EPs Shabazz Palaces has produced before on my desert island hip-hop list (taste indicator: All Eyez On Me by Tupac and Life Is…Too Short by Too Short), and that wouldn’t even be a given at this point.

Ish’s voice did sound higher than normal (huffin’ that helium before his set?), which was mildly confusing/distracting, but the tightness of his cadence and the gravity of his mindset brought everything to the level. He seemed to fire more quickly than he does on record, and you could tell he was hyped, even if their stage presence in general seems subdued. It’s because they know they’re right. I can guarantee that the duo made many new fans yesterday. Local, deep-voiced Shabazz collaborator Dougie came onstage for his three cuts, and they even played three new songs, by my count.

-The Seattle Times' Andrew Matson wrote:

What was up with Palaceer Lazaro's vocals? Following a lengthy and (what looked like a) frustrating sound check, the auteur behind Central District avant-rap act Shabazz Palaces rapped into his microphone like normal but his voice came out thin and, to my ears, double-tracked and panned to the Main Stage speakers' peripheries. By contrast, percussionist/back-up vocalist Tendai Maraire's vocals came across full and centered. It was a shame because Lazaro is the best rapper in Seattle by roughly one billion miles, and one where details matter, where slight nuances in pronunciation reveal new rhythms and meanings.

He looked great, though, lips sneering, eyes alternatingly downcast and googly. Clothed in all-fuschia everything, with bright white high tops on his feet and a wooden medallion of dislocated angel wings around his neck, he was easily the best dressed Block Party performer all day.

Shabazz's set included songs from its 2009 "Shabazz Palaces" and "Of Light" micro-albums, with minor variations. The seething "Capitol 5" featured a gothic street verse from fellow Central District rapper Dougie, and its extended chant-style outro was excised and used earlier in the set as an interlude. "Find Out" and "Blastit" were notably excellent sounding, with the bass and drums on the former full of wow and crack, and Maraire's mbira on the latter supplying metallic texture.

Unreleased Shabazz songs saw the light of day, too. One had Lazaro chanting "Allahu Akbar" and freestyling over a boom-snap rhythm: "Tendai / stay fly." Another was a slow sweep with swooping bass lines; Maraire played shakers and cooed into his microphone while Butler Lazaro rapped something about being "All up in your system." Toward the end of the set came a new song built around a mantra: "Automatic push button remote control / synthetic genetic command your soul."

-Meanwhile, from the pen of Travis Hay of Ear Candy:

Shabazz Palaces had the thousands of people watching them enraptured by their non-traditional hip-hop beats and Ish Butler's distinctive flow. Initially I wasn't going to watch Shabazz Palaces because their set at Neumos in January was so epic that I didn't want to taint that experience but I am glad I did watch a solid 25 minutes of their CHBP set (which was only their second public performance in Seattle). Yes, I left Shabazz early to see Unnatural Helpers but I saw enough of Shabazz's set to affirm my belief that they are indeed the real deal and they produce the best hip-hop Seattle has ever seen.

-And finally, The Stranger's Brendan Kiley felt that

Shabazz Palaces Were a Great Way to Kick Off Block Party. They were. Best show of the weekend so far—and maybe best show of the weekend.

But their paranoid, claustrophobic sound works much better in a cave (like their legendary coming-out show at Neumos) than outdoors in the late afternoon.

Just saying.

Still, they did what they do with excellence and grace. And Ish can wear purple—not everybody can pull that off. And I had at least three conversations with people in the crowd who hadn't seen SP before, thought they were fantastic (even outside of a cave), and had no idea Ishmael had been a part of Digable Planets. And they listened with a whole new level of intensity.

Meaning: the legend continues. In the sunset.

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