Saturday, April 21, 2012

live show review from philly

image via stmruss

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Ten Things We Saw and Learned at the Shabazz Palaces Show Last Night

By Beth Stollman

Many things happened in the world last night. For example, ten thousand freelance writers blew their brains out after submitting their taxes. We didn’t do that. We were at the Shabazz Palaces concert at The Blockley. A band opened for the Seattle rap project, but we don’t know who that band was. And there was a headlining band, but their name is too complicated for us to write this early in the morning. Here are 10 things we saw, heard and learned.

1. Philadelphian King Britt, who used to DJ for Shabazz boss Ishmael Butler a.k.a. Butterfly’s old group Digable Planets, was DJing when we walked in at about 9:30pm. He was kicking a Stereolab tune.

2. Make Major Moves ain’t a gossip rag, but there were some local music celebs in the building. We spotted South Philly rapper Lushlife, and Butler’s Digable Planets comrade Cee Knowledge a.k.a. Doodlebug. (We were hoping for an on-stage reunion, but that didn’t happen.) We also spotted some members of a very prestigious Philly rock band, but we don’t want to blow their covers. Let’s just say we saw members of the band “Woman Woman” enjoying the show. There were others, but we’re not saying who. You should’ve been there.

3. Butler a.k.a. Palaceer Lazaro was rapping and pushing buttons on a sampler and a Mac. He was joined onstage by Shabazz partner Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire, who is the son of Zimbabwean mbira master Dumisani Maraire. Baba was kicking a mbira, a drum kit, some small percussion instruments and adding back-up vocals.

4. The duo doesn’t perform songs quite like the recorded versions you may be familiar with from the albums Shabazz Palaces, Of Light and Black Up. There’s an improvisational element, and the tunes are radically expanded, provided even more space to sprawl, lounge, linger, drift, meditate, elevate. Songs begin, vanish, merge into other songs, and then other songs, and then the song that began begins again. The experience is somewhat similar to Black Up’s “Are you… Can you… Were you..?” in which three movements develop across a single track. But this was different, as tracks unexpectedly evolved into other tracks. Tracks on tracks on tracks. It was dreamlike. Like a Terry Malick flick. Like too much Nyquil for breakfast.

5. Rap concerts are normally terrible if you go for the music and not for the party. This is what happens at about 85% of the ones we go to: a DJ plays the recorded version of a song and a rapper raps over it. But the DJ doesn’t just play the instrumental, s/he plays the recorded version with the vocals included. So the rapper is rapping over her/himself. It’s disgusting. It shows us that the rapper cannot rap live the way s/he does on wax. Lazaro doesn’t do this. He raps live. There’s no track playing in the back. The instrumentation–some samples, some acoustic, some electronic–is all happening live. And since, as mentioned above, there’s a spontaneous element introduced to the performance such that the songs structurally shift in unpredictable ways, that weak shit most rappers display is not even possible for Shabazz.

6. Many rap fans don’t dig Shabazz Palaces. Namely because the music is so goddamn strange. It doesn’t quite fit into the mold of Lex Luger maximalism or “Rack City” minimalism. It doesn’t sound like anything on rap radio. It’s out. And, as a consequence, Lazaro isn’t given the props he deserves on the mic. While meditating deeply on Lazaro’s lyrics during the performance, we were reminded of a comment Philly rapper Zilla Rocca made on music blog Passion Of The Weiss about him. “Ish is fucking gangster,” wrote Zilla. “You don’t have to like the music behind Shabazz Palaces, but if you write down Ish’s lyrics and put them over Rick Ross beats, you’d understand the slickness.” It’s true. Put Lazaro over a Luger trap-beat, and he’d sound harder than Gunplay. But we prefer him spitting over his own bizarre beats and textures, which sound much more interesting than all that radio rap shat.

7. Something we didn’t expect to happen happened a few times. Lazaro and Baba had worked out some synchronized dance moves, and every once in a while they’d clap and sway in unison.

8. See that photo up there? ^^ I took that. Holler at me if you wanna hire me to shoot your wedding.

9. One of the highlights of the roughly 35 minute set was “An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum.” Baba kicked an extended mbira jam, gradually building up a series of melodies above a heavy, but minimal, bass line. (Oh yeah, that reminds us, the bass was fucked at The Blockley. It sounded like a speaker blew pretty early in the night.)

10. Another banger was “Chuch” from Of Light. This is one of Shabazz’s hardest tunes. Lazaro rapped ferociously over Baba’s rhythms: “Ever since the ships came, we kicked slick game make name mistake the claim, and never ever ever tame, and stay way fresher than the ‘presser.” And what do they call that? “Survival with style,” goes the chorus. Think about it.

–Elliott Sharp wants you to follow him on Twitter @Elliott Sharp.

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