Ishmael Butler aka Palaceer Lazaro of Shabazz Palaces (All Photos by Daniel Ahrendt)
Shabazz Palaces has captured international attention through their recordings, supplying a molasses of experimental hip-hop that Seattle and fans around the world are quickly growing sweet teeth for. Their newest record Lese Majesty is a smoothly woven gleaming collage of sunbursts, one fading into the other in a pleasant and virile fashion. That pleasure took on a different form when Shabazz Palaces performed at the Lese Majesty album release at Neumos last Friday, one fueled by tireless attitude, improvisation, and shaping tunes in new ways. Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire work together naturally without a care on their faces to create an evolving live show the likes of which is hardly seen in hip-hop.
The duo played for nearly two hours without looking the slightest bit fatigued, mixing new tracks from Lese Majesty with material from their 2009 EPs. Dougie, who performed a good deal on those early EPs, even stepped on the stage for a few tracks. This large diversity of material was driven home not simply by how well each track was performed, but by Shabazz Palaces essentially mixing and transitioning from whatever they wanted to whatever they wanted. Some tracks off of their first full length album Black Up received brand new backing beats and new pacing for Butler to rap to, flowing into a surprise transition to Lese Majesty grooves. Butler seamlessly raps in his cosmic drawl while keeping his sampler occupied and alive, with plenty of time to swagger at the crowd. Maraire weaves fantastic textures from his voice and percussion instruments, often driving the point home with a stripped down conventional drum kit. Some of the rhythms Shabazz Palaces create when they simply decide to riff on each other through tom, high hat, and drum machine were as exciting as the most intense moments in Butler’s raps. Combine that improvisation with the clear communication allowing them to slow down and speed up so smoothly and you have professionals plain and simple. This is hip-hop that can take a term like “experimental” and really show the audience what that means and how to do it right.
On top of their thoroughly composed presence and spectacular musicianship, these two had the ’80s hip-hop dress and choreography down pat. Style, skill, and originality on stage make Shabazz Palaces one of the best live hip-hop acts around. Local Porter Ray opened, bringing with him a group of fellow musicians who turned the stage into a place you just wanted to hang on. Ray’s smooth as crystal delivery was accentuated by two other skilled emcees, a dazzling singer, and a DJ, all of whom looked ecstatic to be there, a feeling the audience seemed to very much share.
Check out plenty more photos of Shabazz Palaces and Porter Ray below as well as this clip of Shabazz Palaces performing “Kill White T”.