July 30, 2014
Back in 2011, long before Yeezus and Skrillex's song on the A$AP Rocky' album, Seattle-based hip hop collective Shabazz Palaces put out Black Up, a powerhouse that heralded the coming love affair between rap and EDM.
Pairing Digable Planets' Ishmael Butler's verging-on-pretentious lyrics (how many other guys could pull off the word “sepulcher”?) with gauzy loops, psychedelic crescendos and Tendai Maraire's Zimbabwe-infused percussion, the duo quickly garnered critical acclaim and artsy fans.
Last night, two days after releasing their much-anticipated sophomore studio album, Lese Majesty, Butler and Maraire treated a multicultural crowd at the Roxy to their first L.A. concert since 2012.
Without the soulful ladies of frequent collaborators THEESatisfaction alongside them — as was the case at the Echoplex two years ago — this show's iteration of Shabazz Palaces felt more pared down, more controlled than the jubilant dance party of two years ago.
Still, when performed live their music picks up a triumphant bombast that's absent from their self-serious recorded work. In front of an audience, the funk gets funkier and the guys aren't afraid to bust out the occasional coordinated doo-wop dance move.
Butler's beloved early '90s group Digable Planets had a crisper, jazzier sound than the lurching opacity of Shabazz. Now 45, the veteran emcee angled his shoulders herky-jerky with the beat last night, as globs of sweat fell off his face.
It was the kind of hip-hop concert where an Apple laptop held court on center stage and a tangle of white guys with facial hair swayed woozily in the front. Maraire wore an orange jersey with Arabic script on the front and a thick gold rope necklace. Both men kept their sunglasses on for most of the show.
The new album is good, sure, but its soul, synths and suites haven't had time yet to take hold, to hypnotize the assembled scenesters into frenzied, ass-shaking submission, and so for a long stretch in the middle it felt like the only people dancing were the ten concertgoers who seemed to be off of one white powder or another.
But all it took was one or two bars from Black Up's “Are you… Can you… Were you? (Felt)” to raise the energy level again. By the time the guys jogged back on stage for an encore, with “Swerve… the reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir notwithstanding),” the audience was all too happy to take direction. “If you talk about it, it's a show, but if you move about it, then it's a go,” Butler chanted. We moved about it.
And when they started to close out the night with “Recollections of the Wraith,” repeating the line, “Clear some space out / so we can space out,” a dude in a floppy Kangol hat cleared some space out, in a corner, so he could space out. And so he could break dance. Somehow, this felt both utterly cheesy and totally appropriate.