Published Aug 28, 2011Following up the hype that's surrounded Black Up in a live setting was an obvious concern for Seattle-based Shabazz Palaces. The debut long-player, following two well-received EPs, has garnered near universal acclaim for its futuristic and bent take on hip-hop, pushing Shabazz frontman Ishmael Butler back into the spotlight nearly two decades after the demise of his well-loved group, Digable Planets.
Fortune Sound Club, a renovated bar in Vancouver's Chinatown known for hosting to DJ nights for the city's condo culture, was the perfect-sounding venue for the bass- and beat-heavy duo. Despite the club being less than half full, the enthusiastic crowd packed the front of the stage as soon as Butler and partner Tendai Maraire emerged from the back.
Butler had a bevy of digital electronics in front of him, including a laptop and Kaoss Pad. With such a digital-dependent live setup, the show easily could've been boring to watch. It's certainly happened before, where an MC fires up the beats on a laptop and simply raps along with little intervention in the music, essentially churning out a glorified version of karaoke. This was not the case with Butler, who clearly had a very human-dependent approach to the music, warping it with the swipe of his hand over various pads as he tweaked beats live with his laptop.
His sideman added live percussion using maracas, a partial drum kit and several congas, as well as adding back-up vocals drenched in digital effects. These simple additions to the chopped-up and erratic beats lent the digital-heavy show a warmth and humanity that engaged the crowd. Despite how odd the beats were, combined with Butler's tendency to rhyme against them, the audience couldn't help but try and writhe awkwardly along.
For just over an hour the duo were relentless, flowing from one track to the next, leaving little time to catch their breath or even let the crowd show their appreciation. After the high-flying set was said and done, Shabazz Palaces did what can rarely be done with live hip-hop -- they left the crowd wanting more.