Review—Shabazz Palaces at the Cobalt, Vancouver, Dec 1 2017
– review by Taisuke Tanimura
Shabazz Palaces at the Cobalt, Vancouver, Friday night. The Seattle-based psychedelic hip-hop duo’s most recent work is a pair of concept albums released this year. They include Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines. Both revolve around a character called Quazarz, who navigates a dystopian planet called “Amurderca”.
Ishmael Butler, a.k.a. Palaceer Lazaro, and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire make up the group.
Butler and Maraire kicked off the show with George Clinton‘s monologue from Funkadelic‘s Eulogy & Light, played in full. They then launched into the track “Forerunner Foray”. Butler and Maraire were both busy on stage, tweaking knobs and banging on various drums while delivering their inscrutable lyrics with much gusto. Butler, in particular, was a captivating performer, engaging yet mysterious, and having a ton of fun.
They culled the set from all over their discography, including this reviewer’s personal favorites “They Come In Gold” and “Youlogy”. With a heavy low-end rumbling from the speakers, their tracks took on an added dimension that is sometimes missing from their studio output. “Welcome To Quazarz, the stellar opening cut from Quazarz vs The Jealous Machines, featured bass that was booming so hard I could feel it through my whole body.
If a mystical hip-hop space opera expressed via two loosely related albums makes your head spin, then that’s exactly the point. The genius of Butler and Maraire is that they expertly walk the knife’s edge between structure and chaos. They eschew traditional songs structures in favor of lurching beats and weird textures, all laced with Butler’s opaque lyrics and Maraire’s heavily processed yelps. Their unpredictability is what makes them so interesting, and sound oh so fresh. Its the same approach Sun Ra took with jazz, brought forward a few decades and applied to hip-hop.
Seattle MC and Sub Pop labelmate Porter Ray opened. His prowess on the mic was on full display as he effortlessly wove his stories over hazy, atmospheric production. His songs are often introspective and intensely personal, but delivered with a poet’s touch that renders the subject sublime. I went in not knowing anything about him but was a complete convert by the time he walked off stage. His debut album Watercolors is out now. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a hip-hop fan.