13 May, 2013

Shabazz Palaces at the Larimer Lounge

I began my experience at Larimer Lounge as usual by going directly from the doorman to the bar for a drink and then outside to the back patio. Very few people were enjoying the mild night on the patio, but included in that crowd were two men aptly describing what they would end up doing about 15 minutes later. They were explaining to an attentive group of about four people that their preoccupation was with creating a mood for the following acts, one which gets them hyped for the full experience of the headlining artist.

Malimob from Somalia via Seattle

Malimob from Somalia via Seattle

I knew nothing of Malitia Malimob prior to the show, though I soon figured out that they were two MCs touting their Somalian origins. To say that we have it easy in the US, compared to war-torn Somalia, would be a comic understatement. During their conversation with the group outside Larimer Lounge, they mentioned their idea to associate gangster rap with notions of actual Somali gangsters, pirates of the high seas. Not much is known about the public profiles of the Seattle artists known as Malimob, though now as immigrants to a country whose own striving dream is limited, their story remains relevant. hile we as Americans might not have pirates, a lack of potable water, and war as a daily threat, their appropriation of American gangster rap to illustrate the immigrant struggle for recognition is fitting. My interest was piqued when I saw a young man, presumably accompanying the group on tour, appeared from backstage, a Somali flag draped over his head. His thick accent and exuberance to tout their origins, mated with the rappers’ message definitely got me hyped for the remainder of the night.

THEESatisfaction together.

THEESatisfaction together.

The second act, THEESatisfaction, sashayed onto stage with the confidence of a group who knew exactly how to time their performance. Unlike the opening act, they chose to forgo a DJ cueing up their tracks. With a Powerbook at the ready, they started one of a dozen songs and with only quick breaks to hydrate, continued to woo the audience for almost an hour. Their Spector-era harmonies and subtle TLC-like choreographed dance moves were a perfect accompaniment to their hybrid of soul, jazz, and 1990s backpack era hip hop. It’s not so unexpected that Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons were recently signed to Sub Pop, the label of headlining act Shabazz Palaces. The ladies were featured on two tracks from Shabazz’s most recent release, 2011’s Black Up. Also of note is that during a self-released video, THEESatisfaction could be seen talking while Digable Planets’ “Black Ego” played in the background. THEESatisfaction’s empowered groove surely carries on the torch the intelligent, empowered rappers of the 90s, including Digable Planets lit.

No DJ.

No DJ.

Shabazz Palaces.

Shabazz Palaces.

If THEESatisfaction was the slow burning fuse for the show, Shabazz Palaces were the earth rattling exploding denouement. What THEESatisfaction provided with well-rehearsed choreography and wordsmithing, Shabazz Palaces added live instrumentation. Their connection cannot be understated. Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, formerly of seminal downtempo 90s hip hop group Digable Planets, brought his shifting, sharp lyrics and MPC, while sideman and percussionist Tendai Maraire brought all of the necessary live beats. On record, it’s difficult to identify individual instruments vs. electronic accompaniment, whereas the live performance helps to decode the puzzle. Butler furiously taps at his lit MPC buttons while Maraire switches between maracas, congas, a sampler drum pad, and an electric mbira. It’s fascinating to watch what is essentially an MC create something as complex as a classical jazz band on stage, with no pauses for tuning or to catch up with the set list.

Ishmael zonin’.

Ishmael zonin’.

To close out the set, THEESatisfaction came out to accompany Butler and Maraire on several songs, and though I left before the end of the set, I wonder if they were able to even recreate the magic of Digable Planets with some cover songs. My wish is that the power that this show brought to Larimer Lounge continues to influence new hip hop shows, many of which are heavy on hype but remarkably absent of on stage musical prowess.

Maraire's mbira.

Maraire’s mbira.

Photos and review by Kerry Nordstrom.

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