Live Review, 2/2/12: Shabazz Palaces Mellow Out Yoshi's

Categories: Last Night

Shabazz Palaces at Yoshi's last night.

Shabazz Palaces
Yoshi's S.F.
Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012

Better than: Expecting a Digable Planets reunion.

I won't lie: if I wasn't sure what to expect of Shabazz Palaces. I secretly hoped I might witness a Digable Planets revival at the very least.

There was no need. Shabazz Palaces is the brainchild of Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler, whose boho cool lent much to the jazz-minded Digable Planets sound. Under the name Palaceer Lazaro, here he's combined an even more ancient musical past with something as surreal as it is primordially familiar.

Yoshi's was a fitting venue, with its Zen-like, adult-contemporary atmosphere. Butler was joined by percussionist Tendai Maraire, whose neat dreads and vintage Aviators reminded many of Lil Wayne. Maracas, djembes, and a tambourine accompanied a Micro Korg outfitted with a vocoder, which Maraire used to compliment Butler's spoken word/sermon rap.

Against a backdrop awash in burgundy, warm orange, and rose lights, the two together drew an audience spread over a crowded floor and upper balcony. Shabazz's music is an occultist thump of Sun Ra's cosmic mysticism and gently stuttering hip-hop. The scene felt a little like a seance, and the numerous blunts handed around glowed like little candles.

It was the gentlest hip-hop show, if it can be called that, in recent memory. Perhaps because of the inherent weirdness, the vibe felt intimate and relaxed. People excused themselves, slunk unconsciously, and maybe thought seriously about astral projection. I drank champagne and felt the bubbles rise to my head.

Maybe there was a little too much atmosphere. Thanks to a kind of extraterrestrial filter, Butler's charged poetics were muddied. But the songs floated into one another, like a perfectly seamless mixtape, and the two engaged in synchronized stage play, casually gesturing and falling into B-Boy postures.

Much like Digable Planets, Butler combines worlds upon worlds of black culture, and Shabazz Palaces is a languorous but enchanting blend of pan-Africanism, Sufi chants, and cryptic hip-hop. I feel high just thinking about it.

Critics Notebook

Personal bias: I'm a sucker for mood lighting.

Overheard: "This is tribal. Like in a good way"; "I study race, bro. I'm a racist."

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Location Info



Yoshi's San Francisco

1330 Fillmore, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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Big fan of his work with the DP's and saw them when they came to Yoshi's last year minus Ladybug Mecca, which begs the question - was it really the DP's ? The addition of the live backing band was a questionable call but overall I was in a mood to forgive for old times sake. 

However, whatever happened last night at Yoshi's cannot be forgiven. Very poor sound, all I could hear were muddy bass lines and Ish's nonsensical spoken word performance. Whatever he was doing up there it certainly wasn't music. 

You saw "contemporary and zen-like," I saw a bunch of people looking confused and standing very still at a hip hop show. My criticism of Shabazz Palaces and Ish is the same as it is for most rappers; a guy yelling into a mic over a bass line isn't music, it's just a guy yelling into a mic. There needs to be a melody mated to rhythm and composition. 

Sad, it was something he did so well with the DP's and something he totally abandoned last night. Here's a hint Ish, if you win a Grammy for something, even if it was 20 years ago, you might want to consider sticking somewhat close to the basics of that. 

When they played their "hit" Swerve, momentarily I saw the crowd start to get involved but with the next "song" he quickly killed that. And here again, Swerve is a song I know well but the sound was so poor it was nearly unintelligible. All the backing hooks are recorded, there's no reason they can't sound good night after night.

The two hi-lights of the show for me were the fact that I only paid $18 bucks for the ticket, and at the mid-way point in the performance, when I got up and left.

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