Being at a Shabazz Palaces show feels like stepping out of Earth and into another world. The Seattle duo’s smart combination of darkly seductive hip-hop beats and existential lyrics sounds like something completely out of this world. The reddish-pink overhead lights that would occasionally shine over the audience felt like the beams of an alien spaceship—and I was fully prepared to be taken away. I didn’t know where I’d be going, but I was excited to find out.
Extraterrestrial references aside, Shabazz Palaces put on an incredible show at The Regent on Saturday night. They played music to fit every possible mood: those who felt like dancing could groove along to tunes like “Forerunner Foray” and “When Cats Claw.” For anyone feeling a little more introspective, there was music for that, too.
Before Shabazz came out, the energy in the room felt a little muted, like the audience still hadn’t quite shaken off the drowsy feeling that follows a long workweek. Drowsiness quickly went away, however, once the band came out. As soon as they started playing, the crowd perked up. Palaceer Lazaro transitioned flawlessly between banging out beats on his synthesizer to spitting liquid fire on the mic. Baba sang entrancing “oohs” and “ahs” and played his drum-set and assortment of little African hand-drums with the technical prowess of a master musician (not surprising, considering his father was also a gifted multi-instrumentalist). All the while, a montage of African dancers and other images played on a giant screen in the background. This was a good start to the weekend.
Toward the middle of the set, things got a little slow. The duo’s more upbeat tunes eventually gave way to long synthesized drones and slower, less syncopated beats. After about 10 minutes of this, I found myself wishing for the more explicitly danceable music from earlier. Luckily, the music picked up toward the end, and the audience got back to grooving. From this, I got the sense that perhaps Palaceer and Baba wanted to lure us into a false sense of security before whisking us away to another place, a different place than the one before.
Shabazz Palaces pushes the boundaries of music and consciousness. Their curious blend of hip-hop and electronica is the next logical step from the cosmic free jazz of Sun Ra. The mysterious otherworld Shabazz created could only come from the minds of two extremely creative and intellectually adventurous people. The crowd enjoyed this otherworld so much that at the end of the show, no one wanted to come back down to Earth. The words “Born on a Gangster Star” never rang truer.
Photo by John Conway