Easter Sunday I drove to Pittsburgh with a couple of friends to see Shabazz Palaces at The Shadow Lounge in East Liberty. While some of my family thought it was strange to go to a rap concert on Easter night, I really didn't care, I wasn't going to pass up the chance to see one of my favorite hip hop groups, and tickets were only ten dollars! The show got started around 10 p.m. and a DJ group from Pittsburgh called Tracksploitation opened. They were very good and put on a great set with their mix of electronic beats, vinyl scratching and live guitar. These young guys are talented and they had a lot of people dancing. Then, a band called Expensive Shit took the ... floor. Yes, they set their equipment up on the floor and requested that everyone go on stage and dance; only a handful of us did. Everyone else stayed on the floor and crowded them, but we were enjoying their mix of electronic noise and afrobeat rhythms, which were hammered out by one very fast and agile drummer. Tracksploitation played again for about a half hour, and by the time Shabazz took the stage it was about 1:30 in the morning. While they took their sweet time getting out there, once their set started I'm sure no one was worried about how late it was, or about anything at all.
Ishmael Butler aka Palaceer Lazaro and Tendai "Baba" Maraire strolled on stage in matching shades, tan leather jackets and polos and proceeded to put on what was probably one of the best live shows I've ever seen. I've read some mixed reviews about Shabazz's past live performances, so I was kind of worried. Critics have complained that Butler doesn't concentrate enough on rapping or his vocals are too hard to make out over all the beats and effects. That was not the case here, not only did he trigger all the samples and make the basic beats on his MPC, he also rapped like a fiend, throwing in new lines and improvising like crazy. The delay on his voice made it hard to pick out every word, but when he really wanted to be heard he would take the delay off; that's when he would spit his most powerful lines. Equally impressive, possibly even more so, was Maraire who is always credited as the "multi-instrumentalist" on Shabazz's songs, but that's an understatement. He's a music-machine. Without him, Shabazz would be a really good rapper/lyricist spitting over some basic beats; Maraire's talent is what takes them to the next level musically. Throughout the show he played conga drums, a mbira, a Roland Octapad, caxixis, a floor tom, a high-hat and more, all while playing the role of a hypeman and backup singer (he actually used a nice auto-tune effect which was surprising, but pleasant). Dudes also busted out some nice synchronized hand motions (including a complex handshake timed perfectly with the line "Do it for my people so you know that y'all can have it") and at one point they just started dancing.
They played a nice mix of songs from their EPs and Black Up. I would list them all, but that would make this article twice as long as it needs to be as a lot of their song titles would barely fit into a tweet. They also played several new songs that were all incredible. One new song had something similar to a swag-rap beat, but Butler spent the whole song critiquing swag and pop rappers and that culture ("Put your phony cake away, before I expose how fake you are today!"). Another song called "Bop Hard" was the best thing I've heard from them and my life won't be complete until they release it. As their set winded down, they thanked everyone for coming out on an Easter Sunday to hang with them (Butler: "It is Easter right?" Dude standing in front of me: "Not anymore!"), and when they were "done" all it took was a few "one more song!" chants from the crowd and they slipped their jackets off and proceeded to play three more. When they were actually done, Butler said, "Thank you all. It's been another good night," still wearing the huge smile he had on his face when he came on stage. It was a good night indeed. A friend I was with summed it up best: "Everything they did was so tight! Two guys on stage were making all that sound and dishing out lyrics that made me stop and think."
Feel free to check out some of my sub-par iPhone pictures below.