Concert Reviews

Shabazz Palaces - Granada Theater - May 2, 2013

Shabazz Palaces | TheeSatisfaction Granada Theater May 2, 2013

I don't remember the exact moment that the concert turned into a party, which I suppose is a good sign, but it's how the night felt inside the warm belly of the Granada last night.

Before TheeSatisfaction, the crowd was thin, but it was of little matter to the vibe. Fans were clearly eager for their first Dallas performance and with good reason. TheeSatisfaction's Stas and Cat have been putting out good-vibe R&B that somehow straddles the line between challenging and house-party perfect, each album and mixtape building on their growing appeal. Their dissonant tracks and melodies have a jazzy quality that forces you to consider the verse, but once they hit the chorus, some chord joins the two parts together with ease. It's a formula that works and lends a jazzy quality to their work that feels unexpected instead of derivative.

Stas and Cat had us wrapped around their little fingers in almost no time. With nothing on the stage except two microphones, the two are putting on a show in the best, most old-fashioned way possible: perfect harmonies, tight dance interruptions and a relaxed back and forth with the audience. The tension between their tomboy vibe and girl-group dance routines feels sexy in a very intellectual way. The ying and yang between Cass' rhymes and Stass' lilting improvisations feel complete in a way I have not seen from a group in some time.

I could go on and on about the music. "Do You Have Time?" was a highlight and "These Bitches is Bad" is a smart variation on the Bad Bitch trope. What struck me the most, though, was the crowd reaction. Pulled close to the stage, they mirrored the women's moves on stage. Grown men step-touching to mirror the simpler routines. Next to me a girlfriend says, "I just want to dance with them!" She doesn't seem to be the only one. They end with "Moonday School (Intergalactic Church)" and dance backward through the curtain, which is a perfect transition for the next alien on the bill, Shabazz Palaces.

I remember Shabazz Palaces playing in almost complete darkness the last time he was in Dallas. This time was no different, the light never quite settling on frontman Ishmael Butler or multi-instrumentalist Tendai 'Baba' Maraire. It's an interesting way to experience the music. It lets you project something onto the stage, obliging the audience to add something of their own interpretation to the performance. But only for a moment before you are distracted by the live vocal looping from Butler and his complex sampling setup or before Maraire steals the show going full-on Tito Puente, or when live performance of "free press and curl" was just the best.

Like TheeSatisfaction, the aesthetic and setup contributed to the performance in a very whole way. At some point nearly everyone took a turn at the lip of the stage to get a closer look at the controls or Maraire's conga drums, hi-hat cymbals, bass drum (I think) and more.

Shabazz Palaces have created a live experience that few in their lane of hip-hop have been able to pull off, one that mirrors the feel, if not the sound of the album. The "turnt up" rappers of today's modern age rely on party people and syzurp to provide the good times, but for something more laid-back and, frankly, academic, a different approach is required. In this case, their ability to improvise subtly different arrangements of many songs make the concert feel custom to the room.

My colleague, Vanessa Quilantan, whispered in my ear, "It's like World Music but chopped and screwed." This, in the moment, felt accurate and maybe even explains the demographic at the show in a very charming way.

The astrological theme is heavy in Shabazz Palaces content, which makes their aspirational sound feel all the more other worldy. We stare at them, they stare at the constellations and maybe there is something they can tell us. I am reminded of a lyric, "Got this pain in my neck, pain from starin' at stars," and all I can think is -- worth it.