Some words about Shabazz Palaces @ Neumos 01.08.10

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Shabazz Palaces. Where to start?

I’ll start by letting you know that this is not a review of Shabazz Palaces first public concert, which went down Saturday at Neumos. Yes I was there, but I don’t think my words could add much to what has already been said herehere and here just to list a few prominent places where the show has been reviewed. I will also let you know that this is not a think piece ruminating on the meaning of Shabazz Palace’s lyrics or romanticizing the whole quasi secret identity of Ish Butler (he of Digable Planets fame), who is known as Palaceer Lazaro in Shabazz Palaces. Nah, this Ear Candy entry won’t contain much of that stuff at all. Instead consider this post to be observations of what went down Saturday night along with a little bit of commentary thrown in for good measure. So allow me to begin:

It seems like every member of Seattle’s music media is all about Shabazz Palaces, and for good reason.

Originally I wasn’t going to give in to all the hype. I haven’t heard Shabazz Palaces two self-released EPs and while I am a supporter of local hip hop, I am not a big supporter of blindly following a pack. However, once I read two advances previewing the show by two of my colleagues (the fanboyish writeup by Seattle Times’ Andrew Matson and themore articulate piece by The Stranger’s Larry Mizell, Jr.) I was drawn to the group’s first public live show Saturday at Neumos. So I walked into Neumos having not heard the music of the headliner for the first major music event of the year in Seattle, deciding to let the live show attempt to win me over.

I will admit I was apprehensive about taking this approach to a heavily hyped local act (especially a hip-hop act considering I am still learning about the local hip-hop scene), but in retrospect it was definitely the right decision. Hearing Shabazz Palace’s music in a live setting made such an impact on me that I will be seeking out both EPs on my next trip to the record store (they were all sold out at the show). Actually, one of the reasons I am declining to write a full review of the show is because I want to spend some quality time with the recorded music before writing words about the music, which is something I think speaks to the quality of Shabazz Palace’s art.

Don’t take my word for it, or the word of the reviews that were linked to above. Consider the crowd size (the show was sold out and Neumos was about as packed as I have ever seen it) and the fact that just about every music journalist/taste-maker in The Town was in the building. Or, as Stranger music editor Eric Grandy so eloquently put it when I saw him at the  bar: “Seems like everybody who fucking cares is here.”

But it wasn’t just the music journos who were geeking out over Shabazz Palaces. The crowd was pretty much a who’s who of local hip hop as seemingly every local rapper this side of Sir Mix A Lot was in attendance and all of them were bursting with anticipation. The seemingly universal support of Shabazz Palaces by the players in the local scene says more about Shabazz Palaces’s music than I likely ever could.

Before the show I was talking with my friend and local scribe Katelyn Hackett who is a big Shabazz Palaces fan (her endorsement was another reason I went to the show) and having not heard the music I took a stab at describing what I haven’t heard. “It comes across to me like something that would be atmospheric.” Of course I was way off base and that’s another one of the reasons why I decided not to write about the actual music and instead focus on my experience.

Speaking of my experience, the music itself was unlike most of what’s currently happening in hip hop which is probably another reason why I liked it so much. You can lose yourself in deciphering messages in the lyrics or you can lose yourself in the music and let the sounds from the stage wash over you. I found myself doing both throughout the night. It wasn’t a transcendent experience for me like it was others in the crowd, but I got the feeling if I had spent time with the records before the show I might have left Neumos in tears.

On the leaving Neumos note, as I was about to exit the venue I ran into Andrew Matson and he had an I-just-won-the-Lotto smile on his face and his eyes were lit up like he had just witnessed the birth of a hip-hop Christ.

“I’m glad you were here,” Matson said after we exchanged bro hugs. “Everyone needs to experience this at least once.”

Like I said, some people really got into the show and had an amazing Shabazz Palaces experience. And while I wasn’t impacted by the music the same way some of my colleagues were, I think I summed up my experience pretty well with the below tweet I sent out after the show:

“I don’t know if Shabazz Palaces will make it big, but I’ll remember this show for a long time b/c of the music/crowd response.”

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 13 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and former editor of the defunct music site Ear Candy.