Friday night at the Stranger Genius Awards party at the Moore Theatre, Shabazz Palaces gave a performance that felt unequivocally like the end of their first chapter and the beginning of what’s next. (Matson and I agree here.) As mind-blowing as their Seattle debut was at Neumos back in January, this show felt like the culmination of a months-long metamorphosis, with Shabazz Palaces emerging from their pupal stage looking less like a Butterfly than like a motherfucking monster.
No one knew what to expect from this show except that it was going to be a spectacle (Shabazz main man Ishmael Butler had, in his typically cryptic style, intimated big things planned for this performance). So when the show started with young female duo THEESatisfaction emerging from a thick, dark fog, wearing goggles and towering, ebony-colored headdresses that looked like carved animal totems, and rapping the verses of Shabazz’s everyman-now-turned-everywoman (it’s all in THEE?) introduction “A Mess”—well, it was just the sort of surprise you were waiting for.
Then Butler and percussionist Tendai Maraire came out, wearing the same style of headdresses and goggles, for “Gunbeat Falls,” all four of them doing a little side-stepping synchronized choreography, Butler improvising a beat on his sampler pads, THEESatisfaction doing a verse, the crowd chanting along to the refrain, “Push the button! Start the show!” The collaboration went both ways, with Shabazz rapping THEESatisfaction songs “Obama” (“turn off the radio/turn off that bullshit/but you already know/I preach to the pulpit”) and “Ooh THEES Bitches” (“these bitches are bad”), even improvising some verses. (The combination also felt a little like Shabazz anointing an heir, like, “Here’s your next genius.”)
Butler and Tendai did a little fist bump-into-black power fist move for the chorus “do it for my people so you know y’all can have it” on “32 Leaves” (Butler also substituted the word “suckers” for the original’s unfortunate “faggots” on this song, a change he’s been doing since at least Sasquatch! but that felt especially pointed with THEESatisfaction sharing the stage and Shabazz mixing engineer Erik Blood in the crowd). In keeping with the black power fists, they shouted out The Stranger’s Charles Mudede and pun(c)tuation Gallery’s Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes. Dougie came out to rap on “4 Shadows” (“break bread”), his words drifting appealingly off beat with Maraire’s mbira. They debuted the new song “Barksdale Corners” (“I’m up in your system”) which appears on a limited-edition 7” (with Stellar OM Source on the flip) included with the latest issue of graphic design concern Dumb Eyes’ magazine, I Want You.
THEESatisfaction returned for “Find Out”; Butler rapped the appropriately incendiary “Blastit,” Maraire playing a variation of its mbira melody that sadly got a little drowned out in the mix; Maraire unexpectedly rapped a verse on “Oooh THEES Bitches”; a pair of African dancers appeared for the hypnotic, chant-looping “Chuch.” Shabazz closed with another unreleased track, a dubsteppy, Dougie-featuring number full of wobbly bass and mean synthesizer rips that Butler seemed to be triggering via optical theremin, and with the chorus, “Was you there tonight?” Even more big things are doubtless ahead for the recently Sub Pop-signed Shabazz, but you missed out on one monumental night if you can’t honestly say, “Yes—I was there.”