Shabazz Palaces at Georgia Theatre: August 27th

Last Wednesday at the Georgia Theatre in Athens, Shabazz Palaces stepped onto the stage in front of a beautifully crafted sonic and visual palette. The Seattle based experimental hip hop duo is no rookie in the game. Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler was involved in the early ‘90s Brooklyn alternative hip hop group, Digable Planets. Shabazz Palaces stunned many in 2009 with their avant-garde style the pushed the envelope of the hip hop genre. Although their new album leaves a lot to be desired to some, this did not show through their performance at the Georgia Theatre.

The night began with Pattern is Movement from Philadelphia. I was anxious to see how an indie rock band would successfully tie in with Shabazz Palaces, but was surprised to see that their music has evolved into sounds that could easily be compared to groups like Grizzly Bear or The Dirty Projectors. Each song brought more and more people to the front of the venue, until the room was finally packed for Shabazz Palaces’ entrance. Although it was only the two of them on the huge theatre stage, it hardly felt empty. They set up at the very front of the stage close to their fans and requested to be backlit with blue and purple lights. Their performance of “#CAKE” seemed to really get the audience going and that energy stayed throughout the entire show. I even saw a few peers that claim “they don’t dance”, dance their asses off. After the show, I coincidentally ran into Ishmael “Butterfly” on the rooftop. We talked a bit about the journey and inspiration that has led to his current style. I asked him how he managed to create such a unique style and not conform to mainstream hip hop. He responded with a quote he had read before. “I read something that said basically, the way to be original [which is something that I thought was an achievement] was to go from your instinct to the finished product without filtering through anything expectation wise or influential wise because whatever your instinct is will lead to something unique so I practiced learning what my instinct is and how to not let it get contaminated by other influences.” When asked who he is inspired by, he told me THEESatisfaction (that shares their record label, Sub Pop) and surprisingly, The Shins. I think the duo has been successful at letting other artists inspire them, without mimicking their style.

The evening was brought to a close with a rooftop performance by local experimental hip hop group, CottonMouth. Jacob Deel, the leader of the pack, has been producing recordings and performing under the moniker of CottonMouth for almost two years in Athens, GA. The recordings have mainly been the product of his own work, but Jacob has worked with various other local musicians in the past to collaborate on the project. While the band comes together to give an experience unlike Jacob’s previous solo performances, the project remains to be a clear expression of Jacob’s instinctual desire to create something different. The performance was energetic and engaging. The crowd from the Shabazz Palaces show downstairs had meandered up to the rooftop and some of them did not know what to expect. Regardless, they were still left wanting the pack to play more. Jacob used the event as an opportunity to release man-cub, the most recent solo recording in the CottonMouth catalog, and intends on moving forward with the project as a full band. They will be working on a release as the full band for sometime in the winter. Until then, keep an ear out for their sounds…

Overall, the show was a perfect combination of local music and internationally recognized artists. The combined energy and talent of them all made a Wednesday night feel like a Friday night in Athens, Georgia.

– Halie Johnson