Shabazz Palaces, alongside Thee Satisfaction’s Catherine Harris-White, performed at the Frye Art Museum last Saturday as part of the Museum’s Mw [Moment Magnitude] exhibition. The ticket-holding crowd viewed the performance through a hanging fluorescent light sculpture created by LILIENTHAL| ZAMORA. I watched from an adjacent gallery stage-left among the non-ticket holding crowd. SP’s set is both exuberant and complicated. Palaceer Lazaro pounds out drum patterns, attends to his MacBook, and raps with tender authority while Tendai Maraire loops his own melodies, mans a hi-hat and floor tom, and rolls out a smorgasbord of other percussive instruments. This is not news; the set’s basics have remained consistent since their live debut in 2010. The set carried on tradition and included an inspired rendition of “Gunbeat Falls,” whose mid-song switch up introduced a brand new synth melody that forced Palaceer to completely reconstruct his cadence, making the song simultaneously same and new.
The obvious difference here was the sculpture of light playing intermediary between artists and crowd. This was awesomely fitting (the titles of their dual-EP debut are Shabazz Palaces and Of Light, respectively). The more distracting and vibe-altering difference was the extreme liberty taken by a small but superfluous group of photographers throughout the night. Photo snappers unabashedly hummed in and out of the performers’ space, coiling around Palaceer, their cameras whispering in his ear. They slunk in and out of the stage-space – and obstructed the audience’s view – in order to take more intimate photos, presumably to give their eventual viewership an impression of what it was ‘really like’ at the show. But these photos will not reflect the viewer experience, because the actual audience was forced to watch them, too. Thus, they subjugated the actual crowd’s experience to the experience of their imagined one and modified the show’s present-moment quality. (What they were really doing was recording how they experienced the show differently and more importantly than those who weren’t paid to be there.)
The implicit presumption that ‘flicks for the internet somehow trump the flesh and blood moment’ is more disheartening because SP cares deeply about the present. From their show-only interrogative exhortation, “Was you there tonight?” to their Black Up pledge to “answer the call” of the night, SP has always given a spiritual weight to the physical act of being there. “If you talk about it, it’s a show; but if you move about it, then it’s a go,” is not just a bar but a guiding principle in their urban Taoist ethic. SP drips with presence. It is this combination of presence and performance that makes their listeners believe they have experienced something special. This time, however, “tonight” was made less important than the pictures of it.