Even if it is celebrating its bithday, The Twisted Pepper is dark and heavy as ever; images of Tupac Shakur, Spike Lee and several impressive dance troupes ease in and out of focus behind the stage, and the room begins to fill with bodies and noise. The atmosphere pre-empting the return of Shabazz Palaces to Middle Abbey Street is surreal and discomforting but intent on focusing the crowd’s attention. In all honesty, the on-stage projection is the work of support act THEESatisfaction, but it rather nicely sums tonight’s headliners up, filtering the iconography and social conscience of early ’90s African-American pop culture through a kaleidoscopic, futuristic lens.
Shabazz have an assuredly low-maintenance set-up – samplers, bongos, laptop – make no mistake, though, the Seattle two-piece can make a deafening impact. For the next 90 minutes, they will run through the entirety of their debut album Black Up and forcibly jolt an appreciative crowd into life. Led by the ever-youthful Ishmael Butler, aka Butterfly, of alternative hip-hop veterans Digable Planets, Shabazz take the stage and launch into ‘Youlogy’ with a minimum of fuss and accompanying hand actions.
Bass swells at ground level, billowing the garish orange tablecloths that cover their instruments and threatening to consume Butlers words, but the duo build momentum regardless, seamlessly transitioning from song to song and quickly getting the crowd on side. THEESatisfaction return to lend a couple of verses to ‘Swerve the Reeping of All that Is Worthwhile’ and impress with some slick dance moves, while Butler and percussionist Tendai Maraire return the favour later on with a quasi-intricate handshake that sections of the audience surely fail in trying to replicate.
‘Free Press and Curl’ bursts out the speakers and gets the crowd bouncing once and for all, before Butler is eventually compelled to take his ludicrous shades off and address the room. He is bucketing sweat; it’s pouring off his brow and has drenched his tasseled shirt in places, but he only stops for a minute before the closing salvo. ‘Are You … Can You … Were You?’ and ‘An Echo from the Hosts that Profess Infinitum’ both prove cumulatively immersive, cajoling the crowd with their hypnotic loops, but it is ‘Recollections of the Wrath’ brings the initial set to a easygoing end. The encore the crowd is pleading for proves anticlimactic as ‘Yeah You’ fails to rise above the swamp of bass it is built upon, but Butler and Maraire leave the Pepper to rapturous approval of the congregation, all of whom will still be grinding and cavorting when they get home tonight.