The sparse but dedicated crowd at State Theatre were served an interesting combo plate by Sub Pop labelmates The Helio Sequence and Shabazz Palaces last Thursday night, not unlike pairing a dry red wine with fish — it can be done, but isn't necessarily optimal. [Text by Nastasya, photos by Brian.]
Both two-piece acts hail from the Northwest and have been buddies for the past eight years, their friendship blooming after Shabazz Palaces frontman Ishmael Butler (formerly of Digable Planets) just kept showing up at all The Helio Sequence's shows. To them, sharing a bill made sense; so much so they’ve even taken to re-mixing each others' songs during their travels together.
Still supporting their 2011 release Black Up, Seattle-based Shabazz Palaces also gave a taste of things to come in their 45-minute set for the meager but eager few who arrived early enough to catch them. Butler alternated vocal duties with Tendai 'Baba' Maraire, who was surrounded by every percussive instrument imaginable, including a Zimbabwean marimba. Many of the accompanying tracks were effects-laden and bordered on ethereal at times, but neither the songs or lyrics were in any way soft. It was trip-hop at its best but with a sensory appeal that celestially bridged the duo to the headlining Portland boys.
“One More Time” from The Helio Sequence’s 2012 fifth release Negotiations kicked off the dreamy delicacy of their performance. Played live, it rips out your heart and then comforts you simultaneously, as did most of the tracks off that semi-haunting album. The title track, appearing later in the set, brought a Phil Spector wall-of-sound moment and even had the signature Ronettes/Shangri-La’s backbeat played tenderly and lovingly by drummer/keyboardist Benjamin Weikel.
The crowd was comprised of more genuinely heartfelt nodders than dancers, but once “Keep Your Eyes Ahead” from the 2008 effort of the same name kicked in, the bouncing commenced. Singer/guitarist Brandon Summers looks like he could be Dave Matthews’ younger and more talented brother, and his sense of humor coupled with a gracious demeanor just added to his respectfully positive presence onstage. He controlled every track with ease, never broke a string, and played the same Gibson throughout the night. His custom made amp had little pterodactyl’s on the grill a la the Keep Your Eyes Ahead album cover, reflecting the band’s subtle yet epic taste level.
A couple of tunes from their 2004 LP, Love and Distance, made it into the set and I swear the guy next to me imploded when “Harmonica Song” sweetly stroked every struggling soul listening. A short encore of “You Can Come to Me” closed the evening on an even-keeled 14-song set that had fans picking their awed
jaws up from the floor as they exited. I was partially deaf afterwards, but would willingly go full-on impaired when the next opportunity to see them arises.