Amid the reign of Kanye, it can be easy to overlook the humble beginnings of hip-hop: a populist genre designed to be executed with minimal resources. Seattle duo THEESatisfaction’s reverence for this history was on full display at the Independent last Friday night, as they “turned off the swag” to deliver a remarkably unadorned performance, in support of the acclaimed awE naturalE, released earlier this year. Two microphones and a MacBook were all Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons needed to communicate their boldly cosmic agenda.
Taking the stage in matching leopard-print, Stas and Cat opened with the frenetic, Billy Cobham-esque “naturalE”, before easing into an expertly paced set, indebted to countless strains of black vanguard music: the astral thrust of Sun Ra and George Clinton; the buttery neo-soul of Erykah Badu; the political integrity of Last Poets; the loop-based hypnosis of J Dilla.
Musicians this boldly enterprising are notorious for massaging their egos, but conversely, Stas and Cat turned in an endearingly casual performance, devoid of hipster posturing and showbiz schtick. Everything, down to the synchronized dance moves, was imparted with the laid-back spirit of two best friends (or, in Stas and Cat’s case, lovers) goofing off in their living room.
Despite the relaxed vibe, the duo’s stage presence was incredibly refined, starting with their beautifully interlocking vocal techniques. Cat’s jazz-based vocal inflections provided the perfect foil to Stas’ rap verses, like the splash of milk in a cup of tea. “Deeper” was a highlight in this sense; revolving mainly around Stas’ rapping, Cat added subtle ornamentation, echoing syllables and completing phrases to create a swirling, intoxicating tremolo effect.
In a pleasant surprise, “Deeper” ended with a newly written, a capella outro, before transitioning seamlessly into the grooving, yet subdued, “Needs.” While the (predominantly female) audience went wild, nothing could’ve prepared them for the hedonistic centerpiece of awE naturalE, “QueenS”. A much needed, diversionary moment on a record abound with blistering social criticism, it entitled Cat to her Donna Summer moment of the night. The crowd reacted ecstatically, singing along to her chants of, “sweat in your cardigan!” while doing exactly that.
The remainder of THEESatisfaction’s set balanced material from awE naturalE, with cuts from their self-released That’s Weird (2008) and Snow Motion (2009). Clocking in at roughly an hour, it left the audience mostly satisfied, craving just a little more: an ideal balance that’s rarely achieved.
The “laptop set,” much like a solo singer-songwriter performance, is a difficult art to master. It takes a compelling personality to keep things interesting in such a minimal environment. On Friday night, THEESatisfaction showed a total command of their craft, never allowing their austere presentation to overshadow the richness of their creative vision.