Concert Reivew: Thundercat Stepping Forth from the Shadows
By Jeffery Hallock. The Casbah. September 17th 2015.
There is a good chance that the music of Stephen Bruner, better known by his stage name Thundercat, has been playing through your speakers for months. The name might not ring any bells, but his influence was central to one of the best albums of the year thus far, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. The album took a decidedly jazzy turn away from Kendrick’s 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City and Rolling Stone places Thundercat at “the creative epicenter” of that shift.
Beyond his features and production on Kendrick’s album, Thundercat released an EP titled The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam earlier this year. The fantastic 6-track EP touches on the themes of death, longing, and loneliness- topics routinely addressed in his earlier albums as well as by friend and founder of his label Brainfeeder, Flying Lotus. The EP includes features by Flying Lotus as well as jazz legend Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Kamasi Washington (who also put out a great album titled The Epic earlier this year). On September 17th, Thundercat Played at The Casbah and demonstrated why he should be known as more than just a backup in Kendrick’s live band.
Thundercat’s music exists somewhere between the intersection of jazz-fusion, funk, and soul. During the performance, his beautiful voice floated over the deep lines of his six string bass, a hefty instrument with thick cords that Thundercat handled with amazing dexterity and fluidity. At times the music would create a dreamscape, with visions heavily influenced by the cover of The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam, where Thundercat stands silhouetted in a forest surrounded by a golden haze. At others, he would launch into full-scale funk, providing space for improvisation from his drummer or keyboardist. These solos would often turn into binary dialogues where Thundercat would play off the other musicians turning well-known songs from his albums into something wholly new, unique, and ephemeral. He also threw in some of his work more influenced by pop, such as closer “Oh Sheit It’s X”, that had every person in the sold out Casbah either singing or dancing along. The multitude of components made for a complex and layered show that had me grooving around one minute and transfixed by music the next.
While the music was exceptional, I was even more impressed by the personality and demeanor of Bruner. Coming on stage with hair going in 50 directions, orange camo pants, and an oversized sweatshirt that looked like he stole it from someone living under a bridge, he might have been the least pretentious musician I have ever seen. His face was either a welcoming smile or one of deep concentration that showed true passion for what he was doing. He laughed at himself a few times after bumbling through words between songs and handled an obnoxious drunk at the front of the stage with grace and aplomb I couldn’t comprehend managing. This was all capped off by greeting people outside the club and taking pictures with his adoring fans.
I’ve heaped somewhat hyperbolic praise on Stephen Bruner and this performance, but I wholeheartedly believe he deserves it. In a music landscape that so often conforms to what people want to hear, Thundercat is showing people something that maybe they didn’t even know they liked. This show was the first stop on a fast paced month long tour, but if you find yourself in a town where Thundercat is playing, I highly recommend you go.
Them Changes off The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNCd_ERZvZM