w/ Orchestra of Spheres and Thanks
San Francisco Bathhouse, Wellington
Wednesday 3 February 2016
Thundercat is the stage name of virtuoso Stephen Bruner, most famously known for his work playing bass with acts such as Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Suicidal Tendancies and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. None of these are acts that I listen to often, including Bruner’s own music, but I knew that it would be foolish to miss this show. Why? Because Thundercat has a reputation for being insanely good at playing the bass guitar, and with that much talent, the show promised to be good regardless of what he played.
Thundercat songs are smooth, soulful R&B styled tunes sung in falsetto. Bruner played his six string bass like a guitar, eliciting mellow tones that juxtaposed beautifully against his high singing voice. Jazzy, bluesy, and eccentric all in one, the vibrant fusion songs pulsated and writhed as the three musos onstage played off each other. They would coast along nicely, before breaking loose into chaotic tangents and solos that showcased the talents of the trio playing.
Bruner was at home on stage. He wore an unassuming black tshirt and pants, with a red five panel hat showing a Japanese flag on his head, and white Birkenstock sandals and long grey socks on his feet. He would approach the mic for banter, pause, and just giggle to himself before gaining composure to say something. He discussed the merits of drinking water, having recently sworn off alcohol. He also dedicated a song to Peter Jackson, commenting on the Lord of The Rings installations he had seen at Wellington Airport. “What would you do if you actually saw an eagle that big?” he asked, before giggling and answering himself: “Die. Just die”.
He would hunch his shoulders forward and grimace with his eyes closed as he played. Hands like thick legged spiders scurried up and down his fretboard with finesse, churning out the groovy dancing melodies. He usually either bobbed up and down on the spot, or did a stationary strut, like a cocky rooster nodding it’s neck back and forward.
Like Mitch Mitchell (of Jimi Hendrix fame), drummer Justin Brown not only held his own, but sometimes overshadowed his frontman. Having two snare drums allowed him to play both open handed and cross handed with ease, not that having just the one snare would have slowed him down at all. He coloured the sound with lightning quick fills and busy ghost notes, tirelessly playing with unmatchable energy and talent. The one slip-up I noticed was met with applause, as he lost grip of his drumstick and dropped it, only to pick up a spare and continue without missing a beat. As a drummer myself, I rate Brown as one of the most impressive drummers I’ve seen live, on par with The Mars Volta’s Thomas Pridgen.
Dennis Hamm rounded out the sound on the keys, giving more treble to a mix dominated by low-end. His spacey effects added to the swirly cosmic sound. The three were clearly well rehearsed, but you could tell that they had flexibility in their playing, because now and again Brown or Hamm would play something that sent Bruner into small fits of laughter over how monstrously talented they were.
I attended the sold-out show expecting to be impressed by some slick playing. Well, I got that in spades. Awe-inspiring, mind-blowing – choose a hyperbole and it probably applies. I expected to see a world class musician show me his skills. Not only did I get that, but he had a world class drummer and keyboard player to match.
The above video was uploaded by In The Nick Of The Rhyme, another new Wellington based music site. As you can see, Thundercat kept punters happy by playing some Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus material.