“When it rains it pours…”
By Ben Magana
Stephen Bruner is a thirtysomething artist that goes by the professional name of Thundercat, and he is a hell of a bass player amongst anything, to begin with. At their latest gig in San Diego at North Park Observatory, Thundercat displayed the commanding authority they have proven on the contemporaneous music scene through their impeccable third album, Drunk, released early this year. The album was a full collaboration in both songwriting and production with maverick producer/artist Flying Lotus. The album (its vinyl release is a delightful 4-10’ 45-speed discs on a Vaporwave-inspired artwork featuring lots of gold and technicolor felines. The music is a journey across a timeless landscape that appears to morph with each pluck Thundercat himself executes on his six-string electroacoustic Ibanez bass guitar. Across tales of an approval of everyone’s hatred of friend-zones, everybody’s secret envy against cats and a plea from the musician’s help to some of his heroes, literally, being these 70’s pop icons Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. Over the way the album presents such detours on which versatile performances by such current artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell and Wiz Khalifa. A groove-based set of twenty-odd songs, it definitely is among the best albums of the year, if not the decade.
The main DJ from Los Angeles’ club The Low-End Theory delivered an engaging opening DJ-Set (in vinyl, mind you) where he set a party charged mood over the sold-out crowd that rapidly gathered. Upon Thundercat’s arrival upon that stage the crowd went wild and thus he quietly uttered the five words that kickstart Drunk and mayhem ensued in the audience. As usual in all recent concerts I have attended, none of which has been a rock concert as I have frequented more Hip-Hop and R&B music in the last few years, a thunderous mosh pit gathered beside me, as I was on the front-right side. Thundercat had two musicians with him: a keyboard player whose name I do no recall, but he had a stack that included an old Moog synth, a current huge Korg and a Yamaha electric piano. The other musician, the drummer Louis Cole, was a human drum sequencer, as he was armed with a totally acoustic drum set and sounded like any Ableton Live beat anybody could concoct. Some time over an hour after they begun their astral set of music, where many of the tracks were elongated into real moments of Bebop between the three musicians, creating a vibrant delivery of scales in fast velocity that for moments entranced the audience and caused even the last skeptic to embrace the soothing virtuosity coming across from those speakers upon us.
The musicians left the stage and we, I was clapping hard and yelling for more as well, clamored incessantly. The guys returned shortly and went into a 10-minute Bebop jam that left us once again in a state of zonked paralysis even if fully sober, which I was. Lots of pot was smoked inside, the crowd was mostly people in their twenties and although I was among the audience, there was a lot in intercommunication between us and the band, a feeling that has survived the turbulent times we are in, and on the contrary, there was a feeling of union and goodwill among everyone, all through the wonderful music we all stumbled across. As the show ended and I got to digest the experience, it was clear that Thundercat and his two musical sidekicks on this tour carried a torch that was once carried by rock musicians of the past. In one of his wry and sometimes humorous banter in-between songs, Bruner commented on how the video of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun made him and his brothers storm the TV set, being that the show was played the day after Chris Cornell passed. This to me was symbolic over anything else, that this is our time, where musicianship and showmanship, worked with what were once rock instruments, this magic sound that keeps us going. Excuse me, I gotta go play the “Drunk” record again.