Thundercat - Live At The Crocodile: Review
Tue, 15 Dec 2015 12:00:42
(October 6th, Seattle, WA) Draped in a coyote fur headdress and wearing a Mortal Kombat t-shirt, Thundercat wielded a hefty six-string bass at the edge of the stage at The Crocodile. He looked a post-apocalyptic warrior, or at least an avatar from Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. But the minute he started playing "Hard Times" from his latest EP, The Beyond/Where The Giants Room, the room was filled with his swooning bass tones and effervescent tenor vocals.
The moniker of bassist Stephen Bruner, Thundercat has been a major utility player in a new revival of jazz and funk in hip-hop and electronic music. He's recorded countless times alongside his friend Flying Lotus and plays bass on the majority of Kendrick Lamar's critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly as well as Kamasi Washington's jazz opus The Epic. On each project, his presence elevates the players and sounds around him. His watery bass tones are distinct, infusing the tracks with his deft funk sensibilities. But Bruner isn't limited to being part of the accompaniment. Over the past few years he's built up a formidable solo catalog and built up a reputation of his own – as evidenced by the sold out crowd at The Crocodile.
There's a reason Bruner is so sought after. Watching his fingers glide across the fretboard is completely captivating. In his hands, the bass can be a lead instrument without losing that low and guttural sound that makes the instrument so distinct. Backed by a drummer and a keyboardist, the trio creates dense and complex arrangements. The three are completely locked in, transitioning seamlessly from "Hard Times" to "Song for the Dead".
When the band jumps into "Them Changes", perhaps the funkiest of Bruner's new material, the crowd almost immediately starts bobbing their bodies in synch. The dripping bass lines seem to capture that indescribable sense of groove, hypnotizing everyone in its vicinity. Even when the song breaks for piano flourishes and vocal improvisations, everyone is kept under Bruner's spell.
It's a similar reaction, if not greater, when he starts playing Lamar's "Complexion". Even without Lamar's immaculate flow on the track, Bruner is able to capture all the drama and weight the song carries. The band explore the song to its furthest recesses, playing rapid fire licks and expanding the track into a full jam session.
Bruner's mission seems to be one of drawing attention to these neglected genres, but it's also a mission of love. During "Heartbreaks + Setbacks" he lifts his arms away from his bass to throw up heart and peace symbols to the audience. Ending his encore set with a snippet from "A Message For Austin/Praise The Lord/Enter The Void" asserted this notion as well, blissfully singing "I know I'll see you again in another life/Thank you for sharing your love and your life." Thundercat exists in different realms and in different forms for different fans, but as his Seattle set showcased, his talent and love for the music is the transcendent thread connecting them all.
—The ARTISTdirect Staff
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