THUNDERCAT @ THE GLASS HOUSE
Photos by Maximilian Ho Words by Madison Desler
The lion may be the king of the jungle but it was Thundercat (aka bass player extraordinaire Stephen Bruner) who ruled over the very humid Glass House last night. In a room so goddamn hot that our wristbands were disintegrating on our arms, we experienced over two hours of what one might imagine an astral projection feels like—being taken out of our very sweaty bodies, and up to the stars.
Wearing red basketball shorts and an “LA” baseball hat, Bruner strikes an unassuming pose—a slacker, ramen-eating nerd who happens to be one of the coolest, most widely-praised musicians in the game today. After high-profile collaborations with Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu, and Kendrick Lamar, Bruner has come into his own with Drunk—his third solo album and an impressive exploration of fusion music. His tasty cocktail of jazz, funk, soul, hip-hop, and soft-rock has won him legions of fans across genre borders, drawing music lovers to him like a tractor beam.
After launching into the album intro, “Rabbot Ho” and the skittery “Tron Song” Bruner paused to tell us his voice was still recovering, “So you may hear me sound like a strangled cat.” An unnecessary warning considering his luscious, perfect-pitch falsetto held up just fine for the duration.
The vibe at a Thundercat show is mellow, inviting, and warm. He’s prone to getting a big, goofy smile on his face—like when he got the crowd to “meow” with him during “A Fan’s Mail”—and likes to tell the audience he loves them in the middle of songs. Bruner has a special charisma that injects his shows with the energy of a punk or hip-hop concert, something that may be a first in the world of jazz-funk-soul fusion. During “These Walls”—a particularly yachty cut off of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly which Bruner contributed greatly to—the whole pit was jumping up and down with their hands in the air.
Highlights included “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” off of Apocalypse, the fat funk of “Them Changes” which the crowd recognized as soon as they heard the opening hi-hat, and Bruner’s signature song “Friend Zone” a vivid, petty lament that’s so relatable, slightly wasted sad-boys were calling out for it from the beginning of the set.
Bruner’s songs are incredible, his voice—angelic, but it’s the bass playing that makes this man a revelation. At times he stands perfectly still, eyes closed, his fingers the only movement, flying through 16th-note bebop runs with the kind of grace and misleading ease typically reserved for the harp or sitar—instruments of the most sacred, spiritual nature. Other times, he hunkers his neck down into his shoulders, bobbing his head like a chicken as he sets his fretboard on fire. His weapon of choice? A custom, six-string, Ibanzez Artcore with a neck so massive, it looks like he’s wrapping his hands around the trunk of a maple tree.
There’s loads of improv, but Bruner picks his spots, stretching out on spacier cuts like “Lone Wolf + Cub” and a dreamy, slowed-down take on Lamar’s “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” before keeping it moving with under two-minute tracks like “3AM” and “Drunk”—quelling any danger of the noodling getting tedious.
With songs about his beloved cat, being high on ecstasy, and all the money he’s going to blow on anime, any of his music’s jazz-world inaccessibility is scrubbed away. You may not be able to break down how difficult that bass line that you’re grooving to is, but you damn well know what it’s like to be stuck in the friend zone, or to forget your wallet at the club. This carries over to his live performance. A virtuoso for our times, he’s an otherworldly musician who will leave your jaw on the floor with a solo, then make a fart noise into the mic. It was before playing “Bus In These Streets” that he encouraged concert-goers to “talk shit” on Twitter. In other words, a Thundercat show is a party, and everyone is invited.