By Sonny Forrest
When I descended below ground to catch Thundercat play at Seattle’s Barboza on Sunday night, I had vague expectations. I expected the openers to compel my head into a mild bobbing motion. I expected the drinks to be pricey. I expected bassist Stephen Bruner, the head of the trio Thundercat, to impress me with his command of the bass guitar. Two out of my three expectations were met; the only exception was the third one, which was exceeded.
As it turns out, Bruner speaks the language of bass guitar with such fluency that his prodigious musicianship rivals bass guitar legend Victor Wooten. I’ve seen bass greats Flea, Les Claypool, and Wooten play live before (though never in the front row) and none of them dropped my jaw to the floor like Bruner. His songs, lively baby-making ballads, are strummed on his six-string Ibanez bass and flavored with a wah pedal and bubbly envelope filter. Each slow-jam track was book-ended by raucous bouts of bass shredding. Bruner’s fingers moved up and down the neck in a frenetic interpretative dance. I stood still, astounded. Watching him play made me want to simultaneously continue and quit playing bass altogether.
The trio’s musical acumen was intimidating. The rest of the three-piece band was comprised of his older brother on drums and his younger brother on keys. These two were perhaps equally phenomenal as well, but they didn’t sing lead, so (for some odd reason) they didn’t commandeer the show in the same manner as the bassist. The drummer lit up a three piece kit (bass drum, floor tom, and snare) with a tangible vengeance against bit-mapped drum pads while his brother on keys (it was his first tour with Thundercat) raced up and down the jazzy scales like he’d just been let out of a cramped box. The abandon with which all three played was liberating in its ferocity.
And all within the abbreviated venue Barboza. I’m tempted to forecast larger venues for this act in the near future. Since bassist Stephen Bruner is known to collaborate with Brainfeeder label mate and found-beats maestro Flying Lotus, it’s not too much of a stretch to expect these two acts may share the stage in one musical incarnation or another. With the perpetual onslaught of mediocre electro excreted from every corner of the Internet, it’s a relief that instrumentally-versed musicians are still plucking their way through to hungry people like me.
Check out some tracks from Thundercat and check out the video at the bottom of the post if you want to see him play bass (hint: you do):