Thundercat Revels In Homecoming Performance At The Shrine
LOS ANGELES, CA- The first time I saw Thundercat live was back in 2013 at the Echoplex. I remember standing in the middle of that venue, watching him, Dennis Hamm (keys) and Justin Brown (drums) cast a sonic spell musical mastery unto the crowd, as they themselves allowed the music they were playing to possess their souls. I stood there with my mouth agape as I watched Stephen Bruner’s (p/k/a Thundercat) fingers effortlessly manipulate the six strings on his bass with deft precision and delicateness that I had never actually seen up-close and personal before. I became a believer. I believe in Thundercat.
In 2018, Mac Miller released the album Swimming. Thundercat contributed vocals and bass on the album’s third track, “What’s The Use?” A month after Swimming was released, Mac Miller passed away. A lyric from “What’s The Use” is “It’s been a while, but I’m down ’til I’m out and it is what it is ’til it ain’t.”
In 2020, Thundercat released his fourth studio album, It Is What It Is, the title of which found inspiration in Thundercat’s last collaboration with Mac. In this instant, Thundercat found himself having to create after the death of a loved one. He had a similar experience when creating his sophomore album, Apocalypse, following the untimely death of his close friend Austin Peralta. On It Is What It Is, there are a handful of tracks that has Thundercat grieving through his melodies, the most poignant tracks are “Fair Chance” featuring Ty Doll $ign and Lil B, and the titled track, which is the last cut on the album, featuring Pedro Martins on guitar. Thundercat’s contemplative ponderings about mortality and loss are beautifully framed within his effortless artistry.
The album, however, has plenty of that trademark Thundercat personality and humor, and you can feel the good vibes come through on the funky “King of The Hill’ and “Black Qualls” or the frenetic “How Sway” or the loving tender on “Dragonball Durag”.
But a song that stood out to me was the track “I Love Louis Cole”. Louis Cole is a fellow musician who would kick off the evening’s musical offerings. The lyric of that song is basically an open love letter to one of his best friends, reminiscing about the silly things that happened “last night”. I could be off on this, but this song was poignant to me as it felt like this was Thundercat’s public expression of the idea that you can’t put off expressing your feelings to your friends. You’ve got to tell them that you love them in that moment, or the day after when can’t find your phone or shoes. Don’t take your friends for granted.
And that’s what made this show at the Shrine important for me to attend. It was billed as “Thundercat & Friends”. Thundercat was coming home and playing a gig right around the corner from his home. He wanted to celebrate his homecoming with those he holds close to his heart. He wanted to share the moment with his friends.
Louis Cole is a multi-instrumentalist is the co-founder of the group Knower; a group that I’ve been following since at least 2015. When I started delving into Louis’ solo repertoire, I found myself going down the rabbit hole of all of the videos I could find of him on YouTube. I started with the video that pushed him into the public eye, “Bank Account”, and now get overly excited whenever he drops a video on his social media.
There’s a genius to Louis’ music. It’s not only the way he flips beats on his drum kit, but it’s the instinct he has in the writing of his music. I could have guessed that he was a classically-trained jazz musician before I looked him up on Wikipedia, I mean, I literally listened to his recording “Trying Not To Die” a million times trying to understand how he made his lyrical phrasing work, his chord progressions, and even tempo. I can’t do it… but it works … and it’s a joy to listen to.
Watching him do his solo thing live is also a joy to watch. He could have played a 30-minute drum solo, and I would have been content. I think the set could have been a bit more seamless if he had some additional players to handle some of the instrumental workload. He did have a horn player on stage towards the end of his set, but I didn’t catch the name of the guy to join him on stage. Maybe it was Sam Gendel? Does anybody know?
Channel Tres, a Compton native, kept the energy up with his lively performance following Louis Cole. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting what I got.
Based on some other social media posts that I had seen; I had expected to see a 50/50 set of him DJing and rapping. What I wasn’t expecting was him to storm the stage with a cadre of dancers and busting choreographed moves all throughout his set while spitting his lyrics.
His set consisted mostly, based on what I could tell, songs from his 2018 self-titled EP (“Controller”, “Jet Black”, “Topdown” and only one song from his latest EP, i can’t go outside (“fuego”), and a couple cuts off his 2019 EP, Black Moses (“Brilliant Nigga” and “Black Moses”), and a non-album single (“Weedman”).
Having been the opening act for Thundercat for this recent tour, this was a homecoming for Channel Tres as well, and he showed out. You could feel it in his performance that he wanted everybody in the room dancing alongside with him. Mission accomplished.
Slotted in the lead-in spot for Thundercat was none other than Brainfeeder founder Flying Lotus. Not only did Flying Lotus’ label release Thundercat’s album, but he also co-executive produced It Is What It Is with Thundercat.
This performance was a bit tamer than other Flying Lotus shows I’ve been to. There were no digital 3D effects that he’s dazzled audiences with before, and there wasn’t any special laser show accompanying his music.
This time around, FlyLo just focused on the music, keeping his set loose and spacey. I enjoyed the performance, but I heard a die-hard fan in the audience tell his friend over FlyLo’s beats, “I feel like I’ve heard this set before.” I wouldn’t know as I’ve only been to a handful of FlyLo gigs, the last being in 2018, but I found myself bouncing to his moods regardless.
By the time Thundercat hit the stage, I was about as anxious as a kid in a candy store. From some reliable sources, I was given fair warning that I NEEDED to stick around until the very last note. I wasn’t planning on going anywhere, but trust me when I say that I fully prepared for plenty of Stephen’s friends to step onto the stage and “crash” the party.
The same trio that I saw at the Echoplex back in 2013 took their spots on stage and dove into the first couple of songs of It Is What It Is; “Great Scott 22 26” and “Interstellar Love”. Before hitting the third track from the album, Justin gave his drum seat to Louis Cole, and Thundercat and Louis appropriately performed “I Love Louis”. Stephen and Louis’ pearly whites gleamed from their huge smiles throughout the song.
With Louis on stage, Thundercat called upon Knower’s better half, Genevieve Artardi, to perform the banger Knower song “Overtime” (my favorite Knower song, if anyone cares).
Thundercat then took another beat to revel in the moment. He explained to the crowd how meaningful this performance was because he basically grew up around the corner and had his first performance as a kid at a much smaller venue down the street. You could sense the humility and thankfulness in his demeanor. With Justin back to man the kit, the trio whipped out another three songs from It Is What It Is (“How Sway”, “Overseas” and “Dragonball Durag”).
Now, what happened next caught me totally off guard. During the instrumental jam of “Dragonball Durag”, Este and Danielle Haim of HAIM stepped onto the stage. I’m assuming that Alana was a little busy doing press for Licorice Pizza. Now, I’m a fan of HAIM. I thought their 2020 album Women In Music Pt. III, deserved all the praise it got. It is one hell of a pop/rock album. But I didn’t realize that there was an extended version of the album with Thundercat’s bonus track of “3AM”! I bought the original vinyl pressing which did not have any bonus and extended tracks!… and no… I did not score a colored pressing of the vinyl. LOL.
Este is a pretty badass bassist who sports a wicked bass face when she’s playing, and her close friendship with Thundercat was immediately apparent as they started joking around on stage suggesting an intimate relationship and other naughty tidbits. Thundercat announced that “Me and Este are the same person,” then they started performing their version “3 AM”.
During the performance, however, Este must have lost track of what was on stage, as she ended up taking what looked like a pretty hard tumble over a stage monitor. The crowd audibly gasped, but Este shook it off and finished the song like a champ, throwing in a few jokes as the song rounded out to its finish.
Before HAIM left the stage, Thundercat shared that he had a similar experience on a video shoot he was once on with Este before and hurt his own “gooche”, and Este in good spirits despite the fall, laughed it out hoping that somebody had a good video of the event and proclaiming, “I just ate shit in front of 7,500 people,” to a crowd that cheered in support of her good humor.
After HAIM left the stage, Thundercat played “Existential Dread” and “Black Gold” from Flying Lotus’ album Yasuke which had FlyLo join them on stage for the performance.
Then Thundercat called Ty Dolla $ign to the stage. Thundercat took a moment to acknowledge his deep feelings about Mac Miller, and also reminisced about his friend Austin Peralta, whose untimely death occurred prior to Apocalypse. They then performed “Fair Chance”, Ty and Thundercat’s tribute to Mac, and appropriately segued into “A Message for Austin”.
They then honored Chick Corea’s life, who passed away earlier this year in February, with their rendition of Chick’s “Humpty Dumpty” which they called “U Have To Be Odd” which then morphed into Chick’s “Fusion Blues (Got A Match?)”. Thundercat went out of his way to emphasize the importance of Chick’s influence not only on music generally but also on them as individual musicians.
Thundercat then went back to his own repertoire, throwing it back to 2015 with a performance of “Lone Wolf & Cub” and 2016 with “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)”.
Thundercat saved the heavy hitters for his final three songs. He invited another Compton native, Steve Lacy to join him on stage for a performance of “Black Qualls”. Steve is a Grammy-nominated guitarist (once nominated for his work with the Internet (Ego Death), and once nominated for his own solo album (Apollo XXI). His funk-infused musicality gave “Black Qualls” that little extra “oomph” live. They then continued to play a cover of Mac Miller’s “What’s the Use”.
More genius joined Thundercat and Steve up on stage in the form of the Grammy-nominated saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Together they all played “Them Changes” before closing the evening with the funked-out version of “Funny Thing”. As Thundercat, sang the hook “I just wanted to party with you,” you could see hands clapping in the air and bodies moving the infectious groove. It was already way past curfew, but you knew that if it was allowed, the party would have kept going way past bedtime. Just a room full of friends soaking in the moment, and relishing the fact whatever way it went, It Is What It Is, and everything would be alright as long as you went with friends.
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