LOS ANGELES, CA— You’d think that a 16-minute mini-album wouldn’t be worth a three-month tour.
You’d think that after being a session musician for Erykah Badu, collaborating with Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington, shaping the sound of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butteryfly LP, and forming a supergroup with super-producer Flying Lotus, that surprise guest appearances would be essential and invaluable to such a tour. You’d be assuming that Thundercat couldn’t hold his own (or your attention) when alone on a stage. You’d be wrong.
The bass-playing singer/songwriter, born Stephen Bruner, returned home to Regent Theater on Sunday night (October 11) as the last stop on his circuit for The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam EP. Bruner wasn’t one for small talk. He didn’t pause between each song to divulge its inspiration, or to give a craving crowd-member a high-five. Save for a few "thank you’s," Bruner’s performance played out much like his albums: a journey of jazz-fused funk and psychedelic soul, all anchored by his prodigious and perfected bass playing.
Like the EP, he opened with the airy and minimalistic “Hard Times.” But from there, backed by his drummer brother Ronald (a wunderkind in his own right) and Dennis Hamm on keys, the show repeatedly spun into jam sessions so shrill they had the concertgoer to my right plugging his ears with his fingers like a child at a parade and the one in front of me using actual earplugs to drown out what, it seems, was just too much of a good thing.
By song two, “Song for the Dead,” the three men had already engaged in a convoluted and climactic battle of friendly fire: The keyboard reaching its piercing point, the cymbals clashed relentless and unforgivingly. On “Tron Song,” Bruner hunched over his instrument, bopping suddenly with each strum, entirely in sync with a fan’s head-banging. And though they sped the tempo up for the already feel-good “Them Changes,” its globs of wiggly bass remained intact. Brother Ronald reveled in the scene-stealing drum solo from “Lotus and the Jondy”and Hamm scaled his keyboard into hypnotic oblivion on “Daylight” before moving to more melodic piano keys for a cover of Lamar’s “Complexion” (of which Bruner was co-writer and producer).
When the cacophony quieted, however, was when Bruner could show off in other ways, vocalizing like a Motown master on “Heartbreaks + Setbacks”—a song that, despite its title, literally brought couples closer together—and showcasing his Philip Bailey-recalling falsetto everywhere else. He rightfully chose the irresistible disco party anthem that is “Oh Sheit It’s X" as his closer. When the song paused, as it always does at its two-minute mark, the crowd didn’t fail him in singing along: “Oh shit, I’m fucked up!” And though no one actually appeared to be, you could feel how the song and the triumphant performance were euphoric enough to get you feeling that way.