Bassist Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner can be a charming dude. He is quick with a goofy joke and has an enviable love of mischief. As a frontman, not all of that goofiness comes across, which is too bad but forgivable. His new Brainfeeder album, Apocalypse, is due out on Tuesday and is loaded with a summer's worth of party jams.
It also has a fair amount of grief. Partner-in-crime and keyboardist Austin Peralta passed away late last November, leaving a large hole both spiritually and musically for those who had the fortune of hearing him. Peralta's spirit was a presence throughout Thundercat's homecoming/record release party Saturday night.
Dressed in his intergalactic cowboy garb with a poncho draped over gold reptilian chainmail, Thundercat was the eccentric virtuoso of his billing. He opened his set singing in a falsetto while wielding his sitar-sized electric bass. He let that instrument do most of the talking, often segueing between tunes without a pause. Backed by sprightly keyboardist Dennis Hamm and the freight train thump of drummer Thomas Pridgen, the trio offered a lot of intense instrumental noodling that occasionally found the audience's attention drifting.
On more than one tune, during solo performances, Thundercat throttled the neck of his immense electric bass for a display of mastery. He pounded his instrument with a rapid-fire thrust. Who else could get away with working Bach licks and jolting "Freedom Jazz Dance" riffs seconds apart? Who else could riff on the opening notes of the Star Trek theme while flanked by two roaring instrumentalists? Thundercat is scoring the light saber battles of his mind.
Many in the audience stood in disbelief at his presentation, grappling with his blend of bedroom funk, Eddie Hazel-style freakouts and crushing band interplay. Even after we'd been promised two more tunes, the powers that be tapped their watch, leaving Thundercat unable to play the lead single from his new work, "Oh Sheit, It's X." It should've been the tune to tie all of Thundercat's strengths into one crowd-friendly jam: tight grooves, falsetto hooks and a lyrical homage to a spinal-fluid draining party favor. Oh well.
Dressed in a bulky military jacket, producer/laptop manipulator Flying Lotus hit the stage with less than an hour and a half before the club was going to kick the crowd onto the Sunset Strip. Backpack-wearing Berkeley kids spastically grooved, and would have benefited from pairs of juggling sticks. Crying girls and South Boston jabronies fought for floor space and clear sightlines while summer flings were initiated near to the sound man.
The visual component that accompanies Flying Lotus' set is, for lack of a better phrase, mind-blowing. Placed between two projection screens, Lotus mans his table appearing like he's riding on a shadowy roller coaster through spiraling fractals and intergalactic air conditioning ducts.
He can control a crowd like few others, dropping in whirring feedback and rumbling explosions, summoning an entranced wave from the crowd. Rhythm and momentum push the sound into a heaving mass just shy of a panic attack. That momentum was only halted when Lotus attempted to walk around those screens to rap, taking a dozen steps in shadow to appear and disappear. The first time he did it, he offered up a capella rhymes that may have harshed a few mellows. By the time he was wrapping up his set with an appearance as his rap persona Captain Murphy, he was ebbing and flowing with his propulsive creation to deliver sinister verses.
Much like Thundercat's performance, Flying Lotus got the hook just as he was getting going. Many in the audience could've danced til dawn. Just as many could've used a bottle of water and a healthy dose of fresh air.
Personal Bias: Even fifteen years ago it was pretty clear Stephen Bruner was going to do some cool stuff.
The Crowd:Youthful, sweaty, unblinking.
Random Notebook Dump:How can someone pogo while taking video and enjoy either of those experiences? Lots of convincing arguments at the show for creating cellphones with less storage capacity.