Thundercast at the Sugar Club, Dublin on Friday 4th of October 2013
Thundercat is something of a superhero, much like the characters of the kid’s cartoon that is his namesake. He dresses like some intergalactic enforcer of funk and his virtuoso abilities and cosmic aesthetic appear all over some of the more exciting left-field jazz, electronic and hip-hop records as of late, particularly LA’s Brainfeeder imprint.
He is also one of those rare animals: a virtuoso who does not box you about the ears with his virtuosity. Before people even enter the venue, the audience can see Stephen Bruner (aka Thundercat), a large man with large hair and a broad smile in a tight red sweater, leaning on the guardrail outside and chatting with the bouncer. He is a gregarious fellow, and is happy to chat a moment to fans making their way into the intimate, warm vibe of The Sugar Club.
Before the show we are treated to a grainy documentary – briefly interrupted by a fugitive fire alarm – about Bruner, following him around LA and chatting with friends such as Flying Lotus and Erykah Badu, highlighting the headliner’s extensive rolodex of collaborators. Opening act Butter churn out a solid set, and are a good primer for Thundercat’s jazz inflections, with raging but concise sax leads, paired wonderfully with airy vocals that meander soulfully along the band’s chilled-grooves. A band to keep an eye on.
Thundercat comes on after eleven, and sports the strikingly sparse instrumentation of Bruner flanked on either side by drums and keys. Once they kick off though, it is clear how this suits the spacey, sonic template of Thundercat’s studio offerings. The set opens with Fleer Ultra from 2011’s ‘Golden Age of Apocalypse’, followed by Daylight, which rises wonderfully into a raucous solo that has pockets of the audience, who probably came expecting more conventional electronic bangers, visibly befuddled. Any reservations are shortly dispelled, though, by the sheer force of the musicianship on display.
Bruner’s basswork is something to behold; shredding down to the high notes with striking, emotive punch; clawing smooth, high bends from his six string bass, which appears more like a guitar built for someone twelve feet tall.
Tron Song, one of Bruner’s finest vocal performances, is brilliantly delivered. All the more for the drummer’s able interpretations of one the record’s more quintessentially Flying-Lotus-y beats. Throughout the set the percussion perfectly tows the line between meandering jazz fills and rendering the songs – particularly the more subdued ticking-kickdrum beats – danceable.
The mantra n’ rhythm of Seasons sets the audience moving for the set’s final act. The restrained fit of Seven is followed by Lotus and the Jondy, a toe tapper with Thundercat beaming a smile as he sings of “straight trippin’, seein’ goblins” and giving a shout out to the late Austin Peralta, all before launching into the free-jazz freak-out of ‘Apocalypse’s centrepiece.
The sparser set up makes itself most evident towards the set’s close with the more accessible cuts, Heartbreaks + Setbacks, and Oh Sheeit it’s X, both arriving at the set’s end, the latter as encore. The absence of the former’s squeaky sample and X‘s noticeably less searing synth are forgiven for the sheer energy put into these renditions; Bruner’s manic grin and frantic fingerwork propelled by a rapturous audience response. With the hits put to bed, Bruner gives a final goodbye and announces his intention to hang out for a few pints; a down to earth guy, dispensing out-of-this-world music.