There is never a shortage of funk-face when Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner performs.
From the jump, there was a light emanating – just beaming – from the Grammy Award-winning virtuoso’s face to his sold-out show sold-out at Warfield last Wednesday. For nearly two hours he sang and shredded on his trademark Ibanez six-string bass guitar, backed by Dennis Hamm on keyboards and Justin Brown on drums.
Dressed in her iconic outfit from the anime, Bruner felt a breath of heavily scented and kush-enhanced air. “I know I’m in San Francisco for sure,” he teased the crowd. The whole room burst a bowel.
But once these artists broke into the heavenly gossamer of “Great Scott / 22-26”, the first track on Thundercat’s Grammy album It’s like that, all jokes have been paused.
Intensity with eyes closed, a vision of inner joy exposed. Bruner shared these moments candidly with his audience, while performing math-rock patterns on his transcendent bass. It was the bare truth, giving all participants the opportunity to connect.
A transition followed in the thunderous “Interstellar Love,” the first big-sounding jazz arrangement of the evening serving as a pointer to her show’s old Thundie packs.
Twenty-five percent of customers came dressed in end-of-season Halloween costumes. (Who knew young elves, ram’s horns, and hobbits dig fusion?) This was an energetic rave riding ready to show up for a party. While some older heads (aHEM) were just waiting funk to prepare to ride.
All the assistants clung to the rocket. With Bruner in the front and in the center, communication through a smile. looks and nods at Hamm and Brown, the power trio locked in and connected to the legacy of pioneers George Duke, Chick Corea, Rush (that’s right, damn I said Rush) Stanley Clarke, Herbie Hancock and Jaco Pastorius.
There was also the adventurous nature of Bruner’s experimental house label, Brainfeeder. Founded and directed by the same-idea artist and longtime writing partner, Flying Lotus, the imprint counts Bruner as a cornerstone, having released all four albums (2011’s The Golden Age of Revelation, 2013 apocalypse, 2017 Drunk, and 2020 It’s like that—The latter won the award for Best Progressive R&B Album at the 63rd Grammys)
But make no mistake, to acquire this golden material you must have success.
So, between asking the crowd to show him pictures of their cats on their phones, questioning their favorite anime characters, and vocally congratulating his friend and fellow Brainfeeder artist Louis Cole, Bruner shared the story of his mega-hit. “Dragon Ball Durag. His providence leads him to date a British woman who knew nothing about the silk bonnet on her head. But she dug it.
With this atmosphere, it was singing for a long time. He sang in characteristic falsetto, “I might be covered in cat hair” and the crowd yelled back – on time, mind you – “But I still smell good.”
This audience could feel it, dancing, swaying, rising and falling like those children animated by Charlie Brown. The scene was a good representation of the current musical movement, a renaissance that has found its center over the past 15 years in Los Angeles. There is an exciting amalgamation of soul, funk, jazz, fusion, EDM, hip-hop, indie, experimental. The Los Angelenos are blazing new trails. In addition to Bruner’s early work as a member of Suicidal Tendencies (the fathers of the crossover thrash), he also played bass in Erykah Badu’s band and took part in Kendrick Lamar’s classic album. To pimp a butterfly. As a result of this latest achievement, Bruner won a Grammy, for his collaboration on the track “These Walls”. But despite this impressive CV, Bruner is decidedly a jazz musician first and foremost.
In a breathtaking tribute to the late jazz-fusion master Chick Corea, who performed, the band took over “You must be oddAnd “Got A Match,” two obscure choices that still got the crowd to a thunderous standing ovation. They offered low-key functionality to keyboardist Hamm – who brought in the vibrations of Jan Hammer and Joe Zawinul all night long – and Brown on drums, compiling and coloring in pockets, pushing and pulling the swing. These tracks triggered the portal to the time machine. Maybe he’s lost some of the young ram’s horns, but he’s won over the kids, putting Instagram Stories recording on hiatus. Remember: you have to understand something before you think about it.
Get back to that funk head? See it not just as an essential part of the movement. It’s cultural.