Space Catby Rob Scher / 04.12.2013
There he was, a living maestro in a flea-bitten wide brim hat and burnt orange scarf, the six-string Ibanez bass – a natural extension of his person. The reason I’d toiled to live in this country. This experience, an embodiment of the immense privilege to live in a city where on a casual Monday night in the hipster-going-on-trendy Brooklyn suburb of Williamsburg, Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat plays his music to an enraptured crowd.
Listening to Flying Lotus’ 2010 astral masterpiece Cosmogramma LP, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the breakneck speed basslines as the product of a computer. Given FlyLo’s seamless production it came as a pleasant surprise to discover a human responsible for the deep grooves massaging my ear canals. His mystique grew around his name – Thundercat – a reference to a show harkening to an era when animals plus space equalled kids entertainment.
On his 2011 debut The Golden Age of Apocalypse Thundercat moved beyond session bassist, recording for artists the likes of Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg. This album was his smooth as fuck artist’s statement. Music the actual Thundercats listened to traversing the galaxy – retro-futurist soul, funk, jazz – real spacecat stuff.
His head threatens to roll off his shoulders at any moment. Lost in a blissful trance, a beaming Thundercat frantically bobs as he delivers what’s going on a five minute bass walk (closer to a run) and it’s only his first song. It’s the best kind of indulgence, one you never quite find yourself wanting to end as we travel with him, not quite sure of the direction but safe in the knowledge that the smiling man in the hat knows where he’s taking us. A packed Williamsburg Hall of Music, awash with beanies and plaid, bursts in shouts of praise when his blurred fingers finally relent.
It’s not all frenetic bass though. A soulful rendition of George Duke’s 1975 falsetto funk joint, ‘For Love (I come your friend)’, is striped down from the original song to its core components – bass, keys, vocals and drums – easing the harshest of critics who might try labelling him a fret basher.
The loss of the sparse Rhodes piano chords that so defined this cover back on Golden Age is felt now. Band mate, keys virtuoso and friend, Austin Peralta’s tragic passing has permeated the music, a physical presence lingering in the more personal and self-reflexive tone of the music Thundercat performs off this year’s earlier release – Apocalypse.
“Walking through the forest, straight tripping in the darkness,” sings Thundercat on his next song. Not much lyrical interpretation needed here: “Straight up seeing Goblins, we don’t need to be frightened.” We share in this reverie of a day well spent with a friend, nicknamed the Jondy, who passed too soon. “Nighttimes turn to daydreams, then in walks in the Jondy.”
Thundercat’s gone places. A mind well explored, his music all the better for it as he wanders, eyes closed, head once again bobbing, blissfully lost. Fortunately, Ronald Bruner Jr. is on drums and at a moments notice, brings his brother back into the room.
Unfortunately we’re all bought back into the room eventually. The applause is genuine, Thundercat extending his arm and high-fiving outstretched fingers desperate to make contact with those magic hands. Outside in the cold of the street, a long way from home, I’ve been reminded why I’m here.
* Images © Phinestro Robert