This Thundercat article was written by Kevin Browne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Adam Skirving.
Thundercat (real name Stephen Bruner) was one of those artists that always managed to subtly creep into everyone’s mellow/chill-out Spotify playlist with few taking notice until recently. Although not considered a luminary figure in the urban music realm, Bruner was always the unaccredited prodigy behind the scenes by contributing to such artists as Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu, and being a driving force behind Kendrick Lemar’s seminal ‘To Pimp a Butterfly.’
What is indisputable is Thundercat’s ingenious blend of alternative neo-jazz, hip-hop, RnB and electronica is starting to make some serious waves. The crest of such waves bringing him to Dublin’s intimate, rouge tinted Sugar Club for the second consecutive night due to overwhelming demand. The setting could not be more idyllic; a cabaret club with an amphitheatre structure that plays host to jazz-lovers whilst also pertaining to more contemporary club goers.
Bruner takes to the stage sporting a pair of Dragon Ball Z style shoulder pads looking like some sort of cosmic warrior of funk. Whilst taking a short time to set up, he temporarily amuses the crowd with his eccentric banter. After pulling a few juvenile faces and making flatulent noises with his huge surf-board sized bass, Bruner glides into the top drawer falsetto of ‘Tron Song’.
Smoother Thundercat songs, such as ‘Lotus and the Jondy’ and ‘Lone Wolf and Cub,’ begin rather elementary, before they elongate into meticulous and grand instrumental jazz arrangements. Bruner’s finger picking is as expeditious as a sewing machine, whilst drummer Justin Brown sporadically fires his incendiary machine gun beats until he is perforated with sweat. All the while keyboardist Dennis Hamm provides a phantasmagorical flavour with his scintillating playing.
Crowd favourites ‘Oh Sheit It’s X’ and ‘Them Changes’ temporarily transform this jazzy joint into a nightclub; with people jumping from their tables and charging straight to the front of the stage. Despite playing slightly stripped back renditions of his tracks, ‘Heartbreaks + Setbacks’ proves to get the greatest response with the crowd joyously singing along to every word, whilst bobbing and swinging in unison. Each song seamlessly blends into the next; causing mild confusion, but no hindrance of enjoyment to the packed out venue.
During quieter tracks there are pregnant pauses. It becomes clear this crowd is full of Thundercat fanatics; they know each song religiously. They know the end when they hear it, and so they respect these moments of silence. They are sacred. Not a single person cheers or claps; not until they’re given the cue, then they lose their minds.
The show’s encore ends on a rather tender note with the track ‘Without You’, but it is by no means anti-climactic. It serves as more of a gentle lullaby to send us off, a hymn of love and peace before the crowd parts their separate ways.
Rarely does a musician display such mastery over their respective instrument, that, in a fleeting moment, one could actually mistake it for an actual part of their anatomy. Bruner’s gigantic six string bass temporarily becomes his third arm. While Bruner himself is widely considered a virtuoso, the performance is arranged in such a way that each band member can display their respective jaw-dropping capabilities.
Thundercat is a truly rare breed of feline, one that knows the real meaning of virtuosity whilst remaining humble and not shoving it in your face. His live shows are an incredibly precious sight to behold, and my advice would be to pounce on any chance to see his show like a cat on a laser pen dot.