The hype around Grammy winning artist Thundercat—aka singer-songwriter and bass player Stephen Bruner—doesn’t carry the usual connotations of the word “hype.” Sometimes hype is just that, hype, and often doesn’t live up to expectations. This is not true with Thundercat. Bruner is one of the best bass players in the game. Not to mention one of the most sought after, collaborating with artists spanning many genres including Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Suicidal Tendencies, Kamasi Washington, Erykah Badu, Young Jazz Giants and Childish Gambino to name a few.
Bruner stepped onto the stage in Denver on Feb. 22 toting his beautiful golden, hollow body six string bass that he plays like, well…a six string bass. It’s a different beast than a standard four string. The neck is huge and the tuning is obviously slightly different, but he makes playing chords and ripping solos look effortless. Adding to his top-notch low-end prowess, he possesses an astute, idiosyncratic way of looking at the world that makes for songwriting that is fresh and funky. Not to mention he is a great singer, a true triple threat. It was no wonder he sold out the Bluebird Theater on Wednesday night; it wasn’t an isolated incident.
Bruner stopped into the Bluebird just a few days before his new album Drunk is set for release. But the bass player opened up with the jazzy “Tron Song” from his 2013 album Apocalypse. Thundercat had the crowd from that point on. Playing his six string with killer chords, impossible arpeggios, and soaring solos that sound like a crunchy guitar but with the basement and funky flair of a bass. His band is stellar too. A stripped down trio of keys that swirl around the bass, and drummer Justin Brown has a controlled Keith Moon chaos while also keeping a solid foundation. The trio embodies the mantra less is more. But you can’t tell, which is the whole point of the adage. They sound like a five-piece band.
Thundercat is an unconventional bass player and songwriter in every sense. He doesn’t ever play with a pick, although it sounds like he does. This indicates a very nimble two-finger technique. He places his foot pedals on a table and hits them with his hand while still seemingly working magic. His solos are, to put it simply, mind-blowing (see below). He didn’t have to say much but interacted with the crowd perfectly. At one point he called out somebody’s shirt (“Nice shirt, dude”) or getting the audience to throw up peace signs. The hands were in the air when he played his latest single, “Friend Zone,” and then announced that he would play a few new songs from Drunk, including the title track. Drunk track “Them Changes” had the crowd bumping. So did his collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” from K-Dot’s critically acclaimed album To Pimp A Butterfly, which featured Brown’s own bosa nova flair. “Complexion” also saw an amazing bass solo followed by an equally impressive drum solo.
Even though Bruner had some technical difficulties with a weird “alien frequency” (his words) coming from his amp, which he shrugged off and shredded away, Thundercat busted out another crowd pleaser with “Lotus and the Jondy.” “Oh Sheit, It’s X” energetically closed out the set and had everybody wanting more. The band encored with “Daylight” and there certainly wasn’t a dour face as the crowd dispersed out into the unseasonably warm Colorado night. Adding to the excitement, Bruner ran past his departing fans to sign autographs. A class act all around. Be sure to check out our amazing photo gallery above and a video of a pretty nasty bass solo below.
Thundercat will be performing at Coachella on Saturday April 15 & 22. You don’t want to miss his set.