The excitement was palpable as the hooting and hollering crowd awaited Stephen Brunner A.K.A. Thundercat to come on stage. In a strange twist of events, Brunner’s Saturday night stop was the sleepy hamlet Bellingham, Washington, and we, the denizens of this tiny corner of the world, were just about to lose our heads in anticipation.
The tall, industrial ceiling of Wild Buffalo, the night’s predictably shadowy venue, hung with Bellingham’s blue and green flag and a suspiciously realistic mounted buffalo head, was tonight awash in red light. Its corners reverberated with drunken conversation and a high falsetto singing “Them Changes,” Thundercat’s best known solo track. This show was one of the first in a tour celebrating Brunner’s soon to be released album Drunk, and we thought it only right that we be intoxicated. But it was another kind of intoxicant that swept me away into the great musical beyond that night, and it came in the form of bass licks.
And man, does Thundercat lick. It only takes looking at him to realize this, as he plays a custom 6-string Ibanez with a pickup the size of his face, his face the eternal musician’s mask somewhere between ecstasy and pain. Let us also not forget the musicians who played next to Brunner, the versatile and hypnotic Dennis Hamm on keys, and Justin Brown, the jazzy drum-shredder. These three had obviously been playing together for a long time, as they had the air of lovers who anticipate the every move of their partner(s). They sweated music, and we, the crowd, fed from it.
In the studio, Thundercat’s sound is concise enough to fit into tracks of 5 minutes or less. Saturday’s show departed from this architecture, each song stretching into complex, winding solos layered one over another. Recognizable melodies surfaced–a certain bone-buzzing bass groove here, a Kendrick-inspired lyric there–only to be swallowed and expanded into wild variations and fills. It can be hard for casual listeners to dig this jazzy stuff, but nothing was going to get between Brunner’s mighty Thunder bass and us, even if that meant getting technical. So we got technical, and that night I dreamed in arpeggios.
Thank you for coming to Bellingham, Stephen Brunner and posse. We loved you, and I hope you felt it.