Review – Thundercat Got F * cking Weird at Mission Ballroom

There has always been a certain quirk in Thundercat’s personality and online presence. His quirky sense of humor and wild anime antics seem pretty authentic and usually translates naturally into his recorded music. There is nothing traditional about the LA native, who is also one of the most renowned bassists of this generation. These characteristics were on full display last night at the Mission Ballroom, where Thundercat plunged into his own weird, maniacal world of jazz-inspired improvisation and unexpected caverns of psychedelia. Thundercat’s live performance isn’t for everyone. It’s definitely not pop music, that’s for sure. However, there is no series like Thundercat. Not even close.

Before Thundercat took to the stage with his iconic six-string semi-hollow bass guitar, rising funk-rap star Channel Tres warmed audiences up with groovy tunes, impeccable style and undeniable charm. He seemed completely at home on stage as he bounced off original tunes like “Top Down” and “Fuego” inspired by the house. His energy matched his music, which was odd but not remarkable. There were plenty of opportunities to dance and sing before Channel Tres left the stage, and audiences seemed to appreciate the light-hearted nature of his performance.

After a short intermission, the lights went out and the energy immediately transformed into an uncomfortable frenzy of loud noises and overwhelming instrumentals before Thundercat entered the stage. He made himself comfortable in the spotlight with a cup of tea and his bass guitar. Then the music got out of hand.

Picture this – you’re going 120 mph on the I-70 in a battered 1990 Firebird, painted red (of course). There are dice hanging in the rearview mirror and dodgy strangers you recently picked up on the side of the road in the backseat asking if you want drugs. This was what the Thundercat show looked like. Unpredictable, wild, quick and utterly unforgettable – bordering on sanity.

Mimicking the aesthetic of “Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas,” Thundercat rarely slowed down to come back to reality. Most of his songs started out fairly simple, groovy and melodic with a touch of left field vocals and percussion. Eventually, each song became a manic episode of deadly musical chairs. It was like getting lost in a scary episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog. For some reason there was an ominous sense of danger encompassing every trail, although perhaps unwarranted.

At the head of this schizophrenic vortex of sonic chaos were Thundercat’s insane bass solos and improvisation, backed up by his drummer and keyboardist, both of whom managed to follow the direction Thundercat decided to migrate. Despite the strangeness of this music, it was an impressive display of musical ability, to say the least. If world-class jazz musicians picked up speed for three days in a row, I imagine their music would sound exactly like that.

Thankfully, Thundercat embraced the weirdness of his music and his personality by taking a few moments to give the crowd a laugh. “Show me pictures of your cat,” he told the crowd, who joined in on the antics by showing them moving pictures of their furry animals, before playing “A Fan’s Mail”. As images of Thundercat and her cat appeared on the screen behind the group, Thundercat sang, “Meow, meow, everyone wants to be a cat.” Really, Thundercat? Do they really do it?

Of course, he performed his hit songs “Them Changes” and “Dragonball Durag”, which provided brief moments away from the chaos and set the stage for a much needed groove. These short-lived moments of tranquility directly contradicted the general anarchy of his performance, which made these songs almost sacred. The crowd clung to those brief seconds of clarity knowing that soon Thundercat would once again send them spiraling into a psychedelic jungle of unexpected sonic caverns.

If you expected an easy and relaxed listening experience before last night’s Thundercat show, you were probably shocked to discover the eerie, non-traditional nature of the performance. If you knew what to expect, you were probably still shocked. There’s no avoiding the fight-or-flight instinct that kicks in when Thundercat dives into a three-minute wild bass solo of lightning-fast key changes. The Thundercat show was high risk, high reward. If you could hold out, getting out the other side of this performance with your mind intact was worth the trip.

All photographs of Kori Hazel

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