Gig Review – Thundercat at Heaven

There’s been so much hype around Thundercat recently, and it’s definitely rubbed off on me – I’ve been following the scene with Kamasai Washington and Stephen Bruner avidly, especially after their immense achievement surrounding Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. And while I’d never actually been to the world famous Charing Cross gay club Heaven, I’d heard so much about what a great a venue it is that the Tuesday night gig was looking to be pretty special. I arrived at the venue and quickly realised I’d lost my bank card so I was looking to Thundercat to ensure this sacrifice hadn’t been in vain. Unfortunately, my expectations went unfulfilled. I can see Heaven being a great space for a DJ – but with the exhausting, never-ending wall of synthetic bass it didn’t really reach its potential.

I’m actually a fan of Thundercat. His previous albums Apocalyspe and The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam, with Flying Lotus’ production delve into experimental jazz whilst retaining cohesion and sense of narrative, and the new album Drunk is playful and entertaining. It’s just that, as a jazz musician, I thought Bruner would’ve understood the importance of space in music. Each moment of peculiarly danceable music was rudely interrupted by drive-less lounge jazz, and the novelty of video game style sounds gets dry pretty damn quickly. Everything that was good about Drunk – the quirky banality created by the meows in A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II), the overly simple takes on people’s relationship to the digital world – was masked underneath tonnes of protofunk splurge.

I’m not sure how many notes Stephen Bruner can play on his impressive six-stringed maple coloured jerk machine in the span of a second – maybe 10, maybe 15, maybe even 20 – but the conclusion I came to after an hour and a half of distracted mental arithmetic during his set was that, in all honestly, I’m not sure if I care. Throughout the performance, he awkwardly straddled shiny nuanced pop and avant-garde jazz.

So, disappointed in my desperately optimistic hopes of a guest appearance from Snoop or Kendrick, I spent most of the set marvelling at the appearance of the three performers. The keyboardist Denis Hamm provided some light entertainment, dwarfed by his stack of hefty keyboards (although since there was no notable change in the sound all night, he evidently only used one of them). On the other side of the stage was the thrashing bobblehead of Justin Brown. Credit to him, his impeccably timed intertwining rhythms occasionally blew me away. And then there was Bruner himself – a celestial figure in a flowing Adidas tunic and shiny septum piercing, every inch the modern day deity.

But it didn’t make much of a difference to the gig. Maybe I was just incredibly bitter at losing my bank card, but Thundercat played no part in lifting my spirits.

words by Nick Hann

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