Le Poisson Rouge is one of the most underrated New York City venues. With the ability to house 700 people while still retaining a sense of intimacy between artist and fans, LPR also stays true to its motto, “Serving art and alcohol” in all senses of the phrase. Wednesday night was a testament to everything that LPR and the NYC music scene stand for. From Red Bull Sound Select and Giant Step arose an evening of funk and jazz, of musical collaboration, and of Thundercat.
Concert Review – Thundercat at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC
Before Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat took the stage, two opening acts provided a soulful but dance-worthy atmosphere, priming the audience for the magic that was to come. Tondrae Kemp, a native of New Orleans, brought out a full band and crooned out R&B bars, even performing a genre-blending cover of Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day.” In the same attitude, but with a completely different style, ASTR came out to provide electronic funk and dance, pushing the audience closer and closer to what they were waiting for.
And then Thundercat emerged, wearing a long brimmed farmer’s hat pulled tightly down so that it rested just above his eyes. From his shoulder hung a 6-string bass, a beautiful golden orange noise-maker that synced so smoothly with his fingers, you would’ve thought it was just an extension of his arms. Immediately, his fingers crawled across the bass with a mind of their own, accompanied by the frenzied but surely calculated sounds from the drummer and keyboardist.
After an introductory jam showcasing his intricate bass prowess, Thundercat began with a favorite from his 2011 album, The Age of Apocalypse. A solid blend of funky bass rhythms and soft, echoey ballads “Daylight” had him repeatedly urging each and everyone of us to “Open your eyes / Daylight”. Extending the song, as he would do for every track that night, he saved room for a showcase of jazz and improvisational talent, not just from himself but from his keyboardist and drummer as well. Bringing out a sound that can only be described as neo-jazz, injected heavily with the funk, the trio had the crowd in starstruck awe.
Song after song, groove after groove, Thundercat and his band emerged victorious no matter what style they went for. On tracks like “Tron Song” and “Walkin,” they maintained a funky rhythm, but enjoyed a softer tone, allowing the bass and keys to flourish while the drums continued (not-so) quietly in the back. On the Flying Lotus produced “Heartbreaks + Setbacks,” the drummer was free to lose restraint as Bruner crooned out “Baby, this could be a chance for us to see / Baby, we’ll figure out where we’re supposed to be / Until we found the truth there’s something we should do / Can’t let the love stop flowing from me to you.” And of course, he finished the song with an epic improvisational jam highlighting aspects of his musical ability (and musical sensibility) that continued to surprise even the biggest Thundercat fans.
But the biggest surprise came during “Is It Love?” when Thundercat stepped to the mic and said, “I’d like to invite a very good friend of mine up here.” Seeing that the drummer was rocking a Captain Murphy t-shirt, I geeked out and thought, “Could it be? Could Flying Lotus really be here?” He wasn’t. But, Robert Glasper was. Taking the place of the keyboardist, Glasper, who clearly wasn’t a planned stage guest, took a few minutes to orient himself, asking Thundercat to face him for a second so he could figure out the chords. And like that, the two ran off into an experimental jazz odyssey (seriously, why haven’t they started a band yet?), melting minds and faces in the continued variation of “Is It Love?”
As Glasper left the stage, Thundercat and the band continued on to cover Flying Lotus’ drug-induced “DMT Song” before rocking into “Seasons.” And then came the next surprise, as Bruner nodded his head to stage-right mouthing the words, “Come on. Come on. OK. You guys know Bilal?” And so out came Bilal, the falsetto king and Love Surreal crooner. He took over microphone duties and sang the rest of “Seasons” with Thundercat, jamming on the 6-string right next to him. Bilal performed several encore verses of the track before stepping off the stage into a crowd that could not stop cheering (why isn’t he also in that band that Glasper and Bruner need to start ASAP?)
Towards the end, Thundercat payed tribute to his two closest friends, Flying Lotus and the late jazz pianist Austin Peralta, in the groovy “Lotus and the Jondy.” Afterwards, he and the band left the stage, but the crowd had them back within less than a minute to play their encore, a song we had been waiting to hear all night. As he jumped into the first groovy riff, a funky energy swept the crowd, moving feet and grooving bodies in all directions to the sounds of “Oh Sheit It’s X.” As we cheered the anthem for the night, “I just want to party, you should be in here / and in this ecstasy, baby!” I couldn’t help but feel sorry for anyone who wasn’t there that night. Red Bull Sound Select and Giant Step had curated an evening of entertainment that felt more like an immersion in musical ecstasy, provided by some of the world’s most talented musicians, and in a venue that suited the feeling perfectly. Oh and did I mention it was only $3?
Grab your Thundercat tickets now, and check out moreshow reviews… you know the deal.
Article by Arpan Somani