Thundercat Live in Seattle

WHERE: Barboza – Seattle, WA

WHEN: Sunday Nov. 17, 2013

Seattleites love to say that their city is the hometown of Jimi Hendrix. They usually neglect to mention that nearly all of the guitarslinger’s musical development took place outside the Northwest. Hendrix left Seattle as a young man to join the military and drew musical inspiration from Southeast’s chitlin circuit (where he toured and honed his craft), in New York (where he discovered LSD) and in London (where he formed The Experience).

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After living in Seattle for a year I had already tired of Seattle’s overzealous efforts to lay claim to the rock god. I couldn’t believe that that any part of the spirit of Jimi Hendrix would choose to reside here. Seeing Thundercat at Barboza in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood made me realize I was wrong.

Just a few blocks away from the Hendrix statue on Broadway, a diverse group of young fans packed the subterranean club, their bodies dampening (somewhat) the thump of the overpowered subwoofers. Barboza is one of the many smaller venues around the nation that Thundercat will play on this tour, supported only by bass and keys. It’s not easy to get a Sunday night club show to sell out in advance, but Thundercat did, signaling that this tour could be the last of its kind for an artist whose been collecting endorsements from musicians and tastemakers for some time now.

IMG_2553_zps3245b2b7From the minute he stepped on stage, there was no doubt that Thundercat was channeling Hendrix. Wielding a semi-hollow, 6-string Ibanez that looks like a gigantic Les Paul, the bass wizard led the crowd on a seductive, psychedelic journey that would have impressed Jimi himself. His virtuosic solos, innovative bass techniques, and visceral compositions are a potent combination. This is rock and roll for the ecstasy generation.

Thundercat, like Hendrix, has paid his dues and developed his unique style through years of work as a sideman. His career has seen him work with a diverse group of artists from Suicidal Tendencies to Erykah Badu. It was Badu who christened then Stephen Bruner with his stage name, and Thundercat’s penchant for bold costumes bears a clear resemblance to the neo-soul queen’s on-stage style.

Also like Jimi, Thundercat makes no bones about his sources of inspiration. If “Purple Haze” was a celebration of marijuana, Thundercat’s “DMT,” (Off Flying Lotus’ Until The Quiet Comes) is a reverent ode to the hallucinogen. But why stop there? Thundercat has adventurous tastes. The single off his latest release “Oh Sheit It’s X,” is also an account of a great experience with an illicit substance with a syncopated groove so infectious it might even give abstinent listeners a taste of what they’re missing. When he performed these songs at Barboza, while the audience sung along, it was clear they were fan favorites.

On stage, Thundercat fills the roles of lead bass, lead guitar, and lead singer. He was also well supported, flanked by his two brothers on drums and keys. The trio grooved naturally like family should and it was charming to see Thundercat give extra attention to his younger brother, who channeled admirably the spirit of deceased Thundercat collaborator Austin Peralta.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but themes do emerge. Cutting edge six-string technique and mind expansion are a potent pair both for the artists and audiences, whether you’re in the 1960s or the new millennium. But the best way to learn about history is to watch it being made. If Thundercat hasn’t already hit your city on this tour, be sure to go down to your local club. The next time you get a chance to see him, it might have to be from a balcony seat.

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