I first recall listening to Stephen Bruner, alias Thundercat, in 2014, accompanying Taylor McFerrin (child of Bobby) on his debut album Early Riser, released on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label. It was only upon further investigation that I clocked he was, sub-rosa, in my record (and, admittedly, CD) collection. In 2008 and 2010 he worked on both of Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah albums, Pt. 1 and 2 respectively. In 2015, he would play his part on Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly as well as Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, and would a year later feature on Lamar’s untitled unmastered. His playing would help to subtly carry Badu’s ‘Window Seat’ and add to the layered grooves of her ’Umm Hmm’. His writing and production would help with Lamar’s opener ‘Wesley’s Theory’, and his vocals would creep into ‘Alright’.

But, in his own right, his musical efforts would see two full-blown LPs released in 2011 and 2013. Many of these tracks would be instrumental affairs, with touches of high-range vocals here and there, and sounds reminiscent of the Doobie Brothers throughout. Another throwback to the seventies includes the spooky penultimate track on The Golden Age of Apocalypse, ‘Mystery Machine (A Golden Age of Apocalypse) ’, a short Scooby-Doo inflected number that not only bears the album title but that encapsulates a lot about the Thundercat vibe: rhythmically challenging, referential, and always ready for the safety net of Bruner’s bass.

And so to latest album Drunk. It’s 2017. The first release is ‘Show You The Way’, with none other than the legendary Michael McDonald, and Kenny Loggins to boot. You’re relaxing on a boat and unafraid of falsetto. McDonald’s beard didn’t actually grey. The outro gives counsel to its listener about keeping hydrated. The rest of the album carries this conceit: its lyrical theme is consistent, funny and frank throughout, complete with snore sounds and the odd fart noise. You’d almost forget his succinct Twitter bio reads “scared to fart”. The production is nonetheless slick, and allows for gentle oos, coos and ahhs to back up sophisticated, pacey rhythm sections that stick to jazz instruction. As with other Thundercat records, Track 1 has flown unchecked into Track 7, 15 or 21. In this instance 23 tracks make up over 51 minutes of music, though the segments could feel incidental in places.

Nonetheless, I am anticipating specific tracks before the gig, namely ‘A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)’ with its “I’m gonna be a cat” hook and background meows, and the gorgeously bassy, simply percussive ‘Walk On By’, featuring Lamar. In Gorilla’s kitted out back room, we’re smoothed in by Jameszoo, another Brainfeeder signee and tonight’s entrée DJ. His selection soon matches my musical bread and butter, with the likes of D’Angelo, Shuggie Otis, Roots Manuva and to my glee some Badu (‘My People’, ‘The Healer’). Pleasingly he plays for longer than the timesheet suggests, leaving a speedy takeover for Thundercat. Bruner takes the stage with his chunky, six-stringed bass, initiating Drunk opener ‘Rabbit Ho’. It bleeds into a jam, all underpinned by the album’s motif, and allows for some tight high-fretted soloing. The band – Bruner, keys player Dennis Hamm, drummer Justin Brown – swing into Apocalypse track ‘Tron Song’, an ode to the frontman’s cat (full name Turbo Tron over 9000 baby Jesus Sally). Before long he’s singing “I wanna be a cat”, with such groove aplenty that I’m meowing along.

The drums are especially crisp-clear, but more vocal prominence would be better at times (though a technical error if anything, which seems less of an issue as the set goes on). On record, Drunk contains more lyrical tautness, with fewer instrumental segments left untouched. Live, the pace nonetheless seeks to keep you on your toes with constant accelerating trips. The humour of the lyrics doesn’t travel through as effectively as the record permits, but the band doesn’t fail to set across a mood of zeal and enjoyment. ‘Them Changes’ carries the perpetually-sampled Isley Brothers number ‘Footsteps In The Dark’ – 61 times – and a keys hook that I can’t quite put a finger on; the track is at once in the seventies and a counterpart futuristic realm.

Thundercat - Drunk

Thundercat – Drunk

When bathed in purple light, Bruner is especially compelling, maintaining a calm focus, until his unstoppable grin and head-bob makes him lose composure, creasing as someone shouts “Shabba!” between tracks. The cymbals add an integral shimmer to the music, as do the cosmic keys effects, none more so than in the ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’-quoting ‘Friendzone’, which remains his most lyrically irksome track for me until it’s proven ironic. As candid as he is on Drunk, as much as he chuckles on stage, there’s little chat and no superfluous showmanship. ‘Lava Lamp’ speaks slowly about death and isolated mourning, but is shortly followed by ‘Bus In These Streets’, a jangly bashing of Twitter and the techsphere with a gentle critique of Bruner’s and our own data obsessed lives (I especially like the ambiguous “stuck in the clouds”).

A disco ball descends as things are wrapped up to the tune of ‘Oh Sheit It’s X’, purportedly the tale of an unending New Year’s Eve party, surreptitiously demanding audience movement. The encore plays out with perceptive Drunk endnote ‘The Turn Down’ – alcohol the demon once more (“you’re so drunk you miss it all”), and a mention of the risibly harmful All Lives Matter movement – and a slice of that favourite of mine, ‘Walk On By’, with clear delivery on a poking line: ‘at the end of it all, no-one want to drink at all’.

It’s a bloody aural workout. Such talent on stage often playing without cutoff point makes for an intense experience. Thundercat’s arrangements are something special, and a particular commendation must go to Brown, whose drumming is exceptional even to my layman’s ear. Having been pulled off by only three stage members, the lengthy set requires you to take a sigh and have a sit-down. It’s music that not only sings of both ethanol-based fun and foolishness, but that sings of both interchangeably. It comes with the padding of a jazz and RnB mastery that is so of this time but also manifestly doused in decades-old soulfulness, all whilst making sporadic mention of video games and extolling the feline species in all its glory. Quite.

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Hannah Ross

Hummer and strummer with Kurt Vile hair. Likes neo-soul, reverb, and most things put out by Beggars. Will review for money and/or free tickets + exciting new music.