The artist that Kendrick Lamar and Gorillaz want to work with

The artist that Kendrick Lamar and Gorillaz want to work with

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Thundercat ★★★
Opera House Concert Hall, June 4

Now with four LPs under his belt, including 2020’s Best Progressive R&B Album Grammy Award winner It Is What It Is, LA-based singer-songwriter/bassist Thundercat (or Stephen Lee Bruner, when renewing his driver’s licence), has amassed some cracking tunes over the years.

It’s a curious choice, then, that Bruner and his equally talented bandmates, keyboardist Dennis Hamm and drummer Mike Mitchell, spend the first 20 minutes of the show, and much of the rest of it, launching into extended, improvised jazz-funk freak-outs, which look a hell of a lot of fun to play, but are less fun to actually sit through.

Thundercat’s Vivid set could’ve used more funk bangers.Credit: Jordan Munns

To be fair, the gentleman seated to my right is firmly caught in a reverent jazz trance during said freak-outs, enthusiastically bobbing his head through bouts of playing that, to my ears, sound like instruments desperately scrambling to locate a melody.

When Bruner lays off on the noodling though, it’s easy to see why everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Gorillaz have lined up to work with him.

His soaring, soothing falsetto and virtuosic six-string bass-playing melds soul, R&B, jazz and funk into an alluring cocktail on the likes of Dragonball Durag, Funny Thing and Overseas, a tongue-in-cheek ode to joining the mile high club (Bruner cheekily reveals that he became a member during a previous flight to Australia).

With humour playing such a big part in his music, A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II) features the lyrics “It’s cool to be a cat”, as well as a whole lot of meowing, it’s no surprise the between-song banter strictly aims for laughs. Bruner gets with unfit-for-print anecdotes involving extreme drunkenness and seeking revenge on his pee-happy cat.

It’s safe to say the vast majority of the crowd has not come here tonight for the admittedly funny gross-out gags, but for the song Them Changes, a bona fide funk banger that’s gone viral on TikTok and clocked up close to 240 million Spotify streams.

It’s one of only two songs during the set, the other being Thundercat’s new Tame Impala collaboration No More Lies – where everyone’s on their feet, joyously dancing and singing along.

A fine way to end the show, but also a bittersweet glimpse of what tonight could’ve been if more audience-pleasing songs from the back catalogue had been aired, and less time was spent on patience-testing free-form jamming.

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