Photo: Jesse Lirola
Stephen Lee Bruner is a curious guy.
The Los Angeles native has packed enough into his 37 years of life to rival those twice his age. Better known as his performing alter-ego Thundercat, Bruner grew up in a musical family, learning to play bass when most kids were still messing with LEGOs. Jazz was his first love, but, at 16, he became the bassist in the long-running thrash band Suicidal Tendencies, a nine-year odyssey that left an impression, including a taste for rock and roll debauchery.
Thundercat’s artistic versatility has become his hallmark, moving among various projects and musical genres with uncommon acumen and panache. He’s collaborated with an array of artists over the last decade, including Kamasi Washington, Ariana Grande, Mac DeMarco, Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg, Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar.
He’s also released four full-length studio albums and an EP since going solo in 2011, each a kaleidoscopic adventure in sound and composition drawing from jazz, hip hop, R&B, funk, pop and electro-ambient. Thundercat’s most recent effort, 2020’s It Is What It Is
, was less ecstatic and more reflective, no doubt influenced by the death of his good friend and collaborator Mac Miller. His signature falsetto vocals and dexterous bass playing remain, but there’s a deeper philosophical strain that leavens the sillier tendencies of previous efforts. It Is What It Is
won a Grammy Award for Best Progressive R&B Album, which is curious given that R&B is but a fraction of what’s going on in Thundercat’s genre-jumping visions.
But the live experience is where he gets his real juice.
“Music is a great vehicle for emotion,” Thundercat said in a recent interview with NARC
magazine. “The thing with musicians is that we might create it, but it’s not ours. It’s finite, it’s just our job to wield it. It’s multiple conversations, it’s technical stuff but then it’s the verbal and it’s the navigating the crowd and it’s the personal things — we try and put everything out there, because that’s human. But you just have to feel it out every night, like a stand-up comic would, it’s reading the room and reacting to it.”
Reacting to and interacting with his surroundings is vital to Thundercat’s way of life, which makes his live shows an unpredictable, ever-evolving adventure.
Thundercat performs at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at MegaCorp Pavilion (formerly PromoWest Pavilion at OVATION
). There are no COVID-19 protocols. Info: promowestlive.com
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