Review: Thundercat Live in Barcelona

There aren’t many who know how to tickle a bass guitar quite like Thundercat does. Part of the tour to promote the album ‘Drunk’, his live show at the Apolo in Barcelona was one to savour for the musical purist.

Friday 24th November was an unseasonably warm day in Barcelona. It was the kind of unseasonable warmth that Californian Stephen ‘Thundercat‘ Bruner’s music is made for.

And if it was a pleasantly balmy evening outside, then inside the Apolo things were positively thermometer busting.

Much of the crowd piled through the doors in several completely unnecessary layers of warm winter clothing, only to have completely stripped off by the time that Thundercat took to the stage. Just as well, then, that the man himself had decided to perform wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

It was a crowd that spanned age groups, nationalities and, perhaps most importantly, musical tastes. Thundercat’s is a sound that refuses to be pigeon-holed, seamlessly hopping between pop, funk, jazz, hip-hop, electronica and even prog rock. There is no one type of person to which this kind of music appeals – that’s why middle-aged mums could be seen bopping carelessly next to spliff-toting teenagers.

The band – featuring Thundercat on bass alongside a keyboardist, violinist and drummer – was given full licence to explore their complex array of sounds and influences. Instantly recogniseable Kendrick Lamar collaborations like ‘These Walls’ and ‘Complexion (A Zulu Love)’ were given a funky, bass-driven twist, while Thundercat’s own material was peppered with lengthy bass solos, atmospheric synth work and intricate drum patterns. Songs that last three or four minutes on your favourite Spotify playlist were morphed into fabulously elaborate ten minute musical journeys.

At times, it was as though the audience didn’t quite know how to react. Initially there was excitement as some of Drunk’s most popular tracks began – the likes of ‘A Man’s Fail (Tron Song Suite II)’ and ‘Show You The Way’. This would then turn to curiosity as Thundercat’s magic hands worked their way around his bass guitar and later, in some sections of the crowd at least, restlessness as the song became almost unrecogniseable from the album version.

It was clear from their bodily movements more than anything. People were thinking: “This is great, but where did the ‘meow, meow, meow’ part go on A Man’s Fail?” and “The guy is clearly a musical genius, but how am I supposed to dance to this?” Most opted for the safe option – the customary head nod and occasional shoulder sway.

As if recognising that the crowd, not to mention the band, would need the occasional break, Thundercat took to the mic between tracks to provide a dose of light comedy. He introduced ‘Friend Zone’ as a song for all the gamers in the crowd, before cursing under his breath the modern-day trend of having to ‘pay for stuff in the game’. Tales of teenage drunken antics at the Apolo while touring with metal band Suicidal Tendencies had the crowd in raptures. “So this is a very special place for me,” he went on to proclaim to great fanfare.

Because after all, despite enjoying a career which began at the age of 16 and has seen him collaborate with the likes of Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington and Erykah Badu, Thundercat has remained an artist who refuses to take himself too seriously.

There is an element of carefree fun to Thundercat’s persona, and this is reflected in his performances in a way you’re not likely to find among many with such talent. The pink dreadlocks and shiny red basketball shorts he sported on stage in Barcelona were testament to that.

Never seen Thundercat perform live? Check out his amazing Tiny Desk Concert below.

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