The Festival Club
Thursday, March 1
Two years ago, almost to the day, Thundercat came and saw and conquered Wellington and I was profoundly unmoved. I love the guy’s playing – and credits (outside of his own work he’s helped to make Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington great, and that’s just for starters). But it just didn’t stick on that hot, sticky night. Not for me anyway.
Maybe it helps that I’ve been super-invested in his most recent album, Drunk and that tonight’s set was drawn largely from that. It’s almost impossible to believe these musicians have got even better. But whatever the score this Arts Festival appearance by Thundercat was a triumph.
The trio of ‘Cat on bass (real name Stephen Bruner) with Dennis Hamm (Chris Cornell, Allan Holdsworth) on keys and Justin Brown (Vijay Iyer, Esperanza Spalding, Christian McBride) on drums simply hit the ground running. Running through the first four songs from Drunk with an agility and propulsion that was mesmerising. From the spaceman-soul of the intro (Rabbit Ho) through to Uh Uh’s continuation of Contusion-era Stevie Wonder.
Songs were the key in the life of Thundercat this time. He’s had the chops since forever. And there was more of a feeling and flow between the tunes this time. Throwing in beats (Lotus and the Jondy) and pieces (Lone Wolf and Cub) from the Apocalypse album and The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam ep in and around the staples from Drunk.
As the set moved up and up, tempo, dynamics lifting, Brown’s drumming the huge driving force as Thundercat’s fingers danced around the frets – playing the bass as if a guitar, playing guitar and keyboard and horn lines all at once on the one instrument – we were treated to moments of twisted-disco and refuelled Philly soul (a highlight being Apocalypse’s Oh Sheit It’s X). And between scatting vocal parts over the dizzying basslines Thundercat would softly announced that he loved Wellington, loved New Zealand. We didn’t need that of course, we knew it, but it was nice to hear all the same.
Nicer still was the range of material – Them Changes arriving as if no big deal, even though it was the song that proved to be a gamechanger in many ways.
And then, just like that, it was over. It felt like they were cut off mid-senten
Which begs the question: What the fuck is up with these short, short sets? The Thundercat trio looked good to go for just as long again, the gig just building to a peak. They had way more in the tank and so did the audience. Instead, there was an announcement, last song. And done.
Now, these one-hour sets are getting a bit ridiculous. It made sense for Haines and Crayford’s ADAGIO (if for nothing else than Haines’ recuperation) and it was hard to complain about the one-hour set with Arabia-Buda-Scott since it was a snore-fest anyway. But this just seemed cruel. Is there a deal going on with nearby residential neighbours? Because if so, fuck them. Move to the country.
Sure, I didn’t pay for my ticket. But I still feel ripped off at his limited run time.
And advertising it as sold out was something of a lie too. The turnout was fine, far from embarrassing. But it was not full. Perhaps it was calculated on the seating arrangements, but as a standing gig there was plenty of room for more people. More importantly we should have had more music…