Not all artists can convey or portray their own influences with playfulness and style. But that is unquestionably part of the allure of Thundercat, the performing and recording moniker of Stephen Lee Bruner.
The gifted Los Angeles native was born into music and has thrived in it for more than 20 years. Along the way he played in a jazz fusion outfit with childhood friend Kamasi Washington and was a longtime member of Suicidal Tendencies, and now he is soaring to great heights while concocting an amalgam comprised of the varied experiences he’s had.
Recently at The Anthem in DC, Thundercat awed a packed house of fans who reveled in the chance to hear this intriguing and dynamic human’s stories and songs on a night that what was an extra-special occasion indeed: Bruner’s 39th birthday.
On Oct. 19, fans presented gifts — a handmade sweater, a ring, a goody bag that was set aside for later — and Bruner, flabbergasted and moved by the gestures, shared his joy with onlookers and his two colleagues alike before taking another sip of the steaming beverage he carried out in a paper cup.
Listen to Thundercat’s Grammy-winning 2020 studio album, It Is What It Is, via Spotify:
To Bruner’s right, wizardly keyboardist Dennis Hamm was running a lab up high on a riser surrounded by decks and stations; to his left, powerhouse drummer Justin Brown blasted a towering setup in what was a start-to-finish, exhaustive workout that showcased his amazing abilities.
With a grooving, mind-blowing set that pulled from across the Thundercat recordings, including “Funny Thing” and other favorite tracks from 2020’s Grammy-winning It Is What It Is, Bruner showed himself to be a supreme entertainer — his rubbery fingers flicked across his monstrous custom Ibanez as he’d toss his head back to dig in or lay his velvety lyrics just over top of the thick bounce.
As a second-generation musician whose father played drums in the likes of The Temptations and with Gladys Knight, Thundercat delights in showcasing his youthful imagination like a badge of honor. A proud child of the ‘80s, the stage transfixed attendees before his show even started, as it featured a humongous and striking interpretation of — to be exact — the Thundercats “Cat’s Lair” playset released in 1986 to the marvel of wide-eyed youngsters.
One of those was eventually Bruner, who tucked Thurdercats into his mind and heart and now celebrates it as his name in the studio and on the stage, where it took shape on Oct. 19 like a badass Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade float.
Bruner’s made music with a long list of other creators known worldwide — Kendrick Lamar, Gorillaz, and more recently, Tame Impala — but his own is still difficult to define as it manifests to include all that has informed him — video games, cartoons, and all the music one could possibly imaging hearing while growing up as the son of a busy drummer.
Watch the official music video for the recent single from Thundercat and Tame Impala, “No More Lies,” via Thundercat’s YouTube channel:
In the nation’s capital last week, fans got brought up to speed on everyone from Street Fighter’s Chun-Li to Steve Arrington, best known for his role in the sentient soul squad Slave.
By so chicly marrying an assortment of sounds — different forms of jazz, polished funk and a present-day soul that can wash away the worst of vibes — Thundercat provided more than ample proof of his prodigy as a bassist, a vocalist, and a visionary who’s now among the most sought after on the globe.
Lost In Space / Great Scott / 22-26
A Message for Austin / Praise the Lord / Enter the Void
A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)
Black Gold (Flying Lotus)
Song for the Dead
Is It Love?
King of the Hill
Heartbreaks + Setbacks
No More Lies
Here are home developed/scanned 35mm film shots of Thundercat, along with the night’s opening act Coco & Breezy, performing at The Anthem in DC on Oct. 19, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Ryan Vock.
Coco and Breezy