Words: Shayna Chabrow
Photography: Amanda Adam
The 2017 PDX Jazz Festival brought bassist and singer Thundercat to the Wonder Ballroom on Thursday for a thunderous night of music.
Comedian Zachary Fox opened the show with his amusing, sometimes off-kilter, stand-up material. It’s bold to have someone tell jokes to a crowd of people who are there to listen to music, but it seemed uniquely fitting as much of Thundercat’s songs are laced with humor themselves. Fox kept the crowd laughing and engaged during his stream-of-consciousness jokes and odd remixes of “songs” that were sounds of a boyfriend coming home to his cheating, dolphin girlfriend.
Thundercat, the moniker used by Stephen Bruner, hit the stage dawned in all black, an LA Dodgers hat to rep his hometown, white Birkenstock sandals, and his massive Ibanez electric bass guitar. Alongside him were his 2 equally talented bandmates, one sitting in the middle of a three keyboard set up, the other in an intricate drum set. They eased the crowd in by starting with “Rabbit Ho,” Thundercat’s angelic voice soothing all ears in the room, before seamlessly transitioning into “Captain Studio.” What’s normally a less than 2 minute song, turned into a 5 minute jazz jam session as each member went into their own musical tangent. Jaws dropped, dancing emerged, and people shook their heads in disbelief of the raw talent in front of them.
With a hefty 19 song setlist, Thundercat played songs from his 2013 studio album Apocalypse, 2015 EP The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, and a handful off his upcoming album Drunk. When playing his newest single “Friend Zone,” released only a couple days before the show, the audience chimed in as they already knew the lyrics to the neo-funk song, a testament to how devoted his fan base has gotten within the last few years. It was a treat to hear new songs off Drunk that had yet to be released. With groovy electric keys, hot-tempered drums, and a sublime combination of jazz and neo-soul elements, the audience was hearing previews of a fantastic album.
It seemed as though Thundercat and his band never wanted to stop playing, often riffing at the tail end of songs. At one point when Thundercat picked at his bass, a familiar tune formed into a short version of his Grammy award winning collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, “These Walls.” When he took breaks from sporting one of the best bass faces in the industry, he took moments to look into the crowd and his face molded into infectious smiles. He continually expressed his appreciation for the people who listened to his music and gave him such a warm welcome. Before going into “Heartbreaks + Setbacks,” he seized a heartfelt moment by sincerely facing the crowd and saying, “I love you all… We all gotta have love for each other.” Throughout the entire night, the room shook with dancing feet and Thundercat proudly let his bandmates show off their skills through their own fiery, dumbfounding solos.
When coming back for the encore, Thundercat asked the crowd what they wanted to hear and their chants lead to his funkiest track, “Oh Sheit It’s X.” His extensive encore concluded a show held by no bounds and filled with unearthly talent.