Thundercat’s Roar Tamed by Finney

Meghan Farnsworth, Staff Writer

A bassist needs to dance sometimes, musically speaking. Not the kind of dancing where the listener feeds off the music’s vibes and pulsations in bodily, almost maniacal gestures, but instead in an equally visceral playing style that not only reacts to, but creates rhythm.

Enter Thundercat who made his Oberlin debut this past Friday in Finney Chapel thanks to the Oberlin Jazz Society. The artist is none other than Stephen Bruner, legendary bass player for Flying Lotus and Erykah Badu. Performing songs from his solo album The Golden Age of Apocalypse,Bruner treated the audience to an impressive and intimate jam session of a concert. Brandishing his bright red six-string bass and metallic gold shoes, he displayed his ability to play with originality, alongside his sartorial style and technical prowess.

Rather than give the bass its traditional limited musical role, Bruner added finesse by incorporating chords alongside fast-paced licks. His playing demonstrated his passion for experimentation and added a strong, lyrical quality to his solos in the manner of a lead guitarist, not one used to staying in the background on bland bass lines.

Despite the musician’s promising performance and the accompaniment from fellow musicians Austin Peralta on piano and Justin Brown (who is originally from the Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet on drums), something was missing.

The cavernous nature of Finney’s acoustics made it difficult to find balance between the musicians. At times, when Bruner had a solo, Brown would almost drown out his sound entirely. Peralta was virtually inaudible at his red Nord keyboard, except when he reached for Finney’s Steinway grand piano to bang out a few notes of his own. Since Bruner usually plays alongside his brother, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., he may not have been accustomed to this formulation of Thundercat’s sound.

Still, there is a certain maturity and art to creating dance music, and Thundercat is a champion. Hearing a live performance of his music was drastically different from listening to his album in ways beyond the obvious factor of amplification. Yet Thundercat’s live performance was also unusually toned down.

Finney Chapel was the reason for this significant distinction. The venue caters to an audience that sits politely in pews, listening to classical music. If the concert had been performed at the ’Sco, the energy would have been much different, and the style showcased on Thundercat’s album would have flourished more.

Aside from being a phenomenal bass player, Bruner also has groove prowess, and there is nothing shameful about wanting to musically dance. If you are a musician who can make listeners internalize rhythm through dancing, then you have quite a gift. Get yourself a show at the ’Sco and rock out.