Anyone walking into Mission Ballroom on Dec. 7 expecting a groovy night to the tempo of Thundercat’s studio-recorded songs received a hefty slap in the face after only a few minutes.
The show was impressively disorienting. Channel Tres’ opening performance was head-nodding, evoking the feeling of an intimate, late-night club session. Jumping around with his pet cheetah backpack and black overalls, Channel Tres made smooth transitions between the role of DJ and emcee, playing originals like “Top Down” and “Fuego,” and mixing in songs from DJs he looks up to, like Disclosure.
But Channel Tres’ consistent basslines did nothing to prepare the audience for Thundercat’s six-string onslaught. Keeping fans on edge through the hour-and-a-half set, Thundercat embodied a comic book villain with a strong sense of humor and a kind heart that’s been deeply affected by the passing of several loved ones in recent years.
Thundercat started the show with the first few tracks of It Is What It Is, a gentle introduction to what would get frenetic by the time “I Love Louis Cole” came around.
He introduced the song by gushing about Louis Cole, and the ensuing frenzy made it clear that Cole has inspired Thundercat to be the most intense version of himself on stage. The song’s spastic drums and winding bassline sent fans into a black hole, with only Thundercat’s falsetto voice providing a path to a semblance of clarity.
The rest of the show largely followed suit. Thundercat would talk about his inspirations, which range from Louis Cole to Mac Miller to cats, and then he’d send the audience into a twisting and turning rendition of his songs.
At many points, it was hard to keep up with the intense energy on stage. Despite usually wearing earplugs during shows, I found that my earplugs drowned out Thundercat’s bass and centered the drums, so I went without them and was rewarded with a ringing headache upon leaving the venue at the end of the show.
Seeing Thundercat live represents the boundary-pushing bones of his talent. The set itself was incredible — a masterclass on bass-inflicted chaos. The drastic shift between the tone and tempo of his studio albums and live performances shows Thundercat’s incredible depth and breadth of personality.
His capacity to push limits and play with audience’s expectations makes Thundercat one of the more nuanced and exciting acts of our day. When audience expectations and preferences are side-stepped for the sake of experimentation and artistic complexity, Thundercat puts on a show to be remembered.