by Carlina Grillo
On a typical cold and rainy night in Arcata, students gathered into the John Van Duzer Theatre where Grammy award-winning bassist, Stephen Lee Bruner, known as Thundercat, brought the heat to campus. With a mix of funk, jazz, R&B and psychedelic bass noodling – eccentric doesn’t begin to describe the night.
Tickets for the show sold out within two hours of going on sale to the public, and to people’s surprise, last minute tickets were sold the evening of the performance. For Thundercat’s third time back to the Van Duzer, Cal Poly Humboldt’s Center Arts expected a full house with a seated capacity of 862.
Eager for the show, the crowd began gathering in the lobby half an hour before the doors opened at 8:30 p.m. Upon entry, people were greeted by a vivid blue light and fog in the air. Behind the haze stood a giant blown up medieval style tower with a cat head. Known as “Cats Lair,” this stage set up was a reference to the 1985 anime, “ThunderCats.”
The concert was promoted as a seated show, but as soon as the band took the stage, some people stood in front of their seats while others raced to the front. Most people on the balcony remained seated until the very end of the night when the entire house gave Thundercat a standing ovation. The energy was high, but not enough to solicit a mosh pit. Folks mostly swayed throughout the night.
Thundercat took the stage around 9 p.m. with his iconic six string Ibanez bass guitar, and was backed up by Dennis Hamm on the keys, with Justin Brown on drums. Between songs, Thundercat entertained the crowd with relatable banter and even attempted to kickflip a Tech Deck from the crowd. While he talked to the crowd, fans could be heard meowing around the room.
It was quickly made apparent that anime has a grip on Thundercat and has influenced many aspects of his life. During the first half of the show, he asked the audience how they felt about anime. As the question was followed by loud cheers, he decided to play the song “Tokyo.”
“I’m gonna slow this one down too,” said Thundercat. “I’m gonna sing this one real slow, so you can understand what it was to be me at 18 years old in Japan.”
The song described Thundercat’s time in Tokyo with an ode to his lifelong love for anime.
“I went to the dentist and he gave me a toy / it was Dragon Ball-Z, a wrist-slap bracelet / Goku fucking ruined me,” sang Thundercat.
Afterwards, he followed it with his song “Dragonball Durag.” He mentioned that it was his first time playing those songs back to back, and even exclaimed to Hamm, “Write that down!”
“You don’t have to like my video games or my comic books / But baby girl, how do I look in my durag?” sang Thundercat.
During the second half of the performance, Thundercat took a moment to honor musicians he’s proud to have worked with who have passed away. He specifically mentioned rapper Mac Miller, Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and concert promoter Meghan Stabile.
“To know Meghan was to love her,” Thundercat said.
Whether an anime lover or not, concert-goers left the Van Duzer feeling electric. Tobin Thornton, a freshman studying chemistry at Cal Poly Humboldt, had never been to the Van Duzer before and had zero expectations for the night.
“I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I had a very good time. I do feel like I got put in a microwave, but in a good way,” Thornton said before rating the show a solid nine out of ten.
Sam Schulman, a music lover and community member, expressed his gratitude for Thundercat coming to Arcata to share his music.
“I was mind blown by his artistry and how good he is at playing the bass. It was so cool,” Schulman said. “I didn’t really know what to expect going into it and I know he has regular-amount-of-time songs, but he was extending a lot of them and jamming a lot. Which was really cool to see.”
Lexi Takaki, a graduate student in the social work program, described her night as awesome, and felt very lucky to get one of the last minute tickets.
“Thundercat is a world renowned musician that is like none other, so it was kind of surreal to see him on stage,” Takaki said. “I feel like at a lot of shows at the Van Duzer, it can be really mellow or people are kind of awkward, and I feel like tonight everyone was really feeling it.”