Armed with his six-string bass guitar, two bandmates and a zealous demeanor, Thundercat waged a full-fledged war against sanity during his performance at The Warfield Dec. 2, leaving no attendees untouched by his lovable mania. The jazz-funk singer was entirely in his zone, launching deftly into an improvisational frenzy for five to 10 minutes at a time during every song, leaving audience members with little room to breathe — and all the room to feel.
The San Francisco performance came as one of many stops on the national tour for Grammy Award-winning album It Is What It Is, Thundercat’s spectacular fourth studio album. With his laid-back approach to presentation, which often included contextual rants about an abstractly lyrical song after each performance, the show felt like a compilation of confessional and sonic mood swings, one where the audience was intimately involved in each conversation. From his rant about loving Louis Cole at the beginning of the show to his later prompts such as “Anybody here ever f—ed in the bathroom?” before leading into an ad-lib-filled rendition of his song “Overseas,” the artist conveyed genuine curiosity for his listeners, and such interest was evidently and entirely mutual.
The night’s tone of comfort was due in part to opening act Channel Tres. Beginning with a deep house-inspired DJ set, the hip-hop artist grooved naturally to his own set’s rhythm, infecting the audience with his visible delight. Eventually, the artist transitioned from DJ to energetic performer, picking up the mic to rap some of his own hits such as Tyler, the Creator collaboration “Fuego” and TOKiMONSTA collaboration “Naked.” As the rest of the night would be similarly filled with wholehearted vigor, Channel Tres’ opening set proved to be a smart tactic to relieve the audience’s feet of stillness before they were to sink into the quicksand of hyperstimulation.
The highlight of the night came when Thundercat pulled audience members out of their stupor with his beloved flirtatious anthem, “Dragonball Durag.” For once during the concert, the entire theater swayed in unison, passionately singing lyrics together about cat hair and making love. Thundercat followed the number with an anecdote about his inspiration for the song, which came from dating a white girl who had no idea what a durag was. Emphasizing the definition for his audience, he stated, “A durag is literally like a f—ing cape,” to which the audience enthusiastically cheered him on.
The second half of the show was even more interactive. Between discussions of anime and carefree freestyling from Thundercat and his two fellow band members on stage, the show began to feel like a late-night conversation; it was rambling, enlightening and utterly tipsy. While Thundercat’s entire stage presence is defined by levity, the show was not without its more serious moments. Dedicating a segment of his mic time to reference some other musical greats, the artist lent heartfelt mentions to the recently passed jazz legend Chick Corea as well as late rapper MF Doom for their influence on his craft.
Circling back to more personal musings, Thundercat later performed old tunes such as “Lone Wolf and Cub,” a manga-inspired piece from his 2015 EP The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam, and “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II),” a song about how everybody wants to be a cat. Finally, the artist closed his show with the highly-anticipated “Them Changes,” a spacey, funky hit from his 2017 third studio album Drunk in which he samples an Isley Brothers classic and sings of heartbreak as a “black hole in my chest.”
Besides being a top-notch display of modern jazz, Thundercat’s show at The Warfield was a lecture in lightheartedness. Singing everything from cat sounds to heartache, Thundercat reveals that to be vulnerable with oneself allows unparalleled joy, good funk and a great time.