With chops like Jaco Pastorius and the humor of Frank Zappa, Stephen Brunerʻs shell game is out the bag.

The Los Angeles bass wiz known as Thundercat (playing Fri/6 at Fox Theatre, Oakland) has built a stalwart canon of material over the last ten years, pogoing from serious jazz-fusion moments to retro-pop: Liquid space boogie, dunking Big serious, and AOR yacht-rocking like a mug. His game-changing third album, 2017’s Drunk, made him into a bonafide star and cemented his reputation as a distinctive voice that transcends musical styles. The lead single from it featured Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, both Grammy-winning legends in their own right, crooning out a throwback blue-eyed soul ballad.

“Show You The Way,” so cleverly delivered Thundercat whittling off an alluring ballad, complete with snug harmonies and theatrical keyboard phrasing, that it could have easily been penned by his guests themselves. The genius of the song lies in Bruner’s to simultaneously deliver a polished and bright R&B gem, while also taking a laugh at it too. It’s that jam that comes on when you are reloading your nachos and Slurpee at the local Mini-mart. As you close your eyes to sing the sugar-sweet hook, your cold sweet treat runneth over. The track, a compact dose of audio confection, could easily be the last dance scene out of an early 1980s flick, taking place at a random turnpike disco with a fog machine running at full blast. Amidst curl activator and falsettos flying everywhere, when this song comes on, it’s time to down that last Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler.

Get me tho? In the hands of a neophyte, this grouping could end up… well, erm… not too good. But we talking bout that virtuoso bassist who was at the creative Petri dish of the 21st century’s most influential hip-hop album Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, with Bruner winning a Grammy for his collaboration on the track “These Walls.”

On his recent single “Dragonball Durag,” in advance of his release It Is What It Is, co-produced by Flying Lotus, we get Bruner in full falsetto mode, “sangin” an ode to the mojo-booster. Putting on his durag, he gains the confidence needed to “chat” with women. So you may get a pass to snicker at “I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good,” but it’s bass acumen that remain serious. With that famous six-string, Bruner lays the aquatic funk, real melodic-like. I mean he says it in the song “Iʻm trying to get intimate.”

In a different existence, old Thundie could have mapped out a pretty straight and prosperous career as this incredible jazz bassist, in the vein of Stanley Clarke, or a very-in-demand session player. But where is the silly joy in that? Instead, when he started out, playing for Erykah Badu or Suicidal Tendencies, heʻd wear a football helmet and pads.

THUNDERCAT
Fri/6, doors 7pm, show 8pm, $37.50
Fox Theatre, Oakland
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