Flying Lotus / Thundercat Sound Academy, Toronto ON, May 15
Published May 16, 2013L.A.-born producer/DJ Flying Lotus has managed to keep a firm grip on his status as one of the most important creative minds in electronic music for quite a while now, owing in large part to his ability to maintain a constant state of evolution both on record and in the live arena. With a pair of collaborative efforts between he and virtuosic bassist Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner due later this summer — the first future-funk leaning singles from which are currently setting the internet ablaze— it was only fitting that the two team up for FlyLo's latest jaunt. Ever upping the ante in his live performances, the wily sound conductor sandwiched his setup between two screens, the front one of which added soft psychedelic shapes and textures.
Thundercat — who to some was the night's most anticipated performer — kicked off a set that showed him to be that much more mouth-gaping a musician live than on record. With his fingers dancing at a dizzying pace up and down the length of his 6-string Ibanez, the busy bass man wound his way through expanded versions of cuts like "Daylight" and "Is It Love" from his album The Golden Age of Apocalypse. The finer details of Bruner's impressive range as both a singer and instrumentalist rang delightfully through the quieter moments, with the bassist often playing his heavily tweaked instrument like a guitar. But it was the many blistering improvisational runs that would provide the set's most mesmerizing turns, with the synth player out exercising each fraction of the beat when not looking for change cues from Bruner who, lost in his own solos, sounded at times to be covering both synth and bass lines himself. The trio wound things up with new cut "Heartbreaks & Setbacks" before finishing off with the Teddy Pendergrass-styled "Walking."
It wasn't long before Flying Lotus took up his position between the twin projector screens to begin his own hour-plus aural assault. Opening with the Erykah Badu-featuring "See Thru To U" amidst a wash of abstract shapes, animated astrological creatures and futuristic symbolism, the lively DJ launched into a stream of menacing, bottom-heavy productions each more ferocious than the last. Quieter cuts from When The Quiet Comes provided strategic moments of restraint, while songs like "Sultan's Request" and "Putty Boy Strut" earned some of the night's biggest cheers. While FlyLo was largely an ace at maintaining the crowds high through well-timed beat drops and cuts that threatened to bowl you over if you weren't careful, the mix tended to lose a bit of steam whenever he reached for his Captain Murphy material, though the rapped tracks did draw him out from behind the visuals to the front of the stage.
That sense of lull, though not persistent, showed itself again at points throughout the set's final third, with a softening of the material and the repetitiveness of some of the visuals, though tracks like Kendrick Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle" and Kanye's "Mercy" ensured the room never settled completely. All of that was set aside for good, however, come encore time, when the producer engaged the crowd at the front of the stage and then brought out Thundercat to help him through their recent collaborations before ending the night with the thunderous Captain Murphy banger "Shake Weight." The visual accompaniment to FlyLo's gripping productions is increasingly a truly immersive treat and helps to put what is ostensibly a well-constructed DJ set up on a higher plain. Add Thundercat's unwieldy bass-led theatrics to the mix and you get a pairing that's hard to beat.