Photos By Franz Mahr, Words By Seannie Cameras
Monday night’s show at Lincoln Theater with Thundercat and headliner Flying Lotus was an objective experiment I have been thinking about for a long time. Although I may respect the hell out of a musician for their dedication to their craft, that doesn’t necessarily mean I listen to that artist‘s music, or even like their music. I’ve been on the fence about the two aforementioned artists since they popped on my radar and was faced with a conundrum where I respected them for what they do but find disconnect in their music somehow. So, I decided to solve this problem the only way I know how: I ponied up the near $50.00 for a ticket (w/ tax & fuck you fee’s included) and went to the show to see for myself.
For the past 72 days I made a promise to myself (for real this time) to finally put the booze down and try to get focused, get my life back on track and see if I can’t save myself some money/brain cells in the process. Knowing me, the friends I chose, the profession(s) that chose me and the neighborhood I live in would require a MAJOR lifestyle change, or at the very least a balancing act worthy of Philippe Petit (Man On Wire reference). This was the first show I’ve gone to in a very, very long time without being altered by alcohol.
I walk into the gorgeous and historic Lincoln Theater on U Street and I’m immediately greeted with the deep, frenetic, bass undertones of T-Cat’s signature weapon of choice pouring out into the lobby. Thundercat’s music isn’t for everyone, plain and simple. Fly Lo get’s it, his family is royalty in the jazz pantheon (Truss, Google it) so it’s inherent in his DNA, jazz addicts get it, snobby college kids, other musicians/producers, coffee drinkers, etc. I dug it because it reminded me of traveling to go see Victor Wooten, Jon Scofield, Medeski, Martin, & Wood and other jazz/jam band virtuoso’s that I used to be into during my college years. It was the similar but new feeling at the same time the felt it was brought up to speed. Some of his scales and jam sessions had me lost but all in all I was genuinely surprised about how much I didn’t find disenfranchising with it. The high quality of the sound and acoustics of the intimate theater were deftly handled by the 9:30 Club staff ensuring that every note of his bass is heard even with the old man earplugs I’m wearing that decrease -25 dbs. The trio (bass, keys, drums) is the musical mirepoix of jazz music and the comrades he chose to share the stage with were seasoned and able to ride the rollercoaster along with his chaotic fret work. I can’t tell you what he played because I don’t know any of his songs but I can tell you that if you are into jazz improv, extended jam sessions, and watching someone in a legit snow wolf pelt/hoody make a bass his bitch in a sonically pleasing way, this show’s for you.
After a brief intermission the crowd was greeted to a phantom wearing illuminated goggles looming behind an inverted projection screen, followed by pitch-black darkness and then a brief blast of white noise from the finely tuned speakers. Great, is this the avant-garde horror show I was afraid of? Not at all, but a mild stage technicality, phew! Once the train was back on the tracks he grabbed the mic and welcomed Washington, D.C. to the show by exclaiming: “You’re Dead!” With that the projections begin and sound booms out signaling an exuberant reaction from the sold out crowd on a Monday night. With less than a week into his multi-month tour he played with an energy that is more reserved for a sprinter instead of a marathon runner, using his ghastly silhouette to accentuate the graphics and hits in the music he stayed strong for the hour plus set. The repetitious, trippy graphics combined with FL’s approach to music would have been a fantastic opportunity to have gotten bombed on whiskey’s and LSD, living in the world he has created within the Lincoln Theater but it wasn’t on lost on me and my new life choice.
Whereas Thundercat’s set hearkened me back to my college days of bad hair and bad hygiene decisions, Fly Lo’s held a special place in my heart reminding me of seeing pioneers like DJ Shadow, Kid Koala, Birdy Nam Nam, and RJD2 combine visual elements with their turntablism wizardry. But, those DJ’s were rocking turntables with vinyl, MPC’s, sampler’s and other elements in their magic bag of tricks and recreating/remixing those tracks live without the shroud of being behind a projection screen. Gorillaz, one of my favorite bands, started their shows for the first few years the same way, but instead of live kitsch they were sticking to the aesthetic that Hewlett’s art project had manifested and their music transcended them to the forefront of the stage eventually. MF Doom is another prominent musician that uses a mask for his musical persona but that again is actually part of the music itself. Fly Lo is detained behind the projections until the end of the set when his alter ego Captain Murphy steps into the light and deliver’s “The Killing Joke” and “Between Friends” to transition the show. Musically and visually I think he is leagues ahead of A LOT of his peers in both industries and deserves his praises as such but could use more creativity into his show experience instead of just a screen and projector.
I may sound put-off by the show and Flying Lotus, but I was actually surprised by both performer’s Monday night and found that my old adage of not completely judging an artist until seeing them live proved effective once again. Was it worth the $50 ticket price? No. Did it matter that I was sober for the show? Meh, not really, I think the real question is would the show have been more enjoyable if I had ingested some of the hallucinogenics that were offered to me during the intermission? Did being clear-headed help me juxtapose Monday’s performances with those halcyon days of being a grungy Trustafarian or wannabe turntablist? No, it is a natural progression for FL to take as an artist and already with an impressive breadth of work in cinema I’m excited to see what his future collaboration visually and aurally will bring to his appreciators.