Live: Flying Lotus/Thundercat

flyinglotus-article1WAREHOUSE LIVE — 4/21/13: Fresh off an appearance on the slightly insane but brilliant cartoon Adventure Time, LA’s experimental producer Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, recently graced Houston with his presence at Warehouse Live. Fame has come quickly since Flying Lotus released his debut album seven years ago. His last two releases, Cosmogramma and Until the Quite Comes, have garnered well-deserved critical accolades, each landing on multiple end-of-year “best of” lists.

For Ellison, success has come by ignoring the current trends associated with the resurgence of electronica. The pedestrian drone of house or the over-aggressiveness of certain forms of dubstep are all absent in Ellison’s work. Instead, the genre-bending concept albums artfully blend hip-hop beats and electronica roots through a filter of Ellison’s jazz sensibilities. The end results are two intricately-designed and well-conceived albums that are both challenging and accessible. Given his eccentric take on music, one would expect a live performance by Flying Lotus to be anything but normal.

By the time the second opening act began, Warehouse Live was loosely filled the various shades and shapes that fill the corners of Houston: hip-hop heads, hipsters, hippies, bros, an urban cowboy, and best of all, a joint-smoking retiree. Accompanying Flying Lotus was fellow jazz vanguard and four-string genius Stephen Bruner.

Better known as Thundercat, Bruner marveled the crowd with musical dexterity, quickly switching from simple melodies to free jazz. Accompanying Bruner was former The Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen who, like Bruner, was given limitless freedom to express his musical desires. At times Thundercat wowed the crowd, who responded in cheers and applause mid-song. Jazz, particularly free jazz, can be alienating to the uninitiated. However, in this setting and with those musicians, Bruner likely expanded the musical palettes of most naive listeners.

This approach to music did have its downsides, mind you, and too often Bruner and company became lost in their own world. Songs would cease to be engrossing and instead felt grueling and impenetrable. Given the circumstances, it’s difficult to fault someone so talented for getting lost in his own music.

flyinglotus2The stage had drastically changed by the time Flying Lotus began his set. Gone were the usual microphones and lights. In their place were two giant semi-transparent screens. Between the two screens sat Ellison’s Macbook and various music production devices. Ellison’s set began with a sense of awe. Flying Lotus’s entire show was visually stunning: the two screens were used to project two independent visual effects, and the end result was a sense of depth and movement in the actual projected images.

At times, visuals would swirl around or through Ellison, while others completely engulfed him in a torrent of rainbow-colored fire. The music itself was less impressive, unfortunately. Rather than mix songs live, Ellison instead chose to DJ. This gave Ellison the ability to seamlessly incorporate various non-Flying Lotus songs and genres not typically associated with Ellison.

Now, given his genre and musical platform, one shouldn’t be surprised by Ellison’s choice to DJ. It’s a perfectly acceptable — and almost universal — practice. However, after seeing Ellison perform “Galaxy in Janaki” with Epic Strings, and keeping in mind his prodigious talent and the fact that lesser producers live mix during their performances, it was slightly disappointing to see Ellison dancing on stage while his music continued on autopilot.

Ellison did end up exerting a bit more effort when the crowd spurred the producer into performing a few hip-hop tracks from his alter-ego, Captain Murphy. Microphone levels were far too low to distinguish Ellison’s rhymes as anything other than mumbles, but those familiar with Duality were certainly enthralled by the performance.

It was difficult not to feel slightly disappointed at the conclusion of the show. It’s a feeling that Ellison’s performance misfired in an unexpected way. The performance itself was still something to behold; however, it was the visual experience that outweighed the auditory experience. If Ellison’s live musical performance is able to match his visuals, then he would have a concert truly worthy of his immense talent. END

Live review by . Live review posted Wednesday, May 29th, 2013. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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