Music » This Little Underground

Thundercat shows the double-edged sword of technical mastery and falls on it, plus reviews from Hundred Waters, and Kelsey Lu

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HUNDRED WATERS AND KELSEY LU, THE SOCIAL, OCT. 12

With their just-released third album, Communicating, Hundred Waters emerge with their most accessible work yet – and that's anything but the concession it sounds like. The Gainesville-born, Orlando-connected breakouts have always been definitively of left field, transmitting on their own extraterrestrial wavelength from their conception. This latest pivot, rather than taming their sound, actually sharpens it. Their vision remains as avant-garde and original as ever, just with some new focus. And the result is sterling.

Like their crew, which is now a high-performing trio, Hundred Waters' sound has been stripped of much of its excess and become a distilled thing of essence and point. But still in play and dictating every step is their sense of art, presentation and theater. And frontwoman Nicole Miglis – whose lead presence evokes the power of greats like Björk and Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn – is the embodiment of this flair.

As one of the most noteworthy and adventurous breakout acts Florida has produced in modern times, Hundred Waters have come a long way since their Gainesville beginnings when I first started covering them. Now, they're a name that carries big cachet and cred, some of the biggest in the indie world right now. This latest look, though, shows that they may just be starting to dig in and unlock their stratospheric potential as an art band that can transcend esoterica and perhaps play big.

Looking like she's cut from cloth just as conceptual as Hundred Waters, East Coast opener Kelsey Lu launched the night into immediate and serious show mode by emerging onstage cast in total shadow, coaxing ghostly, almost animal sounds from a cello and silencing the crowd. Expanding with loops, layers, voice and guitar, she wove some celestial soul. There were hints of world music, folk and blues, but they were more suggestion than inspiration. It was immediately modern but felt like it was tapping some primordial marrow that's ineffable but palpable.

Though just solo, Lu's appearance was a room-owning performance, one of the most commanding opening sets seen in a long time. And it closed to an approving howl from the audience. Captivating and original, this is one compelling young artist to watch.

THUNDERCAT, THE BEACHAM, OCT. 10

A mighty combination of skill and lineage has made Los Angeles' Thundercat perhaps the most eminent bassist alive right now. A collaborative force behind some big, respected names like Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar and Erykah Badu, he was last seen here in 2014 opening for the aforementioned Flying Lotus, where he dazzled. But the color and layer of what this prodigy does begs to be experienced in expanded headlining format. That's what I thought walking in. This show revised that some.

First, things started with an unflattering live mix that, though plenty loud, muddied much of what Thundercat and his band were executing on stage – which is itself already a lot. But things didn't exactly settle even once the levels were worked out. In the players' jammy, cross-firing zeal, the performance ended up prizing technical flair at the near-total cost of composition.

Thundercat is one of today's most forward musical minds, and his sound is a composite of soul, jazz, funk and futuristic psych that's complex enough on its own. But attack it more like a circle jerk than a band and shit gets frantic. There's running a clinic on technique and then there's pushing things into a convulsing auditory overload that kills all groove. Maybe I should've hit up that person holding the "Wanna Blaze?" sign in the crowd just to level me out.

Still, the sparks of his freshness and originality can be seen even amid all the wanton indulgence. And there's no question that seeing such a brilliant, challenging and unlikely star like Thundercat blow up like this is an unequivocally great thing. But some respect for the wisdom of his records would make the jazz explosion of his show hit more like a smart bomb than a pipe bomb.

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