On Thursday night, Herbie Hancock brought his ongoing tour to New York for a performance at The Beacon Theatre with support from Thundercat.
Bassist/vocalist Stephen Bruner, also known as Thundercat, got the evening started with his trio featuring keyboardist Dennis Hamm and drummer Justin Brown. With his trademark six-string bass in hand and his pink dreads dangling across his face, Thundercat endeared himself to the Beacon crowd with tributes to lost friends like Mac Miller and recently-departed BRAINFEEDER cohort Ras G as well as shoutouts to fellow video game lovers. All the while, his eerie falsetto vocals and blistering avant-garde bass chops kept the audience enthralled—dissonant and syncopated yet wholly entrancing.
After a brief intermission, Hancock strode onstage with his band to a roar of applause. After settling in and working through a little early-show improvisation, a run through crowd-favorite “Canteloupe Island”, and even a little early-show “Chameleon” tease, Herbie stepped out from behind his keyboard to gush about his incredible band, showing off both his humble gratitude and his effortlessly cool charisma.
The stellar band around him was, of course, worth the reverence. From bassist James Genus, who currently plays in the Saturday Night Live house band, to world-renowned session drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, to lauded African guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke and new generation jazz torch-bearing multi-instrumentalist/frequent collaborator Terrace Martin—a longtime friend and affiliate of Thundercat’s who’s worked with a genre-spanning who’s who of today’s popular music—there was no shortage of world-class talent on the Beacon stage with Herbie.
After winning some earnest laughs with anecdotes about the 11 years he spent living in New York, Herbie and company launched into an incredible take on his Headhunters classic, “Actual Proof”. Next, Herbie welcomed up young flutist/vocalist Elena Ayodele to breeze through some beautiful new material. This incredible band played as a stunningly cohesive unit, producing a lush array of sounds virtually untraceable to any single instrumentalist onstage. Loueke used his voice as an extra instrument, adding exotic, percussive texture to the thick accompaniment. Moving between sax, keys, vocoder, and more, Terrace Martin shined throughout, affirming the high regard in which Herbie holds him.
Finally, after the band took their bows and began to leave the stage, Genus returned to his bass and started into the universally recognizable bass line for “Chameleon”. Herbie grabbed his keytar and took to center stage as the band (as well as Ayodele) kept the fan-favorite song bouncing. Before long, a reverent Thundercat appeared behind Martin’s keyboard to add some extra layers of sound and help bring the show home.
You can check out a crowd-shot video of the “Chameleon” encore featuring Elena Ayodele on flute and a last-minute appearance by Thundercat on keys below, and scroll down to peruse a gallery of photos from the show via photographer Andrew O’Brien.
Herbie Hancock w/ Elena Ayodele, Thundercat – “Chameleon” – 8/1/19 – Beacon Theatre
[Video: Dean Mellis]
Herbie Hancock’s ongoing summer tour continues at Newport Jazz Festival this weekend, where he’ll perform with his touring band on Friday, August 2nd and with Colaiuta and Christian McBride as a trio on Saturday, August 3rd. From there, he’ll link back up with summer touring partner Kamasi Washington to continue their joint run of performances.
For a full list of Herbie Hancock’s upcoming shows, head to his website here.