LIVE: Brainfeeder Takes the Hollywood Bowl on a Head Trip (9/17/2016)
Flying Lotus, P-Funk, T-cat, and more packed out the Bowl on Saturday night.
September 17, 2016
Since 2008, Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder has been more than just an independent record label—it’s a breeding ground of talent for some of the best electronic and hip-hop acts of the modern era. Under the guiding ethos set down by the man born Steven Ellison, artists like Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, TOKiMONSTA, and more have spread their own brand of funk and jazz from Los Angeles to the rest of the world. Saturday night’s mini-festival in honor of the label’s brightest lights was the culmination of almost a decade’s worth of commitment to the Brainfeeder mission.
With a stacked lineup that included Shabazz Palaces, Thundercat, recent Brainfeeder signees Parliament-Funkadelic, The Gaslamp Killer, and Flying Lotus, the usually subdued boxes of the Hollywood Bowl were humming with a celebratory energy from start to finish. Most of the night’s performers are based in LA, so there was a certain degree of local pride in what the city has to offer.
An opening DJ set from The Gaslamp Killer (a.k.a. William Bensussen) set the stage for the night of otherworldly rhythms, as Middle Eastern psychedelia mingled with everything from Nirvana to the Violent Femmes and was interlaced with the hypnotic pulses of Arabian flutes. With shoutouts to his Turkish mother and Syrian grandmother, Bensussen’s heritage was proudly on display.
Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire of Shabazz Palaces fit perfectly into the next set in the lineup; the experimental hip-hop duo are known for abstract interpretations of traditional rhymes and beats, and everything from their song titles (“MindGlitch Keytar TM Theme” for example) to their extraordinary stage clothes are like something from an alternate universe. Tethered to their laptops and drum machines, Butler and Maraire were an island of mystery floating in the vast stage of the Bowl. While Shabazz Palaces are not actually a part of the Brainfeeder collective of artists, they share the same visionary outlook as FlyLo and his labelmates and were a natural choice for the lineup.
With Thundercat up next, the night was ready to take a turn into jazzier territory. The recent Grammy winner has built up his reputation by working with everyone from Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington to Taylor McFerrin and Erykah Badu, all before turning thirty-two. Seeing him onstage in silk shorts and a baggy robe, it’s hard to imagine him playing bass with a band like Suicidal Tendencies (something he did for nine years). His spry fingers danced up and down the neck of his instrument with a fluidity and grace not often witnessed as he ran through tracks from last year’s The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam. Every moment of the set was filled with unexpected twists and turns, right up until surprise guest Michael McDonald made an appearance alongside him to play the classic “What a Fool Believes.”
What would normally be a hard act to follow was actually the perfect warmup for the icons to take the stage next—Funkadelic featuring George Clinton and Parliament. The hallowed stage of the Bowl has likely never been more lively than it was while graced by the epic gathering of members that make up the P-Funk collective. The rotating cast of new and old members revolves around the ringmaster of it all, George Clinton. Gone are the technicolor dreadlocks that he’s been known for in recent years; in fact, he’s almost unrecognizable—dressed as he is like a slick southern preacher in glitzy pastel suiting—until he gets to dancing and crooning. Clinton and nearly a dozen other musicians, back-up singers, rappers, and dancers brought the entirety of the Bowl to its feet with a nonstop parade of hits. Hearing thousands of people singing “everybody’s got to live their life under the sun” was an uplifting and unforgettable highlight.
It was only appropriate that Flying Lotus himself would be the man to close out the evening, and he did so with a bang. Shrouded by a massive screen, Ellison was a mythical Wizard of Oz bringing an explosion of light and color to life with the push of a button. Down the rabbit hole of FlyLo’s twisted mind we went, and what followed was an exploration of the many sides of a multi-faceted musician. From dance music to jazz to funk to rap, he touched every base. His rapping alter ego Captain Murphy even made a brief appearance, reminding everyone that Ellison’s not just a mastermind producer and DJ.
At one point he acknowledged and even lamented the fact that from his vantage point on stage, he couldn’t experience the head trip that was the visuals being projected across the pristine white bands of the Bowl’s exterior. The ever-shifting miasma of animations made for a complete audio-visual overload of the senses that had some people in a daze by the end of the night.
FlyLo summed it up best himself when he said, “The best thing about tonight is connecting all these universes together.” As the mastermind behind the Brainfeeder label and the man responsible for the evening’s gathering of voices, he had every reason in the world to be proud. FL