Thundercat and Flying Lotus: “This is nice and weird,” says Flying Lotus as he strides onto the Hollywood Bowl stage with no small amount of purpose. He’s right of course; the crowd is deliberately sparse, masked yet enthusiastic, as the venue looks to shake off the dust and find its feet after more than a year off. This is the first non-classical event held at the Bowl since pre-lockdown, and it’s a free show — a thank-you to the frontline workers who did so much for us during the terrible peaks of the pandemic.

A video screened just prior to Flying Lotus told us exactly that — we wouldn’t be able to have nice things like this if it wasn’t for the frontline workers. We owe them everything. The Hollywood Bowl is saying thank you in the only way they can — with music. It’s an emotional moment, a reminder that entertainment, music, is a secondary concern to saving lives. It’s also fair to say that livelihoods depend on live entertainment — music is important. And damn, what a way to reacquaint ourselves with this historic venue.

Both artists seem as delighted to be back on a stage as the crowd is to see them. “Y’all trying to quell your social anxieties?” asks Flying Lotus. This event helped. Masks were required throughout, and attendees were permitted to bring in their own food and drink for this special evening, reducing lines at the concession stands. It was seamless, smooth and safe. And much needed.

Flying Lotus, standing alone in his red cube center stage, has had another big year — his work on the  Yasuke soundtrack alone was phenomenal and introduced a new audience to his magnificence. Eastern influences blend with new wave and trance. Jazz shows its head, and the whole thing still manages to sound very “now.” It’s orchestral, choral, in parts. Grimy elsewhere. But throughout, it’s quite beautiful.

“Repeat after me — 3,2,1 FUCK COVID,” yells Flying Lotus, receiving the appropriate response from the crowd. No arguments there, sir.

The musicians requested that no photos be taken, as they get familiar with performing live again (hence the old photo of Thundercat at the top). They needn’t have worried — both look like they’ve never been away.

“If you’re wondering what I’ve been doing this whole time, I’ve been watching anime, ” says Thundercat. “This. Whole. Time. And I did some kickboxing.”

Apparently, Asian animation and exercise is good for the soul, but the way his fingers flick across his six-string bass, he hasn’t allowed himself to get rusty with his instrument either. It’s fair to say that the man born Stephen Lee Bruner has introduced a hip and young audience to jazz, and if even one person checks out the magic of the late Chick Corea because of Thundercat’s tribute tonight, that’s job done.

He was also a member of Venice hardcore band Suicidal Tendencies, and that punk energy is still a big part of what makes the artist so special. It might not always be overt, but it’s there. His voice, reaching high into the Hollywood Hills, sounds stunning on crowd favorites such as “Dragonball Durag.”

Again, the music is secondary on a night like this, as the Bowl salutes the real heroes. But what a treat the music is. Meanwhile, venue calendars are filling up around the country as vaccinations continue.

Live music is back, baby!

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