FlyLo Flies High at San Francisco's Mezzanine

Photo: Lotus position. Flying Lotus' set Friday night optimized the combination of electronic looping and live instrumentation, with drums by Ronald Bruner Jr. and Thundercat on bass.
Michael Restrepo/Staff
Lotus position. Flying Lotus' set Friday night optimized the combination of electronic looping and live instrumentation, with drums by Ronald Bruner Jr. and Thundercat on bass.

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There's been an unsettling rumor in circulation that Flying Lotus, dynamic ringleader of the Brainfeeder collective and L.A. laptop beat scene, puts on a subpar live performance, that a large public setting dulls the textural subtleties of his music one normally collects on half-baked afternoons. But Friday night's packed concert at the Mezzanine in San Francisco officially banished this myth to the abysmal pits of hell (where such a rumor probably started), as FlyLo, with drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. and bassist Thundercat, forged a mutual relationship between live music and electronic soundbites.

FlyLo's beats continually morph into seemingly disparate strains of thought - shifting, fidgeting, rupturing - and yet he manages to logically reconnect the dissonant clamor of industrial noise to the fuzzy, 8-bit quirks of Nintendo systems. So it would only seem natural for his role to also change as he sandwiched himself between Bruner and Thundercat. But FlyLo transcended the dichotomy of "me vs. them" that often emerges in live sets with electronic acts. Rather than sticking out as a DJ in the group, he blended in seamlessly as another musician.

In the same vein as an old-school jazz-cat or even like his deceased auntie Alice Coltrane, FlyLo laid down the material for themes to build upon. Thundercat might layer a bass line with a pulsating fury, as he did for "Dance of the Pseudo Nymph," whereas Bruner almost stole the show with blistering drum fills that had you wondering why you hadn't heard of this guy before. At times, due to the loudness of the drums, the sharpness and density of FlyLo's beats were slightly softened around the edges; they felt more like sketches than fleshed-out drawings. But given this only happened occasionally, the overall vivacity of the musicians offset this minor mishap. FlyLo was indeed the orchestrator, mapping out the direction of all these activities, providing the foundation for creative flight, while with a swift flick of the wrist or dexterous tap of a button, moving the audience into a frenetic ecstasy. And if your music rests on the notion of the remix, of crossing genre boundaries, then anything is up for grabs: Radiohead's "Idioteque," Lil Wayne's "I Feel Like Dying" and even his own tracks, such as "Massage Situation."

The show called for 9 p.m. but FlyLo didn't appear onstage until 1 a.m., further increasing the anticipation for those who waited in line for up to an hour sipping on 40s. In the meantime, DJ Centipede and dubstep guru Caspa sufficiently controlled the crowd until the master himself came out with a toothsome grin and dark shades. Whereas Caspa barraged the audience with signature drop-heavy "wahs" that nonetheless moved listeners to dance, FlyLo came in from a different angle. He lulled the audience through tactful pacing and tasteful tempo shifts, preferring circuitous movement instead of a direct line of transmission. And that's the beauty of his music: He leaves you guessing as to where he'll transition to and arrive at next.

As he positioned himself behind his laptop, FlyLo flung his hands in the air with the audience following suit, as if they were possessed and could be manipulated by his every agile movement. But the most rewarding parts of the show were the hints that he was just as much possessed by his own music. You could see it in his face, in his laughter and fluid motions, completely absent of pretense. The laptop was no longer a separate vessel detached from FlyLo, but became an extension of his body, spitting out sludgy riffs to wrap your mind into a cosmic swirl.

With the show culminating a little after 3 a.m., this meant only one thing: Taking the notoriously wild 800 bus from SF back to Berkeley. Amidst sagging faces, bloodshot eyes and the odor of FlyLo-induced sweat, two middle-aged, burnout hippies were loudly debating music. "I saw Phish twice last year. They killed it!" "The folk band Cornmeal - killed it." Among the 40 other bands rattled off, one important name was left unspoken. FlyLo. And he killed it.

Wrap your mind into a cosmic swirl with Justin at [email protected]

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