You’d be right in saying that Fort Collins-native Derek Vincent Smith (aka Pretty Lights) is on a roll right now. With a much-loved new release, A Color Map of the Sun, and a GRAMMY-nomination under the belt, 2013 has kind of been his year. Despite having seen the guy three times in the last couple years, the buzz surrounding his latest release and special live-band-in-tow tour piqued my interest enough to get my ass to the Wiltern on a Tuesday night.
Waltzing in to the smooth sounds of Odezza, I mused over how the “live bands + electronic music” trend seems to have really taken off in the last year. With Moby‘s mind-blowing three night stand at the Fonda last October and a just-announced LA date for The Crystal Method‘s first ever band-accompanied gig, electronic musicians have sought to differentiate themselves from the herd of LED-screen-backdropped, Jesus-posing button pushers by adding live instrumentation to their shows. I’ve been pretty vocal in my appreciation of this in the past, but there’s always some degree of uncertainty involved when you’re adding unpredictable elements to an art that’s traditionally more controllable live.
Smith and bandmates emerged beneath a blindingly illuminated disco ball alongside billows of smoke that I’m almost certain were not the work of a fog machine. They got to work immediately, producing a deafening wall of sound with bass palpable enough to give me hunger pangs. Any misgivings I may have had about whether or not Pretty Lights could successfully pull off the live band schtick were blasted away by the blare of trumpets and the pitter patter of snare.
And of course they didn’t stop at the auditory and tactile parts of the experience. Droves of cascading lasers, spotlights, and strobes, all in a multitude of colors and patterns flashing and pulsing in time to the music, added a top-notch visual element to the show. While epileptics probably would not have appreciated this element, I was drinking it all in much like an impressionable freshmen drinks in booze during welcome week. Pretty Lights more than lived up to his moniker.
While the band sounded on point throughout the night, my inner old lady found the set to be a little too long. Had it ended at the 1.5-hour mark, I’d have left telling anyone who’d listen that it was excellent; instead it lasted a full 3 hours, by which point I definitely started feeling the drag. The last 30 minutes were reminiscent of watching Return of the King, during which I found myself wishing the damn thing would just end already. Not to say that the set wasn’t satisfying (because, truly, it absolutely was); it’s just that Pretty Lights’ catalog doesn’t have the same variety that, say, Moby has, and at the 2-hour mark, a lot of his stuff starts to repetitively blend together.
Still, I’ve got to give Smith props for going against the grain and putting together an overall solid live show that was a sensory treat and that I hope sets some new precedents for electronic musicians. Smith is undoubtedly a trailblazer of sorts, and I look forward to seeing how the landscape continues to alter following his example.