Over the weekend: Pretty Lights at the Ogden Theater
Pretty Lights, Lifesavas, Mr. Anonymous
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Better than: Watching a disinterested DJ hide behind his equipment.
Derek Vincent Smith doesn't categorize himself as a DJ. The driving force behind Pretty Lights has made a point to stress the distinction in interviews, pointing out that he doesn't spin records and instead combines unlikely musical textures. And this is not merely a case of semantics, as Smith made clear this past Saturday night. Performing for a sold-out crowd, Smith and drummer Cory Eberhard offered a energetic set with great showmanship, despite a simple setup that included Smith on a laptop with a Monome controller and Eberhard keeping time on a humble kit. Flashy lighting schemes and eye-popping graphics beamed on three large screens behind the duo helped make the set seem more epic and complemented the act's kaleidoscope of hip-hop beats, vintage soul grooves and
heavy synthesizer snippets.
The lights were indeed pretty this past Saturday night, but what truly
made the show a spectacle was Smith's undeniable zeal for performing,
which was fed by the audience's manic energy. Packed with people bent
on dancing and armed with glo-sticks, the impressive turnout reflects
the act's growing popularity - Pretty Lights' last two albums have
drawn more than 110,000 digital downloads. Every inch of the Ogden was
packed and not everyone was there solely for the headlining act -
opening sets from Mr. Anonymous and Lifesavas helped ramp up the energy
and get the capacity crowd in a lively, participatory mood.
Pretty Lights, Mr. Anonymous appeared in a pared-down form, but that
didn't diminish the act's impact on the crowd, which wasted no time in
dancing. Former Samples drummer Jeep MacNichol is the mastermind of Mr.
Anonymous, and his imaginative beats and dense phrasing here are the
real draw. On a full kit, that included a number of toms, a variety of
cymbals and a double bass drum, MacNichol pounded out robust rhythms
that added a degree of warmth and immediacy to the DJ's hip-hop and
Jamaican dancehall beats. As Mr. Anonymous' set rolled on, the crowd
grew denser, with the floor in front of and surrouding the stage
filling in by the time the Lifesavas took the stage and offered up a
set of old-school, straight-ahead hip-hop. Spurred by driving beats
from DJ Shines, the the trio led by MCs Jumbo the Garbageman and
Vursatyl set a heady, frenetic feel for Pretty Lights' headlining set.
soon as Smith and Eberhard took the stage, high-budget theatrics came
into play. Streaming stage lights illuminated the stage and colorful
graphics lit up the screens.
Starting with understated, slower dance
beats, the duo made an effort to gradually ramp up the crowd,
progressing into more rapid rhythms and heavier bass lines. The
progression from easy beats peppered with '70s soul textures to hip-hop
inspired break beats adorned with rougher, harsher sounds seemed to
work. The crowd was more invested with each tune, throwing up their
hands and cheering every time Smith switched up the feel of the rhythm. The crowd's enthusiasm climbed a few more notches when Lifesavas joined Pretty Lights for a track and led a massive call and response.
Smith seemed enlivened by the energetic response. Hitting buttons on his Monome in
time with the beat, he nodding his head furiously to the music. And the
crowd responded in kind, dancing raptuorously and tapping into that infectious fervor for
massive sing-alongs and chants over the course of the hour and a half
set. The effect of a sold-out Ogden crowd singing as one lent for an
eerie, disembodied feel. Maintaining the momentum of a set that
consists of two people cranking out ambient electronic music for almost
two hours can be tricky, even with all the dazzling lights and fancy
stagecraft. But Pretty Lights had no problems keeping fans amped.
Personal Bias: The
presence of acoustic drum sets in the Mr. Anonymous and Pretty Lights
set helped engage me in the performance. I guess I'm still a sucker for
traditional instruments in live performances.
Random Detail: A song
by the Lifesavas was filled with Denver references, from praise for the
Rockies to specific references to Pretty Lights.
By the Way: Smith
and Eberhard included material from Pretty Lights' new album, Passing
Before Your Eyes, which is slated for release tomorrow.
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