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.
Like 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.
As 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.