The Bright Light Social Hour, Ishi Fitzgerald's December 7, 2012
Having thoroughly conquered its hometown rock scene up Highway 290 -- the group swept its six nominations at the Austin Music Awards last year, including Band of the Year -- the Bright Light Social Hour spent 2012 on the march. The band managed to play practically everywhere in North America with electricity this year, including a plum gig opening for Aerosmith in Quebec City.
Not that a lack of alternating current would have slowed them down much, mind you. TBLSH generates their own power, sending it crackling into the audience via an electrifying mix of Southern rock, psychedelic blues and disco soul. It's probably why the band seemed so at home in the Energy Capital of the World on Friday night, filling up Fitzgerald's with an eager crowd ready to get down and boogie.
And boogie they did, beginning with an upbeat set by Dallas' Ishi. Front man John Mudd led the way, shaking his flat ass in a pair of tights and crooning from behind a pair of blinking Kanye glasses, looking for all the world like a savage, bearded Ke$ha.
Once a few girls up front started dancing, the guys joined in. By the time Mudd donned a long red robe and one of those possibly-culturally-insensitive Indian headdresses that have been popping up everywhere lately, the crowd was getting plenty loose, succumbing to the irrepressible charms of the electro-pop three-piece led by a hipster George Clinton.
Cute as the warm-up was, the Bright Light Social Hour proved right away to be far more muscular. They opened with a new song heavy on the Southern-rock side of the band's equation before charging into "Shanty," the lead track from the Hour's debut full-length.
Bodies began to move in earnest from the front of the room to the back as guitarist Curtis Roush uncorked a groovy slide solo. The band's deep appreciation for Allmans-style '70s boogie-rock was unmistakable as they next dove headfirst into "Bare Hands, Bare Feet," the crowd shouting and stomping right along with every note.
Bassist/vocalist Jack O'Brien wore a sweet grin as he declared his happiness to be back in Texas, basking in the warm reception bestowed upon the band.
"We've been on tour for a long-ass time, man, and I just feel like you get what we're doing," he told the assemblage. "Y'all get it; y'all know what's up."
In fact, the band felt comfortable enough in the old club's crowded, dank environs to break out a good bit of new material, including a tambourine-shaking, Southern-fried thumper that had the audience howling for more.
"First time we ever tried that one," O'Brien said with a grin.
The hottest cuts of the night, though, happened to be the oldest. The band vamped through a superb cover of "Young Man Blues," the Mose Allison Chestnut famously repurposed by the Who, that allowed Roush to show off his pipes.
The crowd chanted "Go! Go!" as skinsman Joseph Mirasole bashed out a Bonham-esque drum solo, which looked like it would be the pinnacle of the night until the band encored with a brilliant, Zepped-out version of Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy" that squeezed every drop of lemon juice out of the enraptured audience.
The quartet closed out the show with the sublimely funky "Rhubarb Jam," highlighted by some irresistible electric-piano abuse from keyboardist A.J. Vincent. Though the Bright Light Social Hour had turned in a complete set chock full of vigor and vice, the crowd was loath to go home when the stage was cleared. TBLSH, it seems, is the rare band capable of delivering more than an audience bargained for and still leaving it wanting more.
Fortunately, these guys are nothing if not road warriors. They'll be back, and probably soon. And if the response to the unreleased material on Friday night is any indication, they may need a bigger room next time.
Personal Bias: Slightly skeptical of any hype out of Austin. The Social Hour boys proved worthy of it, though.
The Crowd: White post-grads.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Come back out, you son of a bitch!"
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Random Notebook Dump: Keytars are just plain cool, and I want one, Santa.