Pretty Lights Bayou Music Center September 23, 2012
Having closed out Free Press Summer Fest to help ring in the unofficial start of summer it made it a strange sort of sense that Pretty Lights would return to Houston to help ring in the fall.
Although the stage at the Bayou Music Center isn't as big as the one that was erected in Eleanor Tinsley Park, you might not have noticed; between the mass of lights and lasers assembled on stage and the rumble of the bass coming out of the speakers it had the look and feel of a big festival show, albeit one with the benefit of air conditioning.
Sunday night isn't a typical night for dancing, but Pretty Lights (born Derek Smith), isn't your typical EDM producer. Those fans that came out and risked the tired Monday morning after were rewarded with a powerful set of new tunes, old favorites and some interesting remixes.
After a countdown to the start of the set, Smith hit the stage flanked on both sides by LED screens that spent most of the night pretending to be a city skyline. It's a fitting image, because he makes music that sounds like the soundtrack to an urban drama that doesn't exist yet.
Whether he was bringing back the funk or venturing in to the future of electro, the core of Smith's music is in the hip hop grooves that dominate most of his work. Those drumbeats are the thread that connects his work, no matter if the parts on top of it are made of soul samples or distorted synth leads.
It also makes his work extremely accessible to a variety of listeners. While it doesn't promote the hyperkinetic dancing found at your average Stereo Live show it does allow for different levels of grooving, from those who wanted to twirl their lights and dance their asses off to those content to stand to the side nodding their heads and occasionally raising their hands in the air.
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Although his new songs are on point and fit in nicely with the rest of his material, things shined the most when it came to his remixes and old favorites.
Run-DMC's "It's Tricky" is a song that's been beaten to death by remixers, but somehow Smith managed to inject some new life in to the song. In particular was a dubstep breakdown that turned the entire floor in to an undulating mass, which is always fun to watch.
Smith later used another remix to great effect by starting off his encore with his take on the Chicago Bulls' theme music. Lesser but more accurately known as "Sirius" by the Alan Parsons Project, Smith turned the bit of prog-rock in to a dancefloor banger.
The big favorite of the night, not surprisingly, was his 2006 classic (his words) "Finally Moving" which features the immortal sample of Etta James' "Something's Got A Hold On Me" that Avicii, Flo Rida, and a million remixers have tried to beat in to the ground. Even with the new live elements Smith is able to do something few of the other people who've sampled the track have done: keep the soul of the original intact.
In addition to the tunes Smith has a hell of a lighting crew. The show as a feast for the eyes, bordering on gluttony at times, but it has to be that way; you can't dub yourself Pretty Lights and then not bring it when it comes to the visuals.
I'm not one for superstitions but I'll tell you this much: if you're the type that believes that Summer Fest helped kicked off a killer summer of music here in Houston then hold on for a great fall. The seasons may be different but Sunday night helped fall arrive with its best foot forward.
The Crowd: Slow to arrive but eager to follow orders once they were in the venue. Smith asked repeatedly for people to get their hands up to the sky and to their credit the crowd tried their best.
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Overheard In The Crowd: "I heard his name- I'm not that drunk," said the man in the blinking jester's hat. I'm willing to take him at his word, but I don't think I'd let him drive me home.
Random Notebook Dump: I watched a girl get carried away to the first aid area after puking in the back of the general admission before lying on the floor for a while. Kudos to the staff for looking out for her. Double kudos to the janitor who had to clean up her mess.