TULSA — Pretty Lights dazzled the Brady Theater Friday night.
Derek Vincent Smith, the mastermind behind the increasingly popular electronic music project Pretty Lights, made good on his promise to create a massive multi-sensory concert experience. His more than two-hour set blended classic rock samples with synthesized noise, shimmering colors with vivid lights, and sheer sonic power with impressive aural sophistication.
With his two-month fall tour drawing to a close and Oct. 31 drawing closer, Smith brought a Halloween-theme show to the Brady Arts District. More than 2,100 fans eagerly got into the seasonal spirit, with a good third of them donning costumes ranging from angels and devils to construction workers and ballerinas. The crowd also included Thor, Peter Pan, a couple of denizens from “Tron,” a Blake Griffin lookalike and a giant panda wearing a sport coat. Many festooned their clothes or costumes with glow sticks — and a few displayed almost samurai-like skills when it came to twirling those neon-colored sticks like nunchukas — dressing the historic theater in vibrant shades before Pretty Lights ever took the stage.
Seized the stage is more like it, actually. Smith opened his set commandingly with his pulsing, moody single “I Know the Truth,” as the lights winked on in the vast LED cityscape behind him. The atmospheric urgency of the dubstep-leaning track whipped the already excitable crowd into a full frenzy.
Smith, 29, started off the show dressed for the occasion in what appeared to be a jester’s mask — at least that’s what it looked like from the middle of the mob scene in the pit just below the stage — that he soon doffed in favor of his usual baseball cap. But a wizard’s hat might have been more appropriate, since he was brewing up some potent audio-visual alchemy.
The increasingly renowned musician/producer wasn’t just pushing play on a prefabricated show or tossing out random dance beats. With a big grin often splitting his face, Smith elegantly and energetically worked the crowd as effectively as he did the sprawling board in front of him.
He calls his music “electro-hip-hop-soul,” and that’s a fairly apt description of his masterful mixing of vintage rock, funk, soul and R&B with modern-day hip-hop beats. Along with the innate warmth and depth that comes from working from vinyl, the intricate layering of his music puts Smith well ahead of most of the digital DJ pack.
His complex collaging grafted new energy onto Europe’s timeworn 1980s smash “The Final Countdown.” He boosted the synthy flourishes, looped the well-known refrain “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future” and transformed the Steve Miller hit “Fly Like an Eagle” into a can’t-stop-grooving-to-it dance anthem.
And I thought I’d heard the ultimate trippy revisiting of Pink Floyd’s dark classic “Time” after Oklahoma City’s own psychedelic rock heroes The Flaming Lips covered it at their hometown 2009-10 New Year’s Eve Freakout. But Smith made a strong run at the best “Time” cover and made the song compellingly his own, keeping the familiar ticking clocks, glitching out the lyrics and blasting out the beats.
The Colorado native skillfully varied the tone and tempo throughout the show, taking the music mellow and otherworldly with one mix and then revving back into full-blown party mode the next. In between tracks, the fans screamed their approval and hurled handfuls of glow sticks high into the air.
Billed as the biggest stage production an independent artist has ever brought on tour, the light city lived up to the hype. The LED skyscrapers provided excellent palettes for painting light pictures, and Smith and his team excelled at matching the visual experience to the aural mood. Geometric patterns raced up and down the towers, images of the cosmos swirled over the skyline and flames blazed atop the buildings.
When the crowd howled insistently for an encore, Pretty Lights sent the fans off with “a good feeling”: Smith’s groovy “Finally Moving” was the highlight of the coda. He bid Tulsa farewell with a brief but stylish sample of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”
Hopefully, he will be back to once again brighten our fair state soon.
P.S. To read my recent interview with Derek Vincent Smith, click here.