Ever since the release of the first Pretty Lights album in 2006, producer Derek Vincent Smith has constantly strived to push his music forward while also staying in touch with his roots. As Smith entered the touring scene almost ten years ago, he performed alone. As his music began to spread and his fame began to build, Smith incorporated a live drummer to add another musical element into his sets. However, this was not the vision Smith had for himself nor his music.
In 2013, Smith’s ideas began to truly manifest when he enlisted a full live band into his shows. The live band was dubbed The Analog Future Band and consisted of top-tier musicians, such as Adam Deitch (drums), Eric Krasno (guitar), Borahm Lee (keys), Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet), Scott Flynn (trombone), Brian Coogan (keys) and later World Champion turntablist Chris Karns. These artists added a level of depth to Pretty Lights music that fans had never heard before, and it was admired by fans all over.
Smith described live shows with the Analog Future Band as, “It was basically my production, my production with the band playing on top of it when we were onstage. That was cool, but it took away from the potential of straight live music, while also taking away from the tightness element of straight produced music.”
After playing their last show together in New Orleans at Buku Music and Arts Festival in March of 2016, it was time for Derek Vincent Smith to push the boundaries even further. While most members of the Analog Future Band went back to working on their other musical projects; Chris Karns and key players Borahm Lee and Brian Coogan continued to work with Smith. The only thing that was missing from Smith’s latest project was a drummer, though, this was resolved when previous drummer Adam Deitch introduced Smith to Alvin Ford Jr., his friend and well-respected gospel and funk drummer. Together, these five men sought to entirely change the way electronic music was performed.
Under the name Pretty Lights Live, Smith and his new band announced a series of five two-day mini-festivals called Episodic Festivals. The first of these festivals took place in Gilford, New Hampshire, the first weekend of August 2016. Prior to New Hampshire, Pretty Lights Live had only performed once together at HARD Summer Music Festival, which still made them a secret to the vast majority of Pretty Lights fans. The first night of New Hampshire festival, Smith revealed his plans for the future of Pretty Lights music. While the new band performed over the top of produced tracks, they made waves when Smith would cut out the produced tracks and guide the band in making on-the-spot music.
This new technique of incorporating improvised music in shows allowed for songs to be jammed out before Smith would transition back into the original track. As with any new band, some mistakes were made as the new band began finding chemistry between one another. Yet, these mistakes were all but forgotten the following night. Pretty Lights Live seemed to improve overnight as they laid down a set that had the entire venue grooving from the moment they opened with a brand-new track, “Don’t Be Surprised,” until the show ended. The future of Pretty Lights had arrived.
This past weekend, thousands of people once again found themselves at The Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion for Episode Nine of Pretty Lights’ Episodic Festivals. It had been thirteen months since Pretty Lights Live first came to New Hampshire and much had changed since. Long-time keys player Brian Coogan left the project in September of 2016 and was replaced by New Orleans native and cousin of Alvin Ford Jr., Brandon Butler. There was a shared feeling of nostalgia amongst fans being back at the venue where Smith’s vision was seen and felt for the first time by his devoted community, better known as the Pretty Lights Family.
Night One of this weekend’s Episodic Festival in New Hampshire showcased just how much Pretty Lights Live has grown in the past year. As Smith and company took the stage, New Hampshire erupted in smiles and applause. Kicking off night one with a crowd favorite, “Keep Em Bouncin’,” Pretty Lights Live had the place jumping from the start. The band wasted no time in showing off their signature style as they switched into an improv jam. In the spirit of improvisation that was rampant throughout the first night, Smith demonstrated his freestyling abilities as he rapped over several songs including a new track, “The Rhythm is Invisible.”
Jaws continued to drop throughout the venue as Pretty Lights Live continued to impress. The improv jams lead into beautiful transitions between tracks that won’t likely be heard again, as the musicians seemingly possess an infinite combination of playing styles. Derek Vincent Smith showed his true understanding of music theory during the end of night one’s performance while the band was performing the always-funky, “If I Gave You My Love.” During this song, Smith and Pretty Lights Live perfectly executed a “Circle of Fifths,” a sequence of pitches or key tonalities, represented as a circle, in which the next pitch is found seven semitones higher than the last. They took one of the main chords from “If I Gave You My Love” and jammed around these increasing pitches creating the most melodic and unique version of the song to date. Following this, Pretty Lights Live closed out the first night with the highly energetic “I Can See It In Your Face” that left fans eager for what was to come the following night.
Setlist: Pretty Lights Live | The Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion | Gilford, New Hampshire | 9/15/2017
Setlist: Keep Em Bouncin, Summer’s Gone, Rhythm is Invisible, You Get High, Jam> > High School Art Class, New, All of the Lights, Exodus > freestyle, So Bright, One Day They’ll Know, Everything in it’s Right Place, Ask Your Friends, Let the World Hurry By, Hot Like Sauce, A Million Tomorrows, Hot Like Dimes, Drift Away, Is There Any Love, Lonesome Street, My Only Hope remix >, Finally Moving, If I Gave You My Love, I Can See It in Your Face
Night two of New Hampshire picked up almost immediately where night one had left off. Smith and the band have been in the studio working on their next album and have been playing this new material. New material was played frequently during night two, and the show opened with one of these new tracks, “The Sun Spreads In Our Minds,” featuring a dazzling display of Alvin Ford Jr.’s drumming abilities. The crowd was ecstatic. Smith even played a song made by his younger brother entitled, “There Must Be Love,” which had the crowd swaying. Other new material that was performed this weekend included “Rainbows and Waterfalls”, “Eternalessly” and “I Believe In Miracles.” On top of the new material, Pretty Lights Live also played many Pretty Lights classics, almost personifying the new mantra of Smith—“Taking it forward while taking it back”.
I would be remiss to leave out that lighting designer Greg “Lasershark” Ellis has been adopting this new improv philosophy to his already impeccable visual art. As the band freestyles, he is forced to match them. He has continued to add new elements to his work giving fans something new to marvel at every week. The entire Pretty Lights crew refuses to settle or maintain levels of success. This weekend was just another piece of evidence that they only wish to get better even after a successful eleven-year career.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of night two occurred when “Don’t Be Surprised” was once again played for the people in attendance. The previous year was the first time the song had ever been played, and it had set the entire crowd into a frenzy. This year was no different, though the song itself was. There were new vocals and instrumentals added, which gave the number a new feel and sound. This is truly the magic behind the workings of Pretty Lights Live. They continue to work on songs and evolve them during their live shows so that the experience of seeing them is always incomparable.
The energy in New Hampshire on night two could be seen and heard from all people in the venue. Squeals of joy flew through the air as others proceeded to smack on the chairs in the seated section, creating a thunderous sound that flooded down towards the stage. When the show ended, Smith, Lee, Ford Jr., Karns and Butler all took to the front of the stage and bowed as they were greeted by loving cheers from a fully satisfied crowd. For those who attended the previous year, seeing how well the band plays together now is truly remarkable.
Setlist: Pretty Lights Live | The Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion | Gilford, New Hampshire | 9/16/2017
Set: The Sun Spreads in Our Minds, It Must Be Love, The Time Has Come, Always All Ways > Remix, Reel 5 Break 3 > Looking For Love (But Not So Sure), Shinning Bright Despite The Plight, World of Illusion >, Don’t Be Surprised, Fly Like AN Eagle, All I’ve Ever Known Remix >, Press Pause Remix, Can’t Contain It, Understand Me Now, Sweet Long Life > Remix, Color of My Soul Remix, Rainbows and Waterfalls, Change Is Gonna Come, Freestyle Jam, Summer Love, Eternalessly, Up and Down I Go, I Know the Truth, Aussie Tape, Freestyle Jam, I Believe in Miracles
Each stop they hit, Pretty Lights Live continues to impress both fans of old and new. The sights and sounds of a Pretty Lights show can be explained, but there is a feeling that you must be there to truly understand. Much like Deadheads or Phans, the Pretty Lights Family has embraced the spirit of travel and connectivity that unites music lovers. This connection brings people together on an intimate level as life-long friends and memories are made. The Episodic Festival has given tens of thousands of fans the chance to experience this phenomenon.
Derek Vincent Smith commented on this on both nights of New Hampshire, “With these musicians right here, experimenting with music every night with y’all and seeing where it goes, it’s taught me a lot. Y’all have taught me a lot…. There’s some kind of mystical expansion of consciousness that takes place at these events.”
[photo via @caitfalcphotography]
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