Pretty Lights @ House of Blues 11.5.10

by Jerry Slutsky (Psychology), published December 28th 2010

While Harvard was too busy rowing their crew, Pretty Lights descended upon Boston. It was a frigid November night, but inside the House of Blues, the place was heating up. People from all over the east coast flocked to the historic venue in order to witness greatness. Chali 2na (pronounced Charley Tuna), the second most recognizable baritone to that of Morgan Freeman, took thousands by storm. 2na, from the legendary hip-hop group Jurassic 5, spent all of the energy his six foot six inch gigantic body could provide, including his snicker-bars-for-fingers, to hype the crowd. However, seeing 2na in person was a treat in itself for anyone in the audience with some background in hip-hop. Even those unfamiliar with 2na’s work in the legendary group Jurassic 5 could appreciate the music that 2na was performing. 2na performed some J5 classics such as ‘€œFreedom’€ and ‘€œGolden’€, as well as some lesser-known songs from his solo career. It was refreshing to hear Chali’s signature: funky beats integrated with meaningful lyrics as opposed to the overproduced club rap most symbolized by Souldja Boy’s mindless, ass-clown productions. Having 2na open for Pretty Lights wasn’t only enjoyable, it also provided a dramatic backdrop: musicians like Chali 2na are endorsing the sound of white suburban DJs over music by the Gucci Mane’s of the world because musicians like Pretty Lights’s are using ‘€˜90s hip-hop as a key ingredient in a new musical movement.

Pretty Lights is a Colorado based group comprised of sole mastermind, Derek Vincent Smith, along with his touring drummer, Adam Deitch.  Pretty Lights displayed a musical diversity that is implicated in their sound during the performance.  The sound originates with the deep thumping bass of the bass drum on every beat, which can be found in house music of most clubs. Also, the beat is sprinkled with some rock samples, such as ‘€œMidnight Rider’€ by the Allman Brothers Band, and rap samples like ‘€œBorn Again’€ by Notorious B.I.G.  Pretty Lights has a distinct sound much like Brother Ali and the work being done at Rhymesayers Entertainment, where the boundaries of sound are constantly being pushed. Where Lil’ Wayne falls short, Pretty Lights takes his hip-hop roots further through the experimentation of samples from all genres.

For all the accolades Pretty Lights deserves for continuing the rich tradition of experimentation in jazz and hip-hop, it comes at the expense of an over-reliance and glorification of drugs. Drugs have always been a part of music. From Charlie Parker to Chalie 2na, musicians have used drugs in one form or another, but even the great Birdman himself lost his sound when he was strung out on heroine.  This isn’t the occasional joint that Peter Tosh advocated in his 1978 tune ‘€œLegalize It,’€ but a reliance on Molly and X to have a good time. The difference, while subtle, is important. While musicians have used drugs to ‘€œenhance’€ their music in the past, the new type of fan that Pretty Lights attracts is using the music to make his trip better. It was obvious by the way that Pretty Lights’s audience was flailing their limbs around without a rhythmic bone in their body, that many of them arrived on hard drugs in order to help them enjoy the music better. An amateur could have fooled around on Garage Band for an hour and a half and most of the audience wouldn’t have cared.

Fortunately, Pretty Lights, through their popularity and diverse musical creations, has the potential to redeem electronica. The formula for Pretty Lights’ success is that the spacey samples lure the audience into a steady groove and then they build the beat through the coordinating hits between the live drumming from Adam and hits on the drum pad from Derek.  Pretty Lights performed all of the classics that the audience wanted to hear. Some of the songs that got the most cheers were Something’s Wrong, Aimin’ At Your Head, and Finally Moving, which transitioned into the Finally Moving Remix.

In the end, calories were burned, beads of sweat hit the floor, and drops of LSD reached the tongues of many. A majority of the audience came to the House of Blues to get high first and foremost, and then see a performance. The show was fun for everyone, but not indicative of the beginning of the next wave of music.

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