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The pure magic of a genius: Pretty Lights’ incredible two-night run at the Gorge Amphitheatre | August 4th & 5th, 2017 [Event Review]

Pretty Lights is one of those rare artists whose touch turns everything to pure gold. The golden radiance that permeates every sound in his music has an indescribable passion and energy to it that is infectious. What is so unique about Pretty Lights’ shows, besides the otherworldly lights and musicality are the people. There’s something really special about thousands of people gathering to hear one man’s sonic manifestation of his life. When you listen you can hear pain, joy and wonder, and it translates so strongly to the people that are fascinated and inspired by his music.

The people. They are ridiculously passionate about good music. Walking around the campsites at the Gorge Amphitheatre was so unique: everywhere I walked people were bumping super dank hip-hop, heads nodding to the beats, having intellectual conversations about music and hanging out with their neighbors. And we were all there to share the music of Pretty Lights. Despite the endless smoke that obscured beautiful views and filled our eyes, everyone I met remained so positive, waiting for when Pretty Lights would take up our precious time.

As Michael Menert proclaimed on the second night while Derek Vincent Smith stoically lit up a joint;  “We’ve been waiting patiently, but we’d like to take up a little of your precious time”. And this time was spent amongst the smoky backdrop of the Gorge, our minds delighted, our eyes lit up by the gorgeous haze of the moon as it descended on the captivated crowd. This was when Smith and Menert performed songs from the first album Taking Up Your Precious Time.

Nothing but the sounds on Precious Time can capture the pure emotion of life itself: in ”Short Line” listeners feel the emotions that come with “dreams of life and death”and understand the wonder of the beauty and pain of of existing. When they dropped “Stay”, that song felt like the whole world wrapped up into one little package, condensed into a singular human experience. After “Stay”, Smith and Menert dropped a treat for the true underground PL heads, where they both rhymed on “Angel On My Shoulder”. The rhymes are so inspired by Atmosphere, so it only made sense that he also performed. I’d never heard Smith and Menert rap before, so to hear that was fantastic. There were rhymes on the first night, but something about these bars was very magnetic.

The first night was hazy and beautiful: the night brought sweet relief from the hot and smoky day that everyone had endured. To begin the show, there were performances by Marvel Years, hip-hop aficionados Chali 2na and Krafty Kuts, and atmospheric rock band Cherub. Just as dusk began its sultry descent into night, Tipper performed a mind-altering set that seamlessly transitioned from downtempo to midtempo. STS9 then cast a groovy spell over the crowd, bringing sounds that were at once atmospheric and epic, a perfect set to lead into one of the most experimental Pretty Lights’ that I had seen. It began with a very personal and poetic monologue by Smith, with a video of him at the Gorge holding a light, a light that was glowing in the darkest of nights. Throughout the set, there were three new songs back to back, including a magical freestyle titled “Is There Any Love?”. To add to this genius spontaneity, there were a couple improv jams that were fucking rad. It’s amazing that Pretty Lights is more than just one man now: it is a musical collective, and the raw talents of Alvin Ford Jr., (drums), Borahm Lee (keyboards), Chris Karns (turntables), Brandon Butler (keyboards), and Greg Ellis (The Lazer Shark) are endless.

The entire set of the first night really felt like one coherent musical journey: the jams were insanely groovy and flowed right into  released tracks. “You Get High” was the dance number of the night, while “Color Of My Soul” reminded us of the divine originality of that album. By the end of the set, Pretty Lights had really “Put A Spell On You” and that spell “Don’t Cost You Nothing”. It was the grooviest end to the night.

Photo by Scott Setien

The second night of the Gorge was even more special, if that is even possible. Kasbo and Maddy O’ Neal brought good vibes when the sun was still high in the sky and as it lowered into the horizon the sets were brimming with innovation and showcasing true musical evolution. Manic Focus brought out his tracks from his latest album Minds Rising, and displayed his skill for diverse and funky electronic music. Lettuce’s set was dark, sexy jazz grooves.  Atmosphere showed us true, raw communication: it was just him, his intensely emotional lyrics and the beat. But above all, the most memorable was Pretty Lights. As I mentioned before, Michal Menert and Smith played sections of Precious Time, which was nostalgic and heartfelt for the duo, as that had been their first show in ten years. The rest of the set was filled with PL’s funkiest and most get down tracks, such as “I Can See It In Your Face”, “I Know The Truth” and “The Time Has Come”, with plenty of freestyles and a beautiful “It Must Be Love”, Derek’s brother’s song. Just like the night before, this set was extremely and organically diverse.

It is without argument that Derek Vincent Smith is a true hip-hop head. He crate digs for hours, samples and creates his own vinyl and has some mad bars. It is without a doubt that he is influenced by hip-hop. But what makes his music so unique is that he draws from numerous sources: funk, soul, rock…it’s all there. It’s respectable when an artist adds a multitude of genres seamlessly into their set. For the few closing songs of the second night, Smith not only dropped the haunting and intoxicating “Pretty Lights vs Radiohead vs Nirvana vs NIN” but also a extremely visceral remix of “Karma Police”. He mellowed out the vibe with the sweet melodies of “Yellow Bird Flip W/Freestyle” and the fresh funkiness of the new track “I Believe In Miracles”.

All in all, his music is a miracle. It’s astonishing and inspiring that Smith has created a world in which he can translate his consciousness so empathetically into music. There is no one else like Pretty Lights.  He worked his magic on us, and we all felt it so deeply. When Smith called out the words “GORGE…REJOICE!”, that is exactly what we did.


Pretty Lights Gorge Night 1

Pretty Lights Gorge Night 2

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