Night One: Lazer Walls and Waterfalls
For Pretty Lights, the New Year’s Eve celebration was the culmination of many aspects of both the music and the live show. Hosted at the Mardi Gras Ballroom in New Orleans by Derek Vincent Smith, it oddly felt like a homecoming show for the relocated Colorado native. Expectations were raised not only by the fact that the PL team tends to go overboard for NYE shows, but also because the fan base was thrilled to explore the dilapidated industrial backdrop that has become the staple of Pretty Light’s visual and cinematic projects, as well as the live music appreciation Nola has always been famous for.
Smith was joined on stage by New Orleans natives and newest additions to the live band Alvin Ford Jr on the drums and Brandon Butler on the organ and keys, as well as long-time collaborators Borahm Lee on additional keys and synths, and turntablist world champion Chris Karns. This rendition of the band, commonly known as Pretty Lights Live, has been on tour together for most of the fall, including the five flagship shows that became known as the Episodic Tour. Unofficially, we knew NOLA NYE was about to be the sixth encore episode we had all been craving since the fall tour ended.
For an act such as Pretty Lights that is known in the industry for their marvelous and stunning production, one can’t talk about the band without mentioning the sixth member and visual mastermind that is Greg Ellis, otherwise and more commonly known as Lazershark. Even for his own standards, Ellis completely changed the game those two nights. He incorporated elements from all previous stage designs, such as a minimalistic version of the LED towers scattered around the stage, a cinematic screen behind the band displaying organically analog filtered footage, the laser cage that has become a staple of the shows, as well as the legion of lasers under his command that used the white backdrop to paint designs on the walls as much as they illuminated over the crowd.
And almost as if that myriad of photons wasn’t already enough, Pretty Lights and Lazershark decided to take the show to a whole other level with the addition of an indoor waterfall that engulfed the stage.
The layer of the waterfall created a blank slate in which Greg could project images and shapes with lasers and lights. It was almost as if a screen the height of the building and as wide as the stage magically appeared out of nowhere to display super dope visuals.
This is where things got crazy. At one point there was even a laser projecting onto the waterfall that was synced to Smith’s analog synthesizers, displaying the real life wavelengths of the music in a three-dimensional visual form. Finally, as if just to put the cherry on top, even the Shark Tank (Ellis’ work station) had baby towers around it, because I guess once you get locked into a serious light collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. Thompson would have definitely been proud.
The show itself started with a bang opening with a new unreleased track currently only known as Prelude 01, which was more than proper seeing how the video preview Smith published of this track earlier in the year was filmed in and heavily featured the abandoned Market St. Power Plant, just down the street from the venue. The setlist continued with 2010 classics like “Out of Time” and “Easy Way Out”, and a few improvisational Psychedelic Hip Hop jams like the one that heavily used a throwback sample from Three 6 Mafia’s “Stay Fly”, much to the crowd’s content.
The show picked up more steam with a fan favorite mashup of “Hot Like A Million Tomorrows” that completely took advantage of the multitude of lighting rigs that Ellis used to show off what we were really in for during these shows. A beautiful rendition of “Drift Away” followed and evolved into a very heartfelt Freestyle Jam from Derek in which he rhymed about the feeling of love, unity, and heartbreak that inspires him to make the music that he does.
After that open display of emotion from Derek that fully engulfed the venue and washed over the crowd, Pretty Lights proceeded to play one of the rarest and coveted gems in his arsenal of over a hundred songs.
He had teased it at Telluride, but when asked about it the next day Derek joked around and said I had to wait a little longer for the perfect moment. Well, it just doesn’t get better than a New Year’s Eve show, four years to the day from the first time he ever played “Make You Feel” by request from a fan back in NYC NYE. This was one of the most ethereally surreal moments at a Pretty Lights show ever, one that every single person in there knew was a special and in which Derek portrayed through his music why he did what he does; to make you feel.
The show switched gears soon after with another new track called “There Is A Light” that has been on heavy rotation this past tour. It was followed by a deconstructed and reworked live jam of one of the most iconic PL songs ever; “More Important Than Michael Jordan”. The crowd had been anxiously waiting for this moment, as it seems every time the band played it this tour it just kept getting more and more mind-blowingly dope, and this was no exception. It’s crazy to think that this PL classic, which was produced by a 24-year-old Smith, in his bedroom studio and in his spare time as a hobby, is still rocking people’s worlds almost a decade later.
In his usual fashion, Derek went over curfew just to play one more song. Much to the crowd’s joy, they finally dropped “Only Yesterday”, a deeply sincere musical journey that was inspired by the Telluride shows as much as the Pretty Lights Family’s participation in it. There was no better way to close out night one and get everybody stoked and anxious for what the second night was holding.
Night Two: Derek Rings in 2017 with Love
Night two started with Derek taking the stage by himself and opening with Odesza’s remix of his “One Day They’ll Know”, followed by another rare fan favorite “Country Roads Remix” that sent the place into a frenzy. The band finally joined him for another unreleased track currently known as Prelude 03 that rocked the crowd with a much awaited unheard track. They also played “Hot Like Sauce” and “I Can See It In Your Face”, two tracks that put Pretty Lights on the map, right before it was time for the New Year’s countdown.
As champagne bottles popped and balloons flooded the venue, the whole band hugged and celebrated and shared their drinks with front row fans to the tune of “Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1”.
After the quick breather, they got back to their respective workstations and mentally got in the zone for yet another new track, Prelude 04. There was honestly not a better way to start a new year than with this track, which used a Shira Small Eternal Life sample resonating over and over with the most befitting mantra to start off a new year with, “We can see and finally I know, THAT WE LIVE FOREVER.” It was almost as if Derek himself was reminding us why we all do this music thing so passionately, as a celebration of life, love and the pursuit of happiness.
Up next were smooth versions of more tracks usually saved for special shows such as Solar Sailor and I Got Five On It. There was also an almost fifteen minute After Midnight Jam that had the entire place singing along almost to the point of overpowering the band. It seemed as if every single soul in the venue had teary eyes and the widest grin on their faces as they grooved along to this amazing rendition of an American classic.
It was easy to figure out what was really on Derek’s mind for this new year, as he started dropping tracks from his closest friends and label mates.
It all started with Michal Menert’s Low Orbit, for which he was amusingly jumping up and down moving his hands to the bass synth and getting down as much as the crowd was. It was followed by Break Science’s Wisdom of Antiquity, Paul Basic’s remix of Color of My Soul and eventually Supervision’s Hip Hop Hurray Remix. Who knows, but perhaps 2017 will be the year that new life will be brought back to the PLM label.
There was a good segment of about an hour filled with more Psychedelic Hip Hop jams, sprinkled with known tracks such as “King of Rock”, “Looking For Love (But Not So Sure)”, “Prophet”, as well as long reworked jams of two other rarities, “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Solamente”. The latter being hailed as the underground anthem of Derek’s heavily influenced hip hop roots, coupled with Lazershark’s beautiful horde of lights, lasers, and screens provided one of the most intimate moments of the show.
There was a quick set break that had fans anxiously waiting only to be rewarded with PL’s undisputed anthem “Finally Moving”. This moment tends to be the climax of the show as every single person blares the lyrics back as they hold up lighters and phone lights while the music fades away to give room to the crowd. Appropriately, “I Know The Truth” came right after to rattle the concrete ground and vibrate every wall in the venue.
If there was another track that pushed the limits this tour besides MITMJ, it would without a doubt be the Radiohead x Nirvana x NIN remix, and once again, it did not disappoint with how surreal, gritty and weird it got. At one point towards the climax of the song Derek himself came down from his station and started getting down right in the middle of the Laser Cage. With his arms flowing through the lasers, it looked almost as if it was a portal to another dimension and he was toying with the idea of crossing over into the unknown. Needless to say, this was one of the most memorable moments of the night.
Another rare gem had to be dropped, so he opted for a throwback to his early solo days with his CREAM x New York State Of Mind remix that once again rattled the crowd. But preferring to close out his shows with a mellow downtempo song, the last song of the two-night run became “Yellow Bird”, one of his most favorite tracks he’s ever put out.
Derek walked off stage to hug his family and friends before looking back one last time and bidding farewell with a simple smile that spoke volumes.
The monsoon outside the show was all that was left to fill the void in sound, and while Greg Ellis called it a night too, lighting from the storm kept flashing the venue sporadically. The crowd excited the building to the elements, most decompressing and waiting for a ride or the rain to stop. But almost as if we were all still in the same mindset, it seemed like everyone was just taking a second to admire the beautiful backdrop of the city skyline as we reflected on what we had just experienced those two nights.
New Orleans, you did us alright.
Head on over to prettylightslive.com to listen to the audio recordings of these shows and countless more, including the whole 2016 fall tour. Huge shout outs to Brandon Rietheimer, Will Guy and Amine Rouchdi for making the archive of live audio, video streams and setlists a reality with their website. Please donate if you can.
Written by: Miguel Zamudio
Photo: Greg Bollinger
CONNECT WITH RIVERBEATS