This past weekend, Red Rocks Amphitheater saw the highly anticipated return of hometown hero, Derek Vincent Smith (DVS), better known as Pretty Lights, for a massive, sold out two-night stand. A couple of weeks prior to the show, DVS announced to that he would be accompanied on stage by some friends including his full band and a 13-piece string section from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra for not one, not two, but THREE sets each night—one solo set, one with the band, and one with the band and strings. Needless to say, the excitement in the Red Rocks parking lots was palpable as the hordes of long-haired, blunt-smoking Pretty Lights Family members waited to rock with their leader once again.
Unsurprisingly both nights sold out in a matter of minutes after going on sale, but those lucky enough to come away with tickets were in for a very special, very intimate evening with one of the most prolific, forward-thinking producers in any genre of music. Filing into the rows of (arguably) the most beautiful outdoor venue in the world, fans were treated to an appetizer of refreshingly old school hip-hop beats mixed up by PLM homies Mikey Thunder and DJ Ginger. By about 8 p.m. (early by most standards) the rabble in the amphitheater exploded as Pretty Lights took to the stage for his opening solo set. As promised by the man himself, Pretty Lights threw down more than hour of smooth electro-soul including classic PL tracks like “Short Cut/Detour” as well as some deeper cuts like the poignant “We Must Go On,” and several remixes including “Wayfaring Stranger” and a lengthy rendition Bob Marley’s “Exodus” (my personal favorite).
As the sun dipped lower behind the mountains, the first set ended, but the hype continued as DJ Ginger reappeared, keeping the party rolling while DVS stepped into the crowd to take photos with his loyal, Colorado followers.
With the equipment all in place, Pretty Lights and the Analog Future band, featuring special guests like Adam Deitch (drums) and Borahm Lee (keys) of Break Science, as well as guitarist Eric Krasno and turntablist Chris Karns. Thus commenced another hour of tracks from PL’s most recent release A Color Map of the Sun as well as classic tracks like “Hot Like Sauce,” “Time Has Come,” and “High School Art Class,” which were brought to life in a completely new way by the band. The blend of old and new songs was certainly impressive and was welcomed by the well-versed crowd, but perhaps the greatest part of the second set (and the third for that matter) was the astonishing ability of the band to maintain the sound and complexity of each song as it was converted from a one-man recording to multi-layered masterpiece.
Even after more than two hours of grooving, fans were just as ready to get down when PL took the stage for his third and final set, this time, shadowed by 13 members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. The energy to this point was explosive, but it definitely reached a peak during the third set which brought to life some of the deepest, most beloved songs in PL catalogue including “Time Has Come,” “Change Is Gonna Come,” and “I Know the Truth.” The added element of the live string section gave each song a little extra intimacy as longtime PL fans were able to hear their favorite jams like never before. The night was capped off by the most spectacular rendition “Finally Moving” and its banging remix, and another successful Pretty Lights show at Red Rocks came to emotional close.
As Derek and his bandmates gathered and took a bow, I was deep in the throes of nostalgia, remembering my very first PL show which happened to be right there at Red Rocks in the summer of 2010. Back then, Pretty Lights was still relatively unknown to mainstream audiences; it was shortly after that first show that everyone seemed to be clued into this amazing artist. For the next couple of years, I rarely was able to see a PL show because they started selling out before I could get a ticket. But I was lucky this year. Not just because I miraculously got my hands on a (regular-priced) ticket, but because I was able to bear witness to something special—the evolution of an artist. As I watched and danced with a smile as wide as my eyes, thinking of how far PL has come over the years, I was overwhelmed by emotions as I thought of how far I have come in the same time. I was filled with appreciation for my life, family and friends, longing for the simpler days of my past, and anticipation of all the things yet to come, and I have Pretty Lights and his music to thank for stirring that up inside me.
See for yourself how far Pretty Lights has come over the years by downloading all of his work for free!