PHOTOS and review of Pretty Lights at Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Reverb

Live review: Pretty Lights @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre

When Pretty Lights returns home, Colorado pays attention. After a performance at the Fillmore Auditorium on Friday, the Fort Collins native followed with a headlining performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Saturday. Playing under a full moon and backed by a new LED light show of epic proportions, it’s no wonder Derek Vincent Smith dove into his intoxicating set with the lyric, “Welcome to the next level.”

Saturday’s show opened with a series of sets by DJs Michal Menert and Gramatik (both signed to the Pretty Lights Music record label) as well as a raw effort from hip-hop artist Big K.R.I.T., but it was the London-based producer Skream that was given the largest stage of the openers.

As one of the true founders of the genre, Skream is as well respected in the world of dubstep as anyone. His shock and awe tactics and in-your-face approach to performance left diehard fans grinding frantically, while leaving the rest of the audience ready for the smooth beats and silky samples of the headliner.

Skream’s schizophrenic set featured periods of constant, rolling low-end and shotgun-like 16th note bursts that would often last up to a minute—as if to gauge how much mayhem the audience was willing to tolerate. After teasing the crowd with tracks like Benny Benassi’s “Cinema” and the “Tetris” theme song, at times ending a track after just 10 or 15 seconds, he ended his time with a surprisingly unaltered version of the Rage Against the Machine classic, “Killing in the Name.”

As his stage name suggests, Pretty Lights’ music is as much about the visual experience as it is about the auditory one. His incredibly syncopated lighting production spared no expense and was customized in an entirely new way for every track he played. Included were multidirectional lasers pouring into clouds of fog, flurries of strobes, a tiered throne for Smith and a city of LED towers spanning the length of the stage.

Pretty Lights’ set was a welcomed mix of old and new. Inbetween well-known early material like “Still Night,” “Aimin’ at Your Head” and “High School Art Class” he introduced a handful of new tracks that were well received by his hometown fans. Remixes included takes on Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle” and Pink Floyd’s “Time” (where an ambient break during the guitar solo was a fitting change of pace).

Smith has developed his own unique brand of electronic production, creating his own niche firmly rooted in hip-hop pocket grooves and minimalist sampling. He uses only the splices he knows will resonate, omitting anything that is not absolutely necessary to his vision. Unlike many emerging artists in the space, Pretty Lights opts for digital effects that are pleasing, not piercing, to the ear and has an obvious appreciation for classic, soulful hooks.

As impressive as Saturday’s performance was, it was disappointing to see the absence of drummer Adam Deitch -— who is no longer touring with Smith. While Pretty Lights’ percussion production is admirable, it is impossible to replace the live energy and improvisational brilliance that comes with a master like Deitch leading the way.

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Nate Etter is a Boulder-based musician and a regular contributor to Reverb.

Ryan Dearth is a Denver-based photographer and a new regular to Reverb.