Derek Vincent Smith, the producer/musician/DJ behind Pretty Lights, has been on the edge of EDM innovation for the better part of a decade. Most recently, he’s been on an impressive run after dropping a new album last year. On Friday and Saturday he sold out two nights at Red Rocks on the heels of a long run of sold out shows in Colorado and around the world earlier this year.
This time he returned to the legendary amphitheater with a new draw: adding 13 members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra to his live band and arranging his old-school funk-meets-dub to fit them. But, unfortunately the CSO was lost in a long night of Pretty Lights, which had the producer open for himself — twice — on the same stage. While this might have given fans what they want (all the PL they can get) it also made the night drag a little long.
Smith definitely pulled off a marathon of music in front of a packed-in, kandi-encrusted and phosphorescent crowd, playing the better part of more than six hours, all together. The weather was perfect — mild breezes accentuated a clear view over Denver beneath a nearly full moon – as he started with an hour-plus long solo set that showed his prowess as an EDM master. With strong, consistent beats, catchy melodies and sharp samples, Smith outdid many of the genre’s current leaders, with no trouble.
The downshift came in the first of two sets accompanied by live musicians. He started with the live band he’s been working and touring with in support of 2013’s “A Color Map of the Sun.” Musically, the set was strong — with jazzy hooks, catchy (if a little staid) melodies and consistent rhythms — but came off sounding more like a throwback to the type of old-school funky chill the Beastie Boys championed with 1996’s instrumental collection “The In Sound From Way Out!,” rather than anything new and innovative.
After just over an hour with the full band, PL cleared the stage, only to return with 13 members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. The stage setup was epic, with the CSO musicians perched on a high stage above Smith’s center stand, lording over the rest of the stage. The arrangements Smith and the CSO worked out were more exciting than those he performed with the band alone in the previous set, to be sure. But they still felt more like the product of a band trying to fit into some idea, rather than blazing its own trail — one of Smith’s early trademarks. If anything, the latter pieces approached an almost jammy space – self-indulgent, overlong pieces that could have been more concise and still given the audience all they wanted.
After an hour, the CSO members left, and PL filled up another 45 minutes with jammy funk, and then the CSO returned for another 30-plus minutes, before calling the show after 1 a.m. Exhausted, sweaty, maybe a little strung out, the legions of fans poured out of the amphitheater, many hooting, but many more just hobbling back to their parked cars.