By Philip Costache
Until three days ago, I had no idea who Bright Light Social Hour were. A friend sent me an email about last night’s gig at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, MI. I needed to know more, so I rode the YouTube and got off at “Infinite Cities”, which is a single from their latest album, “Place is Still the Place,” released earlier this year. The song’s hypnotic melodies and rhythms immediately piqued my interests; I decided this was a show I need not be absent from.
Soon after Bright Light Social Hour took the stage, at the behest of Jack O’Brien (bass, vocals, synth) the crowd started chanting “USA USA USA.” And I thought Ann Arbor was a liberal city, man. Another pint of ale should help set things straight, and it did. I returned and all the patriotic hullabaloo had vanished like cigarette smoke in a windstorm.
The turnout was anything but abundant, but that just meant more space for me to graciously shake, nod, and sway amidst my equally enthused peers and not have to worry about spilling my beer or anyone else’s. There was a moment in time when I felt like I was watching history unfold before my eyes. These guys definitely have the savviness, buoyancy, and maturity to grow beyond their already satisfactory present form. Most of their set list composed of spacey, ethereal grooves that were masterfully sung and played. I was especially impressed with Joseph Mirasole (drums, synth), who superbly and incessantly rolled with the punches, evincing adeptness at every turn. Curtis Roush’s dreamy, gritty, dynamic, and bluesy vocals were heartfelt, being neither mawkish nor garish (a sign of maturity and understanding of the human condition). It was as much an esoteric experience as it was transcendental. By this I mean they have the makings of a big band: all the ingredients are there. If they succeed at climbing to vertiginous heights, they deserve it. But they feel much too real and authentic to squander their talents becoming the next big-thing. True art is creation rooted in a desire for authentic self-expression, unencumbered by material gains and wants.
It is perhaps axiomatic to say that a great band acknowledges its musical inspirations, but doesn’t sound anything like them. Bright Light Social Hour are a testament of singularity in a time replete with lame and prosaic bands devoid of an original personality. Now, traces of their influences can be felt, no doubt. But, just like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and countless others took blues, soul, R&B and shaped it into rock, Bright Light Social Hour are attempting to fashion a new musical direction with elements from the past and present. For the most part, they are succeeding unimpeded. I hope they continue experimenting and remember to forgo habits that dwell in comfort zones.