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Tue Mar 31, 2015, 05:52 AM

Bright Light Social Hour Celebrate Album Release at Stubb's BBQ (REVIEW)

Austin, Texas -- Anytime a local band can fill up Stubb’s BBQ – one of this town’s most renowned venues – it’s a special occasion. On Friday night it most certainly was as the Bright Light Social Hour took the stage in front of an adoring hometown crowd to celebrate the release of their new album, Space Is Still The Place. Not only is the album their first since their 2010 self-titled debut – one that earned praise from critics and saw them basically sweeping the annual Austin Music Awards – but it also sounds completely different than anything we’ve heard from the Bright Light Social Hour. In the years that have passed since the first album, the band has given the boot to keyboard player and founding member AJ Vincent, and recently experienced a devastating loss in the passing of their manager Alex O’Brien, also brother to bassist Jack O’Brien. All of these factors weighed heavily on Friday’s show, adding enough significance to make it more than just another show. The band’s performance reflected this.

Their newer sound is far more exploratory and electronic, with synths and beats often dominating a psychedelic cauldron of rock music that carries hints of Pink Floyd and at times My Morning Jacket. This is a departure from their older material, which is more straightforward party rock and roll. Longtime fans were pleased to see the band just as eager to play older favorites like “Back and Forth”, dance party igniter “Shanty”, and the blues-laden confessional “Detroit”. That’s not to say newer songs didn’t go over well, because they definitely did. Tunes like “Sweet Madelene”, “Slipstream”, and “Dreamlove” were a little more slow and atmospheric, but still positively groove-inducing. Onstage the band seemed less concerned with rocking out and careening through a set than they were on creating subtle nuances, focused group jams, and triumphant build-ups that reach a frenzied explosion. Anyone who has kept up with the Bright Light Social Hour over the last five years could plainly see that this was not the same band, but rather one intent on developing their sound into something perhaps more dynamic and far more grandiose than anything they’ve done before.

Musically, the ninety-minute set was consistently impressive throughout, however, two highlights came from moments of true happiness as opposed to instrumental prowess. The first was the rather unexpected cameo of venerable singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard and his son Lucas. Hubbard’s music is nothing like Bright Light Social Hour, but it was a testament to pride in your state when everyone, including the audience, joined in on the classic “Screw You I’m From Texas”. The second highlight, also the final culminating moment of the show, came when the band invited a local conglomerate of musicians onstage including Walker Lukens and members of Hard Proof and Migrant Kids among others. In a fitting tribute to the late Alex O’Brien and what felt like an appropriate metaphor for their career, Bright Light Social Hour toasted the past, present and future with balloon-filled cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”. Here’s to hoping these hometown heroes keep doing just that. –Neil Ferguson


[font color=green]Plug provided because the lead singer and the bass guitar player are alums from my university.[/font]

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