Oct 21, 2010

Bright Light Social Hour Unleashes First Full Offering

Photos by Oscar Silva

Music Review

By Paul Carrubba

On a Friday night in September a packed-to-the-gills, way-past-sold-out crowd rocked its way into Austin’s venerable music club, Antone’s, for a record-release show from a band that is fast becoming the next great Austonian-American rock ‘n’ roll group, the Bright Light Social Hour.

Combining classic rock ‘n’ soul swagger, prog-rock chops with a post-modern indie aesthetic and a dash of cheeky fun, the Bright Light Social Hour is a refreshing alternative. In the two years the band has recorded three self-produced EPs and  their highly-anticipated full-length album.

With its flare for putting on blistering live shows, Bright Light has carved out a huge following – one that helped the band earn a spot at this year’s Austin City Limits Festival. It nabbed that prize after winning the Dell Lounge-sponsored Sound and Jury contest last year. The group was also named “Best Indie Band” at the 2010 Austin Music Awards.

But it has been a long, hard road for band members to get where they are now.

About six years ago, Southwestern University (Texas) student Curtis Roush sent a campus-wide e-mail recruiting talent for a musical project that he was putting together. The now heavily mustached singer Jack O’Brien answered, and together they formed what would become the Bright Light Social Hour, with Roush on guitar and O’Brien on bass (both sharing vocal duties). For the last two years, they have been joined by drumming wunderkind Jo Mirasole and keyboard (and key-tar) whiz A.J. Vincent.

When Bright Light opened at Antone’s for its CD release last month, the doors swung open at 8 p.m. sharp. Thirty minutes later, Mirasole was manning a merchandise table that had been set up near the front of the club. “It may actually sell out, we’ve never done it,” he said. By the end of the night, however, the prediction proved right on.

Short, thin, and with long dark hair that’s a cross between the Ramones and a 70s Ted Nugent, one wouldn’t guess by looking at Mirasole that he’s one of the best drummers in Austin. And on this night, the latest record done, he was more than ready to celebrate its release. “It would take something horrible like a flash flood to ruin it,” said Mirasole, just as an extremely large fruit basket arrives at the table.

It was a big night indeed. After releasing about an EP a year for the last three, the band was finally ready to tackle its first a full-length CD. “We’ve been together for so long, and it’s still something we haven’t done,” said O’Brien.

While previous recordings have been home-brewed affairs, this time Bright Light enlisted the help of producer and engineer-extroardinaire Danny Reisch. Having worked with a solid line-up of indie-rock acts, including White Denim, What Made Milwaukee Famous, Hollywood Gossip and the Black Angels, Reisch knows a thing or two about making a good record.

With a producer, the band had time to experiment and get everything perfect. “In almost every conceivable way it was a better experience,” said Curtis Roush.

The record itself is nothing short of a revelation. From the first track to the last, it’s everything that’s great about rock and roll. The slow-burning soul jam “Detroit” simmers over the flame of lost love, while “Back and Forth” begs and pleads for some sweat and hip shaking.

Songs are stretched and jammed-out to their inevitable conclusions while still maintaining their tight, dancey rock cores. Every song on the record displays a musicianship that outstrips many of their indie peers. Mirasole is a human drumming machine. O’Brien keeps it fat and funky on bass. Vincent’s keys keep that classic rock flair alive. Roush, meanwhile, should be enthroned as Austin’s next guitar god.

At 12:10 a.m., Bright Light finally took the stage.

“Y’all feelin’ alright?!” shouted O’Brien to the crowd.

It sounded like a clichéd, rock and roll introduction, but the energy and magnetism of Bright Light more than made up for it. After two incredible sets from the opening bands (Austin’s the Frontier Brothers and Lafayette, LA natives Brass Beds), the over-capacity crowd was ecstatic.

“I’m ready to boogie,” shouted concert-goer Amanda Fay. She wasn’t alone. Nearly 700 people wrangled for dancing space in the increasingly cramped Antone’s. Moving wasn’t an option.

The band kicked off with new record’s opener, “Shanty.” The jaunty opening keyboard lines blended into a banging tribal beat of the drums, and some nice slide work from Roush. If this first tune was any indication, Antone’s may have needed to get their foundation checked after the show. The whole place shook, as the crowd stepped and stomped.

And it didn’t stop for the next 90 minutes.

Bright Light blazed through the tracks on the record, plus a new addition to the set, a frenetic cover of the Who’s “Young Man Blues.” The songs united the crowd into a moving organism that swayed as one with every rhythm.

Onstage, the band was electric. The front line rocked in unison, doing bends and moves that would give KISS a run for their money. Mirasole was a wall of hair and a blur of limbs. When Vincent moved away from his rack of keyboards and slung a key-tar, the crowd went wild.

When the band exhausted its way off stage, the crowd could sense the tease of the inevitable encore, and O’Brien didn’t disappoint. He returned shirtless and sporting what appeared to be shorts from a 60s beach party movie.

“I came here to tell ya everything is gonna be alright this evening!” he shouted in a preacher’s call-and-response style waiting for his “amens.”

Bright Light launched into one of the sexiest songs of their set, Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” and  followed with the absolutely beautiful “Men of the Earth” before moving into into the hipster-funk euphoria of “Back and Forth.”

Bright Light closed the set with the prog-soul Armageddon that is “Rhubarb Jam.” The wonderfully bombastic gave way to the cool chill out only  to be ripped apart by intense catharsis as Bright Light put the finishing touches on the masterful unveiling of its first full-length album.