By Natalya Jones
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Last year, Texas rockers the Bright Light Social Hour sprang to unprecedented success when they snagged two huge wins at the Austin Music Awards. Lucky for them, the show lands during the empire-building music festival South by Southwest, known for yielding crucial industry buzz. For the Bright Light Social Hour, the two nods — which included Album of the Year for the 2010 self-titled debut studio release and Band of the Year — cemented the group's presence in the public's mind and ears.
Fast-forward some nine months. The foursome has now relentlessly toured the country, building a reputation for raw, energetic live performances. A Bright Light Social Hour show is complete with authentic rock-star theatrics, shredding instrumentals, and soul-driven song structures. It comes as no surprise that the band's second release, New Year's Live, was recorded during its sold-out New Year's Eve 2011 show at the Parish in its hometown of Austin.
Guitarist Curtis Roush, bassist Jack O'Brien, drummer Joseph Mirasole, and keyboardist A.J. Vincent are bringing their flavor of Central Texas rock revival to the East Coast with a stop at the Funky Buddha in Boca Raton. As dedicated road warriors, the guys in the Bright Light Social Hour are no strangers to the Sunshine State. In fact, they love it here, says O'Brien. "Tampa, Miami, and Orlando have become some of our greatest shows every time. Florida treats us right."
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Much of that is probably due to the fact that the group boasts wide stylistic appeal. The uncanny nods to the legacy of rock 'n' roll found on The Bright Light Social Hour album are packaged around funk, soul, and psychedelic pop production. It is an auditory odyssey that often departs from its heavy core but always maintains a discernible indie-rock undertone.
Three of the members sing, and sing well, which paves the way for soaring vocal leads and harmonies. The emphasis on sculpted vocal presentations reminiscent of Jim Morrison's confident tone and Robert Plant's range are reason enough to listen.
Clean and heavy guitar textures coalesce to make a mix of contagious, stick-in-your-head rhythms. Sharp organ stabs round out the dynamic soundscape. Onstage, the tracks only get better, as the players transform the basic songs into vehicles for hard-hitting peaks and extended solos.
The band credits its success to the hypercompetitive proving grounds of the Austin music scene. "There were always so many bands that it was often pretty hard to be noticed," O'Brien observes. "That kind of led us to work hard on improving our sound and live show."
Putting in their dues and scoring the awards helped with the rest. "Booking agents started to take us seriously, so it was easier to get out on the road in front of people. It came just in time for our first national tour, so it was really cool seeing a little buzz in places we'd never been before."
It's clear that the guys are having fun onstage and that the fun continues behind the scenes too, as evidenced in the band's online tour-diary video series. In the spirit of rock stardom, there are tour shenanigans and late-night hotel parties with fans, showing a kind of wild abandon that cannot be faked. "We like to enjoy ourselves, and it's possible that comes through in the music. But great music can come out of any state of being or lifestyle," notes O'Brien with a dose of modesty.
Despite playing hard, the group continues to always work hard, even on brief breaks from the road. "We're always working on new music when we're home, but with our busy touring schedule, it'll be quite awhile before we can get into the studio and record," he says.
That means that fans may have to wait a little longer for official versions of songs they might hear live. "They're like babies," O'Brien says of the band's songs. "You can birth them and do a lot to shape them, but ultimately, they are their own creatures. So far, the new ones we have are a bit darker and more groove-oriented, but we'll see how the rest turn out."