Sunday, May 24

Brightblack Morning Light are master mood-setters, a talent that plays best on the home stereo, where the listener's imagination, as if absorbed in a novel, can fill in the blanks of the band's somnolent, minimalist, organic beat-scapes.

The band does its best to re-create this phenomenon live by minimizing its own presence. Solar Culture was darkened to near pitch-black, with only a few colored spots lighting the stage behind the musicians. Frequent belches from a smoke machine kept the stage area clouded, further obscuring the band, and the effect was uninterrupted by any effort to engage the audience, which nevertheless stood, apparently mesmerized, as close as possible to the stage.

Fans expecting to hear "Everybody Daylight," popularized by a soft-porn video on YouTube, might have been disappointed, along with anyone expecting political fireworks based on the band's "no military" stance that generated press before their last Tucson show at Club Congress in 2007. Only a few free copies of the Defenders of Wildlife magazine on the merch table spoke to Brightblack's current political involvement.

Nor did the show satisfy any yearning to hear favorites from the band's recordings. The set consisted of mostly brand-new material, covering only "Gathered Years," "A Rainbow Aims" and "Hologram Buffalo" from the September 2008 release Motion to Rejoin, and nothing from two previous releases.

Nonetheless, astute fans got their money's worth in the uncharacteristic tension and exploration of new material. The resulting improvisations made this show one of a kind. Since Brightblack was without a drummer—ever-present on recordings and usually on tour—the audience glimpsed more of the soul of Rachael Hughes. She held down both the rhythmic center and chord changes on her vintage Fender Rhodes organ while Nathan "Nabob" Shineywater moved like a specter between keyboards, xylophone and guitar.

The set closed dramatically, at midnight, when the stage smoke set off Solar Culture's smoke alarm.

The crowd gathered early for Brightblack's fellow New Mexicans, Rio en Medio, who plied an electronic folk mélange loaded with personal and musical charm, in bright and textured contrast to the headliners. Her set ranged from gentle ballads, accompanied only by her baritone ukulele, to fully realized orchestral electronica, vivid with imagination yet grounded in earthy substance.

Linda Ray