Metro Weekly

Bright Light Bright Light’s Mini-Tour is Totally Lit

Bright Light Bright Light returns to D.C., playing The Pie Shop on Sunday for one of his first concerts since the pandemic.

Bright Light Bright Light
Bright Light Bright Light

Since 2020, Rod Thomas has only performed “a handful of shows,” and only in and around his New York base. The artist, who records and performs as Bright Light Bright Light, is scheduled to perform a handful more on a mini-tour this month beyond the Big Apple, with a stop this Sunday, May 21, at D.C.’s Pie Shop.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the road,” says the U.K. native, who spent the fall of 2019 warming up legions of Cher fans on European dates of the diva’s world tour. While the massive live music industry, and the elaborate concert touring system that undergirds it, may finally be back in full swing these days, not quite two years since a scattershot reboot, the barriers to entry are greater than ever.

“For independent artists, it’s been much harder to get back on the road because of the soaring costs of travel and concerns with COVID,” says Thomas, specifically citing “the nightmare” of risks associated with any COVID diagnosis or outbreak. “I had a few friends go on the road where somebody in their band got COVID, and then they had to pay for hotels for an extra five days while they were quarantining.”

The situation is compounded for indie artists like Thomas who had things lined up in 2020 that would have accelerated their career, but were quashed by the pandemic. “It’s very difficult to just let that go and reconcile with this new reality of just backtracking a bit, and really understanding that we have to [take] a few steps back to be able to take more steps forward,” he says.

Because of the pandemic, Bright Light Bright Light didn’t achieve the wider recognition he almost certainly would have from his superb fourth album Fun City. It was released in September 2020 with little of the fanfare originally planned for it. The set did manage to rack up plenty of accolades, however, including taking a bow at No. 4 in Metro Weekly‘s “10 Best Albums of 2020.” Music critic Sean Maunier praised this “love letter to queerness past and present” as an album that “distills an unbelievable amount of queer joy and queer talent into one glorious, glittering package.”

“The album came out but without any shows attached to it,” Thomas says. “And so it just didn’t have the lifespan that it would have had had we been able to tour. It didn’t have the reach [or] the connection to people that I really wish that it had had.”

During the past few years, Thomas has kept the Bright Light Bright Light name out there with weekly livestream DJ sets. He also busied himself writing the score for All Man: The International Male Story, Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed’s documentary about the infamous mail-order male fashion catalog.

Narrated by Matt Bomer, the film, which made the rounds of the LGBTQ festival circuit, including Reel Affirmations last fall, is set for streaming release on June 6. “Bright Light Bright Light’s synth disco score,” wrote Variety in its review of All Man, “[maintains] a buoyant vibe that feels very much in keeping with International Male’s tongue-in-cheek appeal.”

“It was really cool to dive into the history of the magazine and understand its heyday and its rise, its decline, and just the ripple effect that it had on pop culture,” Thomas says. “My life’s ambition was to do a film score, so hopefully this is the first of many.”

The 40-year-old synth-pop artist, it’s worth pointing out, has been as inspired by film and cinema as he has dance music and the club scene from the get-go — a fact made plain with his choice of artistic moniker, which derives from the popular ’80s movie series Gremlins.

All Man also inspired a new song intended for release in July as the third track from the next Bright Light Bright Light album. In prepping what is planned as his fifth self-released set, Thomas is exploring a different promotional strategy, one built around intermittent single releases — plus limited touring — and coming as part of a sustained year-long campaign culminating in the new full-length.

“Instead of just putting everything out in one go,” he says, “I’m doing a new song every two months, building up to an album next year. I’m kind of allowing each song to have a little breathing room and just give people moments of joy throughout the year.”

All those joyful moments will add up to an album full of “uplifting [and] positive songs,” Thomas says, “reminding people that life can be fun and amazing in the midst of everything that’s going on.”

Bright Light Bright Light
Bright Light Bright Light

At its core, the as-yet-untitled fifth album will implicitly document Thomas’s efforts at self-help and self-care, capturing his musical creations “tapping into different types of dance music that I really like,” and also “trying to explore all the different sounds and decades that made me feel really excited about music and excited about life.”

In the end, he says, “I’m just trying to make music that makes me happy and will hopefully make other people happy.”

Perfectly encapsulating the concept is the project’s lead-off single “Sweet Release,” which dropped in mid-March. The song, Thomas says, “is about someone bringing you back to life, or just reminding you that you can be whatever you want to be and you can achieve whatever you want to achieve. [I felt] stuck in a non-optimistic rut for a long time, so I’m happy to have a song that pulls myself out of that as much as it [hopefully] pulls out other people.”

“Sweet Release” will no doubt receive a sweet reception as part of the setlist for this weekend’s Bright Light Bright Light concert in D.C., part of “a little tour” this month, where it’s “just me and a piano, trying to keep it as streamlined as possible, [to] really reconnect with my biggest fans and whoever else comes to the table in a few cities that I really love.

“I’m going through my catalog,” he continues, “playing songs old and new, giving some [of the] stories behind the songs [and] doing a few surprise cover versions.” He may even perform an old B-side or album track if requested.

Asked if he’ll accommodate a request for a preview of one of the finished tracks from the forthcoming album beyond the already released singles “Sweet Release” and “Boys, Etc.,” he responds, “We will see. It depends on how keen the audience is.”

Bright Light Bright Light appears Sunday, May 21, at 8 p.m. at the Pie Shop, 1339 H St. NE. Tickets are $15. Visit or call 202-398-7437.

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