Despite certain press reports, Rod Thomas insists he wasn’t raised in a coal mine. The Welsh singer-songwriter did, however, grow up near one, on a farm in a rural village he likened to the titular town in Twin Peaks last night at his performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.
The New York City transplant credits his obsession with television and movies to his isolated upbringing, when he had “no friends,” and the influence is apparent throughout his work: Thomas’s nom de disque, Bright Light Bright Light, is a quote from Gremlins; “Kiss for Kiss,” a standout cut from last year’s Choreography, was inspired by the interspecific gangbang in Alien: Resurrection; the drum loop in his 2012 single “Feel It” was fashioned from a sample of Laura Palmer’s scream in an episode of Twin Peaks; and he performed a cover of the main theme from David Lynch’s iconic series during a solo piano set for fans who showed up early.
So it felt particularly ill-fated when, just minutes into his main set, a glitch halted the video projections that bathed Thomas, who donned a rainbow-striped suit, in kaleidoscopic colors. And yet, the technical failure stripped away some of the otherwise stimulating visual distraction, at least temporarily. It allowed for what felt like a more direct, naked connection between the singer and his Brooklyn audience during songs like “New York Pretty,” from his new EP Tales of the City.
Thomas is a charismatic, magnetic performer, often funny but refreshingly sincere and unafraid to be poignant or vulnerable on both stage and record. He frequently paints vivid, cinematic scenes—of real-life closeted college crushes, of fictional damsels in distress—before launching into songs drenched in retro-minded synth-pop reminiscent of Pet Shop Boys and George Michael. Which is probably why he’s cultivated a devoted fanbase of (mostly) gay men ranging from millennials to late Gen-Xers, maybe even a few boomers, many of whom eagerly amassed in the lobby to meet Thomas after the show. It’s a demographic that isn’t exactly neglected by pop music, but one that still has few openly gay male icons to call their own.
Despite his embarrassment over recently losing his voice and having to cancel a show, Thomas’s vocals displayed a surprising clarity and precision. He traded a nimbly played sax and synth drum pad for an acoustic guitar later in the night, another welcome pause, and though his melodies are often uncomplicated, they’re also instantly familiar and accessible. He should be a big star. And to the fans in the room last night, he already is.