Disclosure: I was given two tickets to this concert, as well as a copy of LIGHTS’s album, with the understanding that I would write a review. The following review contains my own opinions and observations, which were not influenced or coerced by Warner Brothers, LIGHTS, or the Knitting Factory.
Inside most every geek, I theorize, there’s a rock star. That’s why we read fiction full of larger-than-life heroes and play games that allow us to live vicariously through over-the-top avatars. Sure, we may be slightly out of shape and tend to wear black t-shirts with white writing on them, but inside we’re perfect human (or non-human) specimens in illogically-skimpy battle armor, renowned throughout the universe for our fighting skills, with perfect skin, perfect hair, and a kickbutt electric guitar solo just waiting to accentuate our witty repartee.
After seeing LIGHTS live at Boise’s Knitting Factory on March 31, I spent some time exploring her website and Youtube channel. I then texted my concert date (who is now insisting that I spell his name RYAN) with one of the highest compliments I can bestow: This gal, I said, is high geek.
But first, the concert itself.
LIGHTS (legally Lights Valerie Poxleitner) took the stage in a casual outfit, shiny dark hair, and – most interestingly to me – a very practical pair of boots. These boots looked comfortable and well-worn; they told me that she wasn’t some overstyled diva selling more sex than music, but rather someone who didn’t want anything distracting her from her physical interaction with the music.
LIGHTS was flanked by a drummer, Maurie Kaufmann, and a second keyboard/synthesizer player, Adam Weaver. From my roost above the stage, the main thing that kept her from looking like a sixteen-year-old was the collection of tattoos stretching across her long arms.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. The venue looked like an overcrowded junior high dance, and the audience had stayed pretty static for the excellent warm-up act, Paper Route. I’d enjoyed the light, feminine, poppy sound of her album (The Listening, $12.99 through Amazon) and wondered how it would hold up to the sound techs’ heavy hand with the bass. Finally, live acts often fail to live up to studio recordings – so many contemporary artists are simply unable to keep on pitch without technicians correcting their vocal tracks.
Let’s just say that I was pleasantly surprised. The aesthetic was significantly different than that of the album; with the drums and bass cranked up, the delicateness was replaced by a more aggressive, passionate sound. It was pretty darn terrific. (That there’s professional concert reviewer jargon.) I feel pretty confident that more people weren’t dancing only because they were packed in so tightly toward the stage; the audience was engaged, enjoying themselves, and frequently filled quiet moments with shouts of “I love you!” and “You’re gorgeous!”
I have to admit that I kind of loved her, too. She was just enjoying herself so much that it was positively infectious. This was my first clue, aside from her press packet, that she really was geek; she let her body move to the music in unreserved, un-choreographed, often flailing ways, all arms and legs reacting unconsciously to what she was playing, singing, and feeling. More than once she appeared to be holding on to her synthesizer’s keys for dear life, lest the sound blow her backwards off the stage. Those low-heeled boots came in handy as she bounced up and down, twisted on her toes, and navigated a stage crisscrossed with power cords. Her performance of “Ice,” in particular, was just a joy to watch – and after watching the video, I now know why. This geek girl really owns and loves her music, because it’s a direct connection to her ripe imagination and big, unabashed emotion.
(I now interrupt this rambly review to present the music video for “Ice.” I think you’ll get a kick out of this.)
All this talk about the visuals of the concert should not be allowed to take away from the actual music, which was also very good (and perfectly on pitch, for what it’s worth). LIGHTS cites Björk as her major musical influence, and I can definitely see it. Her music, which she describes as intergalactic electropop, also reminded me somewhat of Nena and La Roux (neither comparison, I suspect, being terribly surprising). However, it also seems inspired by Styx’s more space-age offerings, particularly those opening bars of “Mr. Roboto.” Although she doesn’t have an enormous voice, LIGHTS does have a versatile instrument that ranges from “sweet little girl” to “superheroine battle cry.” As her voice matures, I can kind of see her becoming electronica’s answer to Fergie.
LIGHTS also performed with confidence, bantering charmingly with the audience and remaining unflappable even when her keytar went out on her. Yes, I said keytar.
RYAN enjoyed the show, although he found LIGHTS perhaps a little “bubblegummy, but not in a bad way.” My only real criticism was that it was difficult (and at times impossible) to understand LIGHTS’s vocals through the wall of bass. I wish, for example, that I could have understood why she told the audience that “Lions” was a song about World of Warcraft. (See, I told you this girl was geek.) The song was great, but I couldn’t make out any of the lyrics.
I’m not good at handing out stars or thumbs-up with reviews; for me, the measure of a good concert is whether it makes me want to go out and buy the album. Both LIGHTS and Paper Route achieved that. (For the record, Owl City did not.) I already have The Listening, courtesy of the press packet, so I’m looking forward to the next album.
And if the concert hadn’t made a fan out of me, LIGHTS’s online offerings probably would have. The best of the best, for those counting geek points, has to be Audio Quest: A Captain LIGHTS Adventure. What’s not to love about a geekgrrl who is also a successful music artist and who has her very own animated sci fi superhero webcomic?
LIGHTS: good, original music; infectiously fun performance; high geek.
Me: looking forward to that collaboration with Björk.
You: should be giving this gal a listen.