Winter of 2011, I listened to electropop artist Lights every morning. Headed to school, I scraped off my windshield and shivered in my high-school car. Commuting on I-94W, I heard her self-titled EP and debut LP (The Listening) dozens of times — the singer’s cool voice met glimmery pop production on songs such as “Ice,” “My Boots,” and “February Air.”
The next year, I got my parents to let me go to my first concert. They wouldn’t grant permission for just any show (fact: a “family dinner” outranked Ellie Goulding when she played Fine Line. I’m not bitter). But they knew how much I loved Lights. At the show, I had no idea what an opener was or how to move my feet, but I learned that I loved live music.
As a PSEO student, I wrote my first album review on The Listening. Re-reading it this week, I cringed (my 16-year-old self called the album the “the musical equivalent of a balloon soaring toward a sunny blue sky”). But I know how much fun I had writing it.
I could go song-by-song and spell out why Lights meant so much to me, but I’ll spare everyone the drama. Suffice it to say: She used to be my favorite, and I’ve seen her play several live shows. When she released 2014’s Little Machines, I thought it showed a lot of maturity — The Listening’s lightness balanced out Siberia’s grime.
As Lights grew up, so did I; I studied abroad, graduated college, and became a writer. I found out I loved music journalism enough to structure my life around it. I turned 21 (the last step to adulthood and legitimacy, if you don’t care about rental cars), and I just accepted a full-time job offer. I knew I had to go back to Lights at the Varsity: the show where it all began.
At her show on Saturday, Lights played eight songs off Little Machines, plus some extras from albums past; “Second Go” got a precious acoustic version, as did the slightly boring “Meteorites.” She announced a new album while sitting down with her guitar: “I might as well tell you—we’re doing an acoustic version of 'Little Machines.'” A couple in front of me looked at each other and grinned.
Later, Lights said she wasn’t feeling that great — ”I was throwing up a ton when I was backstage,” she told the crowd. Later, she said, “I like this place. If this were any other place, I would not be having a good time.” She fooled me, though. Aside from avoiding a couple big notes (most notably in “The Last Thing On Your Mind”), she nailed the show.
As the band walked back onstage for an encore, I guessed which song(s) they might play. “Flux and Flow”? “In The Dark I See”? Wrong and wrong. Lights climbed the stage’s stairs, and the synthesizers kicked up the intro to “Banner,” a triumphant track from Siberia. For a second, my mind jumped back a few years — Lights had opened with “Banner” at my first show. First song then, last song now. Bookends.
Notes on the other acts: Let’s face it. Co-headliners the Mowgli’s were terrible. I can see why people love them — they’re an energetic, friendly band who preach empowerment and shout out charities for changing the world — but I had a hard time hearing past their cheesy, clappy pop-rock material for anything of artistic interest. They played 15 songs.
K.Flay, however, killed it. I hadn’t heard much from the Stanford alum before, but I thought her jazzy voice succeeded across several genres. The crowd loved “It’s Strange,” a Flume-sounding love song (produced by Louis The Child).
Critic’s bias: This entire review is a critic’s bias.
Random notebook dump: Before “Running With The Boys,” Lights read an audience member’s sign: “Lights showed me girls can be producers too...so I became one.” She responded, “What? Fuck yeah!” and smiled. “Let’s hear it for the ladies in this scene!”
The crowd: The teens seemed to be there for the Mowgli’s. The twenty-somethings dug Lights. My 13-year-old sister felt like the only one her age. Also: so much flannel.
Overheard in the crowd: As the Mowgli’s took the stage, someone behind me shouted, “I still don’t know who they are!”
From All Sides
The Same Sea
Second Go (acoustic)
The Last Thing On Your Mind
Running With The Boys
Timing Is Everything
Up We Go