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Déjà Varsity: On Lights, teen fandom, and not forgetting our faves

Lights

Lights

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!”

Setlist:

From All Sides

Toes

Siberia

Speeding

Muscle Memory

[interlude]

The Same Sea

Meteorites (acoustic)

Second Go (acoustic)

Portal

The Last Thing On Your Mind

Running With The Boys

Timing Is Everything

Up We Go

Encore:

Banner