Lights at Varsity Theater, 5/8/13
Photo by Youa Vang
Lights with Pat Brown
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Tuesday, May 8, 2013
Contrast plays a lot into what Canadian artist Lights does. The singer appeared onstage at the Varsity Tuesday night with a head of silver hair and a stripped down set of songs, the exact opposite from the last time she was in town where she had a full production set and her usual dark hair. For this rare seated show, the Varsity took on an intimate feel, inviting an evening of subtleties that often get lost in her high production concerts. Late in the fall of 2012, Lights took to remaking her Siberia album. For some artists, this may be a cop out to writing new material, but the acoustic album is very much a different album, allowing her voice to shine through.
Looking at her, Lights defies expectation. The singer has an angelic voice, yet has so much control over it, much like herself, a mix of strength with beauty. Yet, she is funny and approachable, making guys want to be with her and girls want to be her.
With an acoustic guitar in hand, Lights opened with "Flux and Flow," a piece that showed off her range, placing highs and lows next to each other. The singer has voiced the importance of lyrics to her and to her music, but her melodies are wonderfully complex, yet grab you stay with you. Much of her songs not full-on love songs, they always hint at relationships and the connections to life, but one of her biggest hits, "Second Go," pulls straight from a romantic relationship, pleading for a second chance.
Lights can charm the room with her voice, but she also mixes humor into her set. She shared that "Heavy Rope" was originally named "Precipice," but sounded to much like "piss" thus she ended up changing the title. To buy herself some time, she prides herself in being able to tune and talk at the same time between song. So she did an imitation of shows that she'd seen where it's just the musician tuning and clearing their throat, adding at the end, "And I just bought myself some time."
The singer wrote "The Fence is Low" based on a recurring dream she used to have. She used to dream about standing on the edge of a cliff, much like the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, saying it was scary and exhilarating at the same time. She wrote the piece hoping to put it into perspective, though once she wrote it, she never had the dream again, leaving behind the song and what remains of the dream, a soothing shadowy piece.
"Siberia" is usually a piece driven by percussion, but approaching the grand piano, Lights turned it down and delicately played out the notes that showed her vulnerability. In a recent interview the singer passionately scoffs at the current music scene with its disposability, so she admires artists that can sustain what they love and not make it be about money. One of those artists is another artist who comes from a snowy country, Björk. As the audience was guessing what song it was, Lights pulled out her version of Björk's "Joga." Keeping with the snowy theme, she spoke about her first time playing in the Arctic.
On the way back, her cellist Kevin was able to talk the crew into letting her play her guitar on the plane. She shared that she wasn't able to hear much since because it was a half cargo plane, but she was able to play out some songs. Playing it off as if the songs weren't that important, but more the feeling of being in suspension and waiting for something to happen, she lead off into "Suspension," saying that every time she plays the song now, she is transported to that time in the air.
Photos by Youa Vang
Written during her tour with Owl City, "Cactus in the Valley" was conceived during a time that Lights' band had been on the road too long and starting to get sick and start fighting. One day during that tour, she took some time to be alone and wrote "Cactus in the Valley" within the span of fifteen minutes. Being in Minnesota, it would have been a perfect surprise if Adam Young of Owl City was able to show up to sing on "Cactus in the Valley," the piece he collaborated with her on the acoustic album. But being a busy guy, he wasn't able to be there, but Lights invited the audience to sing his part, segueing into the lullaby-like piece.
Lights excels at bringing her songs to life at a live show, but being in such a casual environment, she is able to bring in some covers. Her first song she remembers hearing and making an impact on her is U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Her version takes the song and reintroduces the epic piece to an audience that wasn't born when the song first came out.
With it being such a loose setting, the audience felt the freedom to shout out requests, one of them being "Peace Sign" and the B-Side "In the Dark I See." Lights laughed and said "Minneapolis is so hipster that you all know 'In the Dark I See' even though I haven't released it yet."
For her encore, Lights invited the audience to get cozy, causing the crowd to frantically move chairs and approach the stage to get as close to her as possible. The regular version of "Banner" is an energetic rebel cry, but acoustically, it became a sunny optimistic piece that allowed her audience to see the light at the end of the tunnel of being a teenager.
Critic's bias: I refused to see what an amazing artist Lights is until I covered her show last year. Acoustic, she is even more amazing. If you ever have the chance to see her, don't miss out.
The crowd: Hard-core Lights fans comfortable enough to shout out random things throughout the show.
Overheard in the crowd: "You're the only road I know!" - someone repeating the lyrics to Lights after she performed "Drive My Soul." She responded with, "I'm gonna tell you something funny right now. Someone always shouts that after I sing that song every night."
Random notebook dump: The seated show at the Varsity was perfect for an acoustic set.
Flux and Flow
Everybody Breaks a Glass
The Fence is Low
Timing is Everything
Joga - Björk cover
Cactus in the Valley
Drive My Soul
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2 cover
In the Dark I See
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