Canada’s pop singer-songwriter crossed the border for a Lost Horizon gig
A raucous young crowd greeted the singer-songwriter known as Lights as she shuffled merrily onstage at the Lost Horizon on Saturday night, Jan. 28. The girlish 24-year-old Canadian—born Valerie Anne Poxleitner—surveyed her adoring fans with big brown eyes and, without a word, launched into an hour of piercing vocals underscored by fuzzy bass and forgettable guitar.At first glance, Lights appears to be the poster child for indie-geek subculture, endorsing everything from Watchmen to the original Star Trek series in interviews. She has black, poetic tattoos running up and down her skinny arms. She’s gorgeous, but acts like she doesn’t realize it and dresses like she just woke up. She even plays a keytar onstage, although it was disappointingly absent in Syracuse. It was her last stateside concert before heading to Ontario, Canada, for some dates as well as overseas gigs during mid-February in Dublin and the United Kingdom.
Beneath the subterfuge, however, her music is undeniably pop. On the pop-indie musical continuum she aligns more toward Miley Cyrus than her fans would willingly admit.
Her songwriting shows the creativity and originality typically afforded to current pop music (which isn’t much), but she compensates with stunning vocals and strong stage presence. The songs are catchy and make any listener want to dance along. In the end, however, she’s more style than substance, a problem made evident when left alone onstage with a keyboard or an acoustic guitar.
Lights’ brand of pop music borrows from punk, metal, rock and the increasingly popular dubstep regime. But it finds no base in any particular style. Rather than devote an album or even an entire song to a particular subgenre in which she’s interested, she samples bits and pieces in various songs. The result is a smorgasbord of sound that grabs the listener’s attention, but has a tough time holding onto it. Fortunately, in pop music, it pays to be pretty. And Lights is certainly cashing in her chips.
Saturday’s show opened like a gunshot, with a string of high-energy synthpop numbers. Nearly every song in Lights’ repertoire is dominated by a throbbing kick drum caked in distorted fuzz. The clarity of Lights’ voice, however, along with steady, pulsing guitar riffs, balances the bass-heavy songs. The small showroom at the Lost was abuzz as she churned through her first two or three songs, but quickly faded as she worked her way into a comfortable rhythmic groove.
The lack of diversity among her songs left the show feeling flat, despite the brain-rattling bass and flickering backlights onstage. Lights commanded the crowd’s attention with her flailing arms and shrill lyrics, but the monotonous guitar and relentless bass blurred one song into the next. One vivid exception came halfway through the hour-long set with “Flux and Flow,” off her latest album Siberia (Lights Music/Last Gang Records). Lights shrieked the gothic chorus over a Skrillex-esque dubstep beat steeped in dark electronic growls in a slow yet refreshing anthem.
She changed up the set with a few solo songs on the keyboard, which showed no further originality but at least provided a break from the bass. She sang “Heavy Rope,” a crooning ballad as well as a punchy pop tune that adhered to her choppy, accentuated lyrical style. She ended the keyboard set with a teaser for “Siberia,” the title track off her new CD.
Lights closed the concert with a number on acoustic guitar and walked offstage as the boys in the audience screamed, “I love you!” “You’re sexy!” and other proclamations. She smiled sheepishly and tossed water bottles and other pieces of memorabilia into the crowd before leaving the stage for good.
Outside Lights, inside Lights: The singer-guitarist surprised her fervent fans (inset) around 3 p.m. on Jan. 28 as they braved the elements outside the Lost Horizon (some die-hards from Ohio were there at 8 a.m., 12 hours before the show), then took the stage to deliver her brand of dubstep pop.