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   Date: 10/7/08

Lights Shimmers at Fall Concert

Lights’ infectious music warms the crowd at the fall Rec Council concert, as opener for the bands Cute is What We Aim For and Boys Like Girls

By Rachel Miller ’09

It’s a couple hours before Lights is scheduled to go on stage at John M. Greene Hall to open the Rec Council concert. Adolescent rockers Cute is What We Aim For and the headliner, Boys Like Girls, will follow.

Lights, aka Valerie Poxleitner

View a video of Lights in concert at Smith

I meet Lights in the basement of JMG, which is sectioned into dressing rooms with draped curtains. She arrives wearing clingy black jeans, a long, electric-green Technics T-shirt and bejewelled cowboy boots. Where her signature headband usually rests (you can buy your own at the merchandise table) there’s a brown knit beanie. Her teeth are blindingly white. “I’m so happy to be here!” she beams.

Lights, who is from Ontario, Canada, talks in fast-forward. Her personality matches her music, a happy electronic sound with catchy pop refrains and limitless energy. Lights’ parents can take credit for her stage name. They named her Lights Valerie Poxleitner.

Lights started writing and making music at age 11, found her manager at 15, and has been gaining popularity ever since. Her song “February Air” recently appeared in an Old Navy commercial. And she’s currently touring North America, stopping off at several colleges, in addition to Smith, and hitting big clubs like the Bowery Ballroom in New York City and Boston’s Middle East Club.

“At first I was nervous in front of all those eyeballs,” she tells me. “But the more I do it the more I love it, and when you see people singing along to your songs, that’s a big boost.”
Lights only recently emerged from her bedroom/songwriting studio to perform, she says. During live shows she rocks to a backdrop provided by Maurie Kaufmann, who plays the drums, and Adam Weaver, the keyboardist. “Wesley” is the name she gave her key-tar, a strapped keyboard. “It allows for more movement,” she explains. “That way I’m not stuck behind the keyboard.”

Lights prefers to work with electronics. “When I first started writing,” she explains, “there were so many female singer-songwriters playing with their guitars, and I needed to do something different.” She writes songs using a keyboard, a computer, and “whatever sound makers I can get my pincers on.” Her sound bank is vital, she says. “You open a program and there’s a collection of noises. Some are pointy, some are abrasive, some are soft, and the more varied the sounds in a song the better.”

I ask her: What do you do to prepare for a show? “Nintendo,” she says with a straight face. Lights is a gamer, you see, World of Warcraft style. It’s her number two passion, after music.

Then it was time for her to get ready to go on stage before hundreds of Smith music fans.

Out on the JMG floor, the doors open and a crowd of screaming teenage girls bolts down the aisles, many wearing Boys Like Girls garb and carrying the band’s CDs. A little later, some older fans trickle in. The show begins with Lights on stage.

Her voice is muffled at first, with too-heavy bass, but by the third song the sound has equalized and her beautiful voice soars. Lights looks up bashfully at the end of her first tunes, a reminder that she’s fairly new to performing. Then she relaxes a bit. “You guys are awesome,” she says, inviting us to clap along as she plays “Ice,” a single from her album. The song jaunts with a superb beat, impeccably clean, bouncy, and quickly complex, not unlike the artist. People move in their seats, some get up to dance in the aisles.

Lights wraps up for an appreciative crowd.

Next up: Cute is What We Aim For and Boys Like Girls bring their acts. Both are rock/emo (“emotional,” for unfamiliar readers) bands with depthless lyrics and slow growth that leads to blasted refrains. Strong guitars and heavy drums propel ballad after ballad, and for effect, the noise stops mid-song, only to grow and re-blast again. “We'll scream loud at the top of our lungs/And they’ll think it’s just cause we’re young,” explodes Boys Like Girls in their headliner “The Great Escape.” Both bands follow a formula that yields predictably powerful songs about adolescent excitement, and their flavor fades as soon as their songs do.

By contrast, as the rocked-out crowd shuffles out of JMG, Lights’ songs are still stuck in my head. She is just starting out, but her flavor is unique—pop music, and admittedly sugary, but with glorious potential that floats around the “lush pads” of her many sounds.


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