Bold is starting a set with a bonus track. But when you have a rabid fan base such as that of Canadian singer-songwriter Lights, who performed at Paradise Rock Club on Saturday night and inspired fans to start lining up on Commonwealth Avenue a bit after noon, you can open a show with the element of surprise.
From the first syllable of opener, “From All Sides,” a deluxe-edition cut from Lights’ latest album, 2014’s Little Machines, it was clear the performer came to play it anything but safe. Lights, born Valerie Anne Poxleitner, came to take us on a wild ride that was, as she described it, something she’d been looking forward to since the last time she played Boston roughly a year ago (and at the same venue). If you were with her this time around, great. If not, by the end of the 90-minute set, you’d be converted into a devoted fan. She was that engaging.
“The Boston stop on the last tour was the best of the entire tour, and this one is even better,” Lights told the sold-out crowd composed of all-ages kiddos, their parents, and even a few late-20s lovebirds circling the bar as they fumbled through second or third dates. The compliment comes as high praise from Lights, who is perpetually touring and, at least for this current tour, hasn’t hit other big markets like Chicago, Denver, or San Francisco yet.
The stage lighting was simple but extremely effective on Saturday: two rows of three rectangle outlines that added a depth to the otherwise shallow Paradise stage, perfectly framing Lights in a moody alternating of mostly blues, reds, and purples through a 90-minute set.
Sure, Little Machines, 2011’s Siberia, and her debut, 2009’s The Listening, may be electro pop-rock, but the Lights live show is in another space entirely — atmospheric, engaging, and laser-precise — while still raw and more accessible than anything on record. Hers is an aesthetic that would be best suited for live albums, not studio ones. It felt cosmically coincidental that on the same night Adele was performing live on Saturday Night Live, here was Lights, coming across as approachable and commanding in a live space as the British songbird.
The acoustic set was the highlight of the night: vocals laid bare, fun stage banter and even a surprise announcement (Lights is currently prepping an acoustic album of Little Machines hopefully to be released next year, she said). It made the 15-minute acoustic portion — including stripped-down takes on “Meteorites,” “Peace Sign” and the fan-requested “Second Go” — held its own, and during “Second Go,” you could even see a handful of folks in the crowd get teary-eyed. It was the soundtrack to what it feels like when the hair on the back of your neck stands on end.
Before Lights started on “Meteorites,” a fan yelled something unintelligible that caused Lights to lose her place: “The guy who was yelling really fucked me up,” she said, smiling as she held her acoustic guitar. “All you guys ever say sounds cute… you know, because of your [Boston] accents.” The comment came across as nothing but endearing.
During the remainder of the set, Lights strut from stage right to stage left and back again, all too reminiscent of her swagger in her “Toes” music video. She was perfectly at home amidst the same sea of fans that have come to see her show after show. She even made a point to say “I love you” to a few familiar faces toward front row center.
The vocal arcs of “From All Sides” were indeed a highlight. Another was “Portal” – similarly mid-tempo but hypnotic in a way that mesmerized as its crescendo built and built until the end. Both were, in their own ways, perfect examples of the boundlessness of Lights’ vocal prowess.
Likewise, when she introduced the Little Machines single “Running with the Boys,” she shared the inspiration for the song as if she were a friend who went off to find herself and has now come back, more centered than ever. “This one is a reminder that, as you get older, the fun doesn’t go away. You just have to choose to let it in,” she said. Then she went on to have more fun than anyone else, as she played guitar and sang her way through the song with a 1,000-watt smile.
If letting the fun in means attending another Lights show at Paradise Rock Club in 2016, consider us there.
Lights split the bill with The Mowgli’s, whose peace, love, and carefree vibes were fun at first, then felt a bit out of place for a chilly November night out in Boston. Nevertheless, the band’s playing and stage banter weren’t as polished as Lights’, but The Mowgli’s did well to serve as a foil to Lights’ own atmospherics – they were the day to Lights’ night. “I’m Good” and “Bad Dream” were the highpoints of their set.
PHASES, whose song “I’m in Love with My Life,” marries the cool factor of Lights with the California sunshine of The Mowgli’s, opened the show. The band used to be known as JJAMZ, had a semi-hit a few years back with “Heartbeat”, and frontman Alex Greenwald is perhaps best known for his work in 2000s rock band Phantom Planet.