Lights onstage at White Oak Music HallEXPAND
Lights onstage at White Oak Music Hall
Photo by Jef Rouner

Lights Reminds Houston That We Can Be Giants

Lights is one of those artists who has been hitting a hardcore tour schedule and selling gold records for a decade, but I only recently became aware of her through her latest album, Skin and Earth. For that I have my wife to thank. I haven’t seen her form such an intense bond with an album in many years.

To add to the mystique, Lights wrote, drew and colored a six-part tie-in comic book of the same title that expands on the dystopian but hopeful themes of the album. The final issue was just released, and I devoured the whole thing hours before heading out to White Oak Music Hall. It’s well worth the read as it follows a young woman named En living her life in a polluted metropolis ruled by the indolent Pinks. En eventually has to confront a mysterious parasitic power and decide what the future of humanity will be. If you liked Wicked and the Divine, you’ll like Skin and Earth.

Onto the music, though.

Opening for Lights was DJ ad rapper DCF, and he was the definitely the highlight of the pre-show festivities. Bespectacled and decked out in an outfit somewhere between Captain Crunch and Horatio Hornblower, DCF commanded attention as he strutted and danced. His set was short – maybe 15 minutes – in in that time he crooned a never-ending stream of sex-laden lyrics. He ended with a heartfelt acoustic guitar cover of a Paramore song, adding further surreality to his act.

I was less impressed with Chase Atlantic. The Australian band bills themselves as alternative, but I had a better definition by the end of their set: classic rock. My first thought was “did the ‘00s not happen down under?” My wife described them as Rage Against the Machine on cold medicine, and that seems accurate. Don’t get me wrong, they were energetic and very talented. I was particularly pleased to see rock and roll saxophone back on a stage, but despite the energy, presentation and clear technical skill it was an act out of time. I half expected Matt Pinfield to come out and interview them afterwards. For those of us who grew up watching Soundgarden videos, we’ve now lived long enough for the ‘90s aesthetic to become a hip retro.

The crowd was lively for DCF and Chase Atlantic, but they were there for Lights. I haven’t seen anything like it in forever. She has cosplayers. I rode in a Lyft to the show with three of them, decked out in elaborate recreations of the Skin and Earth characters. They were far from the only ones. En’s distinctive tattoo, a major plot point, was everywhere. The sold out crowd knew every word of every song, and the press against the stage was so tight you could barely breathe. People afraid of losing coveted spots dropped their empty drinks on the floor instead of risking a trip to the trash can.

Skin and Earth was clearly the focus, and Lights played the whole album except, “Until the Light,” Magnetic Field” and “Fight Club.” I don’t think there’s any doubting that this electrifying collection of songs and the world Lights has built around them is something special. Songs like “Skydiving,” “Savage,” and her mega anthem “Giants” absolutely snare an audience into a trance, lifting them up into an ecstasy of noise and melodic empowerment.

Lights in front of her screenEXPAND
Lights in front of her screen
Photo by Kelly Musler

It’s not all fire and thunder, though. About halfway through the show Lights left the audience to a brief interlude showcasing art from the comic as she changed and the set was tightened up into a more intimate music setting. Strumming an acoustic guitar, she serenaded lighter offerings to give the crowd a chance to cool off. “Cactus in the Valley” was accompanied by a charming story of her chasing – and catching! – a tumbleweed on a day off in Amarillo.

“Those fuckers are FAST!” she said, showcasing her playful side. That was one of the best things about watching Lights perform. She’s having the time of her life. At one point a stage hand bought her a Knucklecut’s Pizza (a fictional brand from the comic) box, and she proceeded to play the keyboard line from “Up We Go” out of a hidden instrument in it as a joke. That’s Lights for you. One minute she’s screaming revolution and the next she’s chasing tumbleweeds like a happy 12-year-old.

The acoustic break was just a breather, though, and the final third of the concert was played at maximum volume. To say the audience went bananas during songs like “Kicks” and “Giants” is an understatement. People rushed the stage to try and touch Lights as she reached out, crushing the vanguard of young women grimly holding the line at the rail. We followed her every command to chant into the dark at her behest, and the audience became her choir. I’ve been performing and covering music in Houston for a long time, and absolutely no artist has ever been as mesmeric as I saw Lights be. No one.

SET
New Fears (Skin and Earth)
Savage (Skin and Earth)
Second Go (The Listening)
Toes (Siberia)
Up We Go (Little Machines
Siberia (Siberia)
Moonshine (Earth and Skin)
Cactus in the Valley (Siberia)
Face Up (The Listening)
Muscle Memory (Little Machines)
Skydiving (Skin and Earth)
Same Sea (Little Machines)
Kicks (Skin and Earth)
Morphine (Skin and Earth)
Running With the Boys (Little Machines)
Giants (Skin and Earth)
ENCORE - We Were Here (Skin and Earth)
ENCORE - Almost Had Me (Skin and Earth)

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