Carly Rae Jepsen. Gothic Theatre. 03.05.16
When Carly Rae Jepsen dropped E•MO•TION last year, it seemed odd that the news spread to blogs and publications I rely on to find new music. Sure, “Call Me Maybe” was exasperatingly catchy, but it will forever remind me of the time I was subjected to grown ass men lip-syncing it at a company sales kick-off. That catastrophe of sight and sound scarred me for life. It seriously dumbfounded me that anyone got past the marketing barrage of that single to learn anything about the Canadian Idol runner-up behind it. I figured she was an actual person, but so were the guys in Eiffel 65 and no one cared about them. I also realized there had to be an album for “Call Me Maybe” to live on, but I assumed it was just a delivery mechanism for those who weren’t content with hearing the song on the radio, in restaurants, and on television every five minutes. So, if I never got around to listening to Kiss, why would I waste my time on E•MO•TION? The answer came in the form of “Run Away with Me”. From the smooth sax intro, to the initial beats building with the little-girl vocals, to the mature after-dark chorus, Carly Rae Jepsen shattered all my one-hit wonder preconceptions with an opening track that fulfilled everything I didn’t know I was missing about the 80’s.
E•MO•TION went on to become the most critically acclaimed bomb of last year. Garnering praise from some of the most judgmental music snobs on the internet, as well as topping hundreds of year-end lists, did nothing for album sales. The commercial failure has been explored by many (a lack of tour and proper promotion were part of the problem), but after seeing her perform last night, I think the biggest issue with selling Carly Rae Jepsen is that she is just a normal girl. She isn’t married to a rap mogul. She doesn’t wear crazy costumes or a wig over her face. She doesn’t date famous people and then write songs about their relationships. She’s just a 30-year-old singer-songwriter from Canada who just happened to follow an ear infection of a song with one of the best pop albums this side of 1989. The positive thing about all of this is that those who were in the know got to experience her arena-sized performance at the 1,000-person Gothic Theatre for $25, instead of having to suffer the Pepsi Center for $100. But who are those in the know? Who shows up to a Carly Rae Jepsen concert?
I am a 39-year-old man, so a lot of the bands I see are made up of members who are younger than I am. Going to see Sleigh Bells (fronted by 30-year-old Alexis Krauss) or CHVRCHES (led by 28-year-old Lauren Mayberry) is never an awkward experience, but rolling solo to a Carly Rae Jepsen show would be a little outside my comfort zone. For that reason, my wife and I were part of the ‘parents with teenage kids in tow’ demographic. Our 13-year-old daughter agreed to go with us as long as she could bring a friend. As we lined up in front of the venue (eating our Smashburgers on the go because we didn’t know there would be a line so early), I realized we were in the minority. The other parents had little kids with them. One poor mom was chaperoning a whole squad of preteen cheerleaders behind us, while a co-worker had four small kids with him ahead of us. The rest of the crowd seemed to be couples in their early-20’s.
Once inside, and from the viewpoint of our perfect balcony seats, the diversity of the crowd thickened with each opening act. By the time the acoustic trio of Fairground Saints finished their set, the parents, kids, and young couples were joined by two other groups. Gay men (young and not so young) and critical dudes with beards and glasses would end up being two of the most engaged parties of the night. From the time Carly followed that signature sax intro onto the stage, to the time she proved “Call Me Maybe” could still be fun, the gay congregation were losing their collective minds as they sang, danced, made heart symbols with their hands, and reached out to touch the unlikeliest of divas. Some of them were so determined to make contact, you would have thought her fingers held the secret to happiness. This was oddly augmented by the sound of little girls screaming as if Justin Bieber had just proposed to them. It’s not often you see hipster head-nodding and foot-tapping give way to full-on body movement, but when it comes to Carly Rae Jepsen, it seems her reach is absolute. The sea of diversity was in constant flux as a rip in the space-time continuum gave way to the days when the Club MTV Tour swept the nation.
Carly Rae Jepsen writes and sings ‘pop star’ songs, but she couldn’t be more different than Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, or Taylor Swift on stage. Backed by a (more than competent) 4-piece band, she wore a blouse, denim cut-offs, leggings, and patent leather boots, while her black hair framed her face in a long pixie cut. I only mention her appearance because it did nothing to distract from the performance. Carly’s clothes and style are not a prop. She’s the girl next door…if the girl who lives next door has a voice that can reach the rafters. Simple lighting bathed her in rotating neon hues that favored pink and blue, while a simple diamond acted as the backdrop. Unlike so many big-budget pop shows, the focus was on the music. And the music held its own. The set opened, as the album does, with “Run Away with Me”, before the keyboardist put the sax away until the end. The Gothic has one of the best sound systems of any medium-sized venue in Colorado, so Carly’s vocals came through perfect in the mix. The ice in my drink rattled as bass reverberated through the venue during club bangers like “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance”. And every chord was crisp during the acoustic rendition of “Curiosity”. Carly worked the crowd as well; touching those who begged to be touched, while journeying into the audience as far as she could without risking being mauled by rabid fans.
Every song came with a story. And every story was honest. She gave a heartfelt shout out to the opening bands. She spoke about sharing good and bad feelings with a lover. She talked about having boy problems. When she asked if anyone else had those type of problems, a girl got so excited she threw both arms in the air. Carly told us she once fell for a clueless Swedish boy, and even though she wrote a song for him, he just never caught on. She called out the guys ‘in the club’ who claim they only want to dance. And once she considered us ‘all friends’, she admitted to an ‘adorable’ thing she used to do when she first moved to Los Angeles — after a few Old Fashions, she would tell someone how horrible their city was. She learned her lesson though and it led to “L.A. Hallucinations”. Every story was told under the house lights, therefore exposing her in a way that would terrify most pop stars. She reminded me much more of Tiffany and Debbie Gibson in their prime than she did any of her peers in the business today. I could totally see her performing in malls if that were still a thing. If I could sum up Carly’s personality last night in one word, it would be ‘relatable’.
Many of my friends don’t like pop music. They just don’t understand how I can listen to E•MO•TION and take it seriously. But I think that’s where they get it wrong. They don’t understand you’re not supposed to take it seriously. Pop music is fun music. It isn’t to be analyzed. In most cases, it isn’t even meant to be important. It’s just feel good music. Carly Rae Jepsen performed every song from E•MO•TION last night and every one of them was about love in one way or another. There was nothing deep about them, but there wasn’t supposed to be. It was all about feeling. It was about that universal feeling that moves gay men in their 30’s the same way it moves heterosexual couples in their 20’s the same way it moves little girls in Jr. High. Carly Rae Jepsen knows how to evoke that feeling. Whether she’s bouncing around to tracks like “Good Time” and “When I Needed You”, or getting a little sentimental with “All That” and “Your Type”, or bringing the sax back out for a solo on “Let’s Get Lost”, she knows how to move her audience.
Ending the night with “I Really Like You” was a cruel trick to play (the chorus is still stuck in my head today), but that song (as well as the others) brought me back to being a kid in the 80’s — back before the internet, when you were pretty much stuck with the songs on the radio. I saw Tiffany back then. I saw Paula Abdul. Those are things I don’t get nostalgic about often, but I did last night. It was our daughter’s friend’s first concert, so watching them enjoy it together took me back to going to concerts with my parents. My wife didn’t love it though. When we talked about it over drinks at home, she admitted it reminded her of youth, but that she didn’t really have an appetite for that type of music anymore. She’d outgrown it. I think that’s a totally fair and valid argument, but I’m glad I don’t share her side of it. Sometimes I just need a little feel good music in my life and I’m glad Carly Rae Jepsen is out there to provide it.
Run Away With Me
Making the Most of the Night
I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance
Tonight I’m Getting Over You
When I Needed You
Let’s Get Lost
Call Me Maybe
I Really Like You