I’ll admit that I was a little nervous seeing Carly Rae Jepsen live for the first time. E•MO•TION has soundtracked pretty much every moment of my life this year, much in the same way that 1989 had the year before, and I’ve seen too many pop stars flail around live to put much faith in their performances. So I braced myself and lowered my expectations, but thankfully that was completely unnecessary because Jepsen brought it last night for her headlining show at Irving Plaza in New York. Feeding off the energy of the crowd, she pummeled through a 21-song set list like it was nothing. The whole night played out like a greatest-hits tour, except that most of these songs were from the same fucking album! It was wonderful.
Part of the joy of Jepsen’s third album is in all of the intricacies — the little production touches that play out in the backdrop of each track, waiting for you to pick up on them on the third or thirtieth listen. But even with that immaculately constructed, tirelessly worked-at pop sheen stripped away, these songs still rocked. Jepsen used a full band for the majority of the set, and her stage players are the kind of road-traveled warriors that play their instruments with expertise. All of the songs have been reimagined and rearranged with that set-up in mind, and they revealed new strengths.
From the opening sax notes of “Run Away With Me” that kicked the show off (and, yeah, there was an IRL saxophone on stage!), these songs glitzed like the heart-wrenching prom nostalgia bombs they were built to be. “I Didn’t Just Come Here To Dance” had most of its techno heart broken down: her drummer frantically recreated the backbeat live; there was a little computer-assisted help on that one, but it felt more alive and arresting than it ever has on the record. “When I Needed You,” already one of the best songs on the album, got even more power from the immediacy of the live setting. (A particularly great concert moment: After the final chorus on that track, the crowd sang another one back to her in unison, and it was really special and moving!) Dev Hynes came out to play on “All That,” the song he co-wrote with Jepsen and Ariel Rechtshaid, and it sounded amazing. It’s one of my least favorite tracks on the album, only because it brings the mood way down, but it was an absolute lighters (cellphones?)-up slow jam during the show.
There were a few bum notes — she’s not our most hapless pop star for nothing, right? She opened the encore with a participatory acoustic rendition of “Curiosity,” and while it was clear she was having a lot of fun with it, it veered a little too close to cafe open mic territory. For a night that was all about establishing Jepsen as a viable star, it was a bit of a disappointment to see her falling back on old tricks. Similarly, every time she reached into her back catalog, you could feel the audience’s energy shift: “Good Time,” her dreadful Owl City collab, was a good time to grab a beer. The EDM drop in “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” felt cheap, especially with all of the inventiveness going on around it. “Tiny Little Bows” and “This Kiss” fared a little better, and “Call Me Maybe” was fun-as-hell to sing live in the way that singing one of the best pop songs of the decade always will be.
But, overall, the show gave me more faith in Jepsen than I had before, hard as that may be to believe considering all the effusive praise we’ve heaped on her so far. There was no grand spectacle last night: Just great songs, and a performer who rose to the occasion to do them justice. E•MO•TION is a fantastic album for many reasons, but why it’s going to be a lasting one is because of the vulnerability and potency of these tracks, and it’s good to know that the magic can be translated to a live setting, as well. Long live Carly Rae.
“Run Away With Me”
“Making The Most Of The Night”
“Tiny Little Bows”
“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”