2015 was an interesting year for Carly Rae Jepsen. Tasked with the impossible feat of following up “Call Me Maybe” — likely to be remembered as the greatest pop song of the decade — Jepsen managed to do something that very few people in the pop world have done: release a follow-up that became one of the most critically lauded records of the year. Very few performers do well with their sophomore record, but Jepsen’s release hit #3 on The Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop Poll, sharing space not with fellow popsters, but with folks like Kendrick Lamar and Courtney Barnett. This, plus a slot on the indie-centric Noise Pop Festival, prove that Jepsen has attained something that very few Top 40 artists have: respect from critics, along with acceptance by the very picky indie rock community. In fact, despite the presence of such long defunct acts as Drive Like Jehu, Her Space Holiday, and American Football at this year’s Noise Pop, Jepsen’s was the most anticipated set of the festival.
Before the show, a colleague of mine and I had been discussing the few times we had been able to see bands play way ahead of their prime: seeing Radiohead open for Belly at The Warfield, seeing Dave Matthews Band play a bar in a New England college town, etc. Afterwards, we decided that the opening set by Monika was one of those shows. Her 20-minute set felt like five minutes. If Mick Jagger and Robyn had a baby, they would have the sort of swagger that Monika has. Her sound is a high-energy combination of Dap-Tones soul and Brigitte Bardot-era pop, with just a hint of vintage reggae. This won’t be the last time you’ll hear about this performer. Monika is going to be around for so long, you’ll forget that other Monica – you know, the one that fought with Brandy, over that boy.
Monika was so impressive that her follow-up, synth pop duo Cardiknox, simply felt a little flat. Lead singer Lonnie Angle has great moves, and the band was incredibly proficient at what they do. It sort of felt like what would happen if Rachel Platten took over as songwriter for CHVRCHES, only not quite as dynamic. It wasn’t a bad set, it was just a comparatively unsatisfying set. Imagine if you enjoyed an slice of Little Star Pizza, and then were given a slice of Round Table. The Round Table Pizza isn’t bad, but kind of a disappointment after that lovely Little Star slice.
That being said, it was nice to have a bit of a palate cleanser before our main course. And what a delicious meal it was…
Jepsen’s latest record, E*MO*TION is a timeless piece of pop confection. She opened with album opener “Run Away With Me,” a bubbly piece of pop that sounds straight out of 1986. The sax and heartbeat-drums were the perfect way to kick off 90 minutes of pure, unadulterated fun. From the moment she took the stage, she had the crowd eating out of her hands. The room handled most of the back up vocals, and danced frenetically.
If there was any drawback to the set, it was that Jepsen was suffering from a pretty severe cold that night. When she spoke, it sounded like she had a smoker’s rasp. When she sang, there was clear roughness, but it actually added to the performance; normally, she sounds a little too sugary. Perhaps because she was fighting illness, there was a sort of muted intensity, especially potent during her mid-set string of break-up songs – “Tonight I’m Getting Over You,” “Your Type,” and “When I Needed You” – where her voice sounded pained and frail, in all the right ways.
The cold, which caused her to drop a few songs from her regular set (she seemed to tell the band what was being skipped with a second mic near the drums), did not seem to hurt her energy levels on stage. She made full use of the stage, stopping only so she could connect with a different part of the room. She’s a rare type of performer, one that makes sure to make eye contact with every section of the room. This attention inspired the usually sedentary balcony to get out of their seats for the classic disco sound of “I Didn’t Just Come Here To Dance.”
For the people that are keeping score on the hits, she did play “Call Me Maybe,” one of only two songs off 2012’s The Kiss. (Her 2008 debut, Tug Of War, was completely ignored. I think I’m the only person that cared, though!) The audience sang along so hard they practically drowned her out.
We did not get her cover of the Full House Theme. We did, however, get to see a fantastic performer show you how to rise above the stigma of being a one hit wonder, and turn it into a career.
For a complete gallery of Kelly’s photos from this show, click here!