About a third of the way through her set on Thursday night, Carly Rae Jepsen took off her iridescent, floor-length plastic trench coat and tied it around her waist. The move was one of necessity — the venue was heating up — a carefully casual, perfectly reasonable gesture that all but summed up her essence as a star: polished, put together, trendy, and still just slightly awkward. And while millennial teens might’ve grown up muttering awkward to each other under our breath at pointed intervals as a scathing jab, that’s not at all how the aesthetic hits in 2019.
For those who love her, Carly’s earnest, regular-girl dance moves, shyness, and quirky sense of style are all part of the draw — she’s the pop star next door, who might accidentally trip while waving to you as she walks up the steps. In a bleak world where someone else is getting “canceled” every day for either truly heinous (or, sometimes, truly harmless) actions, the fact that all of Jepsen’s imperfections are acknowledged up front and center is a welcome respite.
As a live performer and, critics argue, perhaps on record, Jepsen brings all of the enthusiasm but also a modicum of stiffness that, for those who love her, is entirely relatable. Between the massive casual fan base she accrued off the power of her ultra-massive viral hit “Call Me, Maybe” — the kind of international powerhouse all pop stars secretly hope to create — and the diehard, cultish fans of her 2015 release E•MO•TION (present!), a Jepsen show is brimming with excited, passionate young people who know all the words, and who aren’t too cool to scream them back. On the way home from the show, they’ll be making memes about the experience; Carly is probably already Queen of Anaheim House Of Blues, by now.
Clad in a black, patent leather one shoulder onesie under that iridescent trench, patterned tights that mimic the sexiness of fishnets without actually going that sheer, big shiny hoops, and her platinum blonde hair pinned back with a casual side bang, Jepsen was understated but dynamic during her tour opener in Anaheim, just a hair outside of Los Angeles’ normal scope; the diehards made their way all the way out here, others may hang on for her loop back in August for two nights at The Wiltern. Although, fans planning to go this route might want to get tickets quick because one date is already sold out.
Opening with a string of solid picks — “No Drug Like Me,” off a solid new album, Dedicated, the cult-favorite titular track “E•MO•TION,” and saxophone-banger “Run Away With Me,” then another pair of Dedicated cuts, “Julien,” and “Happy Not Knowing” — it only took her till track six to bust out “Call Me, Maybe.” With that out of the way, both Carly and the fans seemed to settle into a groove, content to know that her major hit, while important, and still included, wouldn’t be the focus here, not even meriting an encore slot. No, instead, the rest of the show did a great job of soldering the best new songs off Dedicated with standouts from E•MO•TION.
The Antonoff-core, confetti-friendly “Want You In My Room” had a huge impact live, as did “Too Much,” and “Everything He Needs,” but none of these elicited the kind of reaction that the Cyndi Lauper-indebted “Boy Problems” had when the opening salvo came blasting through the space. Still, “Party For One” as the final song of the pre-encore setlist was a proper send-off, and this crowd, at least, knew the lyrics to Jepsen’s new material just as well as her four-year-old tracks.
It was post-trench-coat tie that Jepsen really begin to settle into herself, and the stage, and the back half of the show was heads and shoulders above the first half when it came to energy, and her overall comfort. Eventually, she finally spoke to the audience, noting that she’d been “too shy” to do so at first — this only drew more cheers. And while Carly can be pitchy when trying to hit some of the choppier verses or choruses in her discography, her enthusiasm literally never flags. It goes beyond cheeriness, and it never feels forced — we need a German word for that, surely.
As she freed herself up to dance more, either a freeform personal groove or campy choreography with one or two backup singers, her voice relaxed, too. Odds are this show will only get better as she takes it up the coast to San Francisco and beyond, and will be truly flawless by the time it circles back to LA in several weeks. And even as Dedicated grows on fans, the specter of E•MO•TION looms large. An encore of Dev Hynes co-write “All That,” and the deep cut “Let’s Get Lost” preceded her final number, the sparkling one-off “Cut To The Feeling,” that was, nevertheless, a B-side from the E•MO•TION era. But just like Carly won’t let a viral single define her, her third record won’t either. She’ll just fold both back into her repertoire, and keep giving fans what they want. Which is still, namely, her, awkward moments and all.