House of Blues
February 21, 2016
Most of the hierarchy of pop music makes sense. You might not agree with how popular some artists are, but you can at least understand why some play stadiums, some play arenas, some play amphitheaters and so on down.
Carly Rae Jepsen, however, remains a bit of an enigma in the pop landscape. By various metrics, she should be a superstar. She has the biggest-selling digital single of all time (“Call Me Maybe” has been bought more than 18 million times online), is loved by critics and has gotten plenty of assists from Justin Bieber when it comes to promotion.
But you couldn’t not notice the fact that House of Blues wasn’t particularly full for her return to Houston Sunday night. The crowd was bunched up near the front as they always are, but the sides and back of the venue were largely ghost towns, where even deep into the set you could find room to lean against the railings.
If playing to not-full houses bothers Jepsen, you can’t tell from her performance. She puts on a rock-solid show that jams 21 songs into an hour-and-a-half set, including every single song from the regular version of her damn-near-perfect 2015 release Emotion and most of the deluxe-version tracks, too. The crowd, regardless of size, was passionate for these singers in particular, and in the quiet moments you could hear much of the crowd belting out the songs along with her.
But there wasn’t a ton of quiet on the menu. Emotion is an ’80s mall-pop masterpiece, which means plenty of big hooks and upbeat synth goodness. It’s the kind of music that makes for a really good Sunday night dance party, no matter the era.
She hasn’t completely abandoned her older tracks, but they did stand out against the different style of the new stuff. That’s not to say they were unwelcome; her keyboard/saxophone player did a very good Owl City impersonation on “Good Time,” and pretty much anyone into pop music goes mad for “Call Me Maybe” if they can get past the song’s questionable grammar.
It’s frustrating, not only for a fan of her music but for a fan of pop music in general, that Jepsen isn’t more popular. Sure, Kiss was a pretty light, middle-of-the-road record, but Emotion is fantastic, and not just because it sounds retro. Jepsen is a severely underrated songwriter; her songs might be romantic fluff, but they’re really strong, relatable pieces of romantic fluff. Plus, her point of view as the woman who goes after what she wants (she’s the one who gives her number out; she’s the one who has to confess that she really, really, really likes you; she’s the one who wants you to run away with her) in a way that is natural/free of gimmicks is pretty neat too.
I’m not saying she has to be Katy Perry big or even Lorde big. I’d settle for Chvrches big. I want her playing rooms so packed that the gang vocals in “Run Away With Me” and “Gimme Love” sound massive.
What I’m saying is that Carly Rae Jepsen is so good right now that I wish going to see her in concert was actually more annoying than it is right now, which might be the best compliment I can give an artist.
So, How Was the Opener? I didn’t know anything about Cardiknox before seeing them live, but I enjoyed them. Infectious is kind of lazy shorthand for catchy, but this is one of those rare times I think the word works. Plenty of people seemed to be into them by the time they left the stage.
Personal Bias: Emotion was No. 2 on my Pazz and Jop ballot.
The Crowd: “Boy Problems” is something folks of all ages, races and genders can identify with.
Random Notebook Dump: If anyone else went to Bellator 149, Owlcon and this show this weekend, let me know so we can be best friends.