Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen

Love Is Just a Call Away: Carly Rae Jepsen Kicks Off “Gimmie Love” Tour

There is something to be said about the power of pop classicism. While innovation is, of course, always the obsession on the frontiers of the wider musical landscape, there is an undeniable and powerful draw that comes from the building blocks of the past. Reinterpretation is as much a form and measure of artistic ability as making the next, the new, the never-heard-before.

Carly Rae Jepsen, the twenty nine year old songstress and pop fixation who was catapulted into the mainstream by asking us to call her, maybe, has alluded to her classicist impulses on record. Her show at the Fillmore Silver Spring this past Monday night illuminated those more slippery, shadowy influences and showed her to be a shrewd practitioner and interpreter of the golden ages and elements of pop. However, while she alluded to musical antiquity, her performance suggested a prelude to a possible redefinition of the pop performer in the Western Top 40 arena.

Musicians, scholars, and fans alike point to the Motown Label and the performance roster curated by Barry Gordy Jr. as a pinnacle in the production of American pop music. What made Motown hits—especially numbers by groups like the Supremes and the Jackson 5—was a subtle simplicity in the construction and layering of those songs. Accessible, highly hummable vocal melodies were bolstered by brief, complimentary flourish accompaniment, and a synchronized rhythmic assault: often the danceable beats were emphasized by multiple drums, bass, guitar, and tambourine or similar percussion. The Motown model was a simple yet seductive musical formula that held the Billboard charts by the throat for over thirty years.

Jepsen displayed similar emphases in her compositions, making full use of the fleshed out backing band—drums, bass, guitar, and one keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist/saxophone player—to build simply layered but engaging synth and dance pop that kept the crowd constantly bouncing for her 90 minute set. Most modern pop music is notorious tricky to reproduce well in the space of a club or arena as opposed to the studio. The building block nature of a model like Motown’s or Jepsen’s allows itself to be easily translated from the world of the studio and the headphone speaker to the live stage without loss of quality or allure. Thus on numbers like opener “Run Away With Me,” “Good Time,” “Favourite Colour,” or “Call Me, Maybe,” the simple layers, bolstered by the band’s percussive layering and emotive plays on the studio tracks, created a sound quality that matched the records’; and a listening experience that diverged and improved on it.

This is also due to the fact that Jepsen is a commanding presence as a pop performer. As she bounded across the stage, tussling with her head and hair, or reaching out for stolen moments of connection and invitation with audience members, she struck one as being a popstar actively engaged with her space. Without the spectacle of a Britney or a Madonna—whose early career mannerisms and physicality Jepsen channeled—she was forced to be much more economical and, therefore, more creative in bringing the world of her art to life. She often did such by effectively engaging in the space around her, bringing the crowd in as she wrapped herself in her own headspace. Many pop performers also shed their mic stands long ago, favoring either wireless wands or headsets. Yet Carly Rae—evoking performers as expressive as Ozzy Osbourne or Axl Rose—routinely demonstrated that the mic stand can actively be as much of a tool for emotive performance as the performer’s own body or voice. Jepsen also has the competition cornered on the vocal front; She has the natural emotive and evocative voice to propel the events and life of her songs into life before one’s very eyes.

But Jepsen built her show and her music on more than Motown models, mic stands or Madonna. There were times at which the slightly stale taste of modern synth pop sought to rain on Jepsen’s propulsive, pop parade. But for each of those moments,there were invitations to engage in others. These could range from the foundation of a song—such as the Toto and Genesis influenced, eighties pop/rock synthesizers that colored the entirety of the show—to subtle yet substantial ornaments, like the haunting, echoed vocals on “Tonight I’m Getting Over You,” or the aquatic flow of keyboard riffs on “All That.”

The live setting additionally allows an artist to tease out elements or fragments of records that are often lost in the mixing or compression of the final, studio product. Jepsen showed us that she has a soulful side, evoking the smooth, bouncing bass soulfulness of Kool and the Gang with “Boy Problems” and Michael Jackson’s most melodious moments on “All That,” reflecting “P.Y.T.” and “Human Nature.”

These sometimes subtle, yet always tightly sewn, classic pop threads are what allows Jepsen to enjoy a command of a crowd like few others in the Top 40 realm. Indeed when we think of a pop concert, we think of a set subservient to radio hits. What “pop star” can claim that they receive as much applause for album cuts as they do cultivated, marketed smash singles? Carly Rae Jepsen can.

For more on Carly Rae Jepsen visit www.carlyraemusic.com. Follow her on Twitter @carlyraejepsen, Facebook @Carlyraejepsen and Instagram @carlyraejepsen

Setlist:

  • Run Away With Me
  • Making the Most of the Night
  • Good Time (Owl City Cover)
  • Emotions
  • Warm Blood
  • Boy Problems
  • This Kiss
  • Gimmie Love
  • Tiny Little Bows
  • I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance
  • Tonight I’m Getting Over You
  • Your Type
  • When I Needed You
  • Love Again
  • LA Hallucinations
  • Favourite Colour
  • All That
  • Let’s Get Lost
  • ~Encore~
  • Curiosity (Acoustic)
  • Call Me, Maybe
  • I Really Like You