“Slay! Slay! Slay!” is truly the only thing you need to hear from your audience.
On Saturday, poptimism won the night in Austin, as sometimes radio phenom and newly crowned critical darling Carly Rae Jepsen brought her Gimmie Love Tour to a smitten ACL Live at the Moody Theatre. Touring on the back of 2015’s “Emotion” — a glittering synthpop treasure that’s simultaneously the best and worst kept secret in music — Jepsen came to make the most of the night and of her cult-favorite renaissance.
Here’s the deal: If you thought C.R.J. started and stopped with chart-juggernaut “Call Me Maybe,” you need to check yourself, grandpa. (You probably didn’t even know everyone’s agreed to like Justin Bieber now.) “Emotion” is the poster child for a curious cultural shift — pop music, ostensibly built to be popular, has drifted from the FM dial to the buzz blog and found new kinda-underground appreciation.
Now, Pitchfork accolades aside, whimsically witty Jepsen didn’t innovate on Saturday. But with one part musical backbone, one part open-armed relatability and 98 parts winning charm and jokes about wardrobe malfunctions, she rescued the glossy hooks of songs like “This Kiss” from their natural arena habitat of cold, commercial impenetrability. Jepsen shepherded those earworms, instead, to an intimate, fiercely devoted club meeting, the kind usually reserved for Your Favorite Rock Band No One’s Heard Of. Instead of moshing, though, the agenda called for disco arm-flails.
From the sax riff opening “Run Away With Me,” a Pavlovian joy-trigger, Jepsen brought communal feeling to the forefront with heartfelt pats of the chest. In many ways, she proved herself a millennial Liza Minnelli. This is a compliment. Her choppy black bob and compact theatricality left no questions about why a retro-dance artist singing about “Boy Problems” has garnered such a devoted gay fanbase. Her perennial underdog status — “Emotion” is the album “1989” would sell its firstborn to be, and yet look at which one has the Grammy — added a helpful air of camp, to boot.
That sense of artful cheese punctuated the mall-reggae of “LA Hallucinations” and the aforementioned “Boy Problems” with a cheeky facial expression to correspond with every line. Think you know what face Jepsen made singing “I think I broke up my boyfriend today/And I don’t really care”? Yep. It was that one. Such kitsch also piped slinky catwalker “I Didn’t Just Come Here To Dance” into 2016 straight from any early season scene of “Sex and the City.”
Part of sharing secrets with friends is getting real, and Jepsen brought her shiny, well-produced realness A-game. “Emotion” hit the air hot and cool from the beginning, the singer wringing hard-won catharsis from the words “ten feet tall.” The vulnerable, scrappy “Favourite Colour” cast a human sheen over the evening when it would have been all too simple to devolve into hokeyness. “All That,” which let Jepsen tear into her next-door soulfulness, and an acoustic “Curiosity” proved the Canadian songstress a true yeoman of emotion.
But it was “Warm Blood” that came alive in an exceptional way. Jepsen dipped into a bluesy register that belied her chirp, and the song’s thudding heartbeat helped C.R.J. build fragile tension. If this song was an album standout, you actually felt the pressure beating against the walls of the venue live.
A night of good-time glitz ended the only way it could have: a double-header of “Call Me Maybe” and “I Really Like You,” Jepsen’s Billboard bread and her less profitable follow-up butter. Whatever the evening was to those attending — dance party, kitschy lark, emotional touchstone — the singer played to it. On the latter song, she snarked, “You know the words! Shocking!” She grabbed an audience member’s phone and punched something into it — assumably not her number. She jumped. A lot.
Like the entire show, there was a trace of irony, if you wanted to grab onto it. But mostly, it was guiltless pleasure.