Carly Rae Jepsen’s Gimme Love Tour Shines Bright

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The Madison Theater is a diamond in the rough – a unique, historic venue in Covington, Kentucky, resting just south of the Ohio River in the long shadow of downtown Cincinnati. While not the most exclusive or celebrated concert hall in the area, it serves as an unsuspecting intimate setting with its own quirky style and layout.

On this night, these distinctive characteristics make it the perfect location for one of pop music’s most underrated and overlooked artists: Carly Rae Jepsen.

When I reviewed Emotion, the latest release from Jepsen, last August, I was still grappling with how much I enjoyed the record. Stepping out from underneath the piercing glow of “Call Me Maybe” was challenging for many music fans, but the light on the other side has proved to be even more enjoyable and lasting than another quick fix. Emotion has shattered expectations, becoming one of the most lauded pop albums in recent years.

In the time since its release, Emotion has appeared to gain steam due to its inclusion on countless end-of-the-year lists, Jepsen’s various TV and radio appearances, and word of mouth promotion from fans convinced of the record’s merit. Interestingly enough, Jepsen’s current Gimme Love Tour serves not as a reintroduction to the artist we met four summers ago, but as a validation of her status as one of the most likable and unsung pop singers on the planet.

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Cardiknox

Setting the table on this tour is Cardiknox, a surprisingly powerful synthpop act that recently released their debut album, Portrait, and appear to be taking full advantage of this opportunity. Vocalist Lonnie Angle has the stage presence of a veteran singer and commands the crowd’s attention. By the second song of the band’s set, the crowd is bouncing and singing along to the infectious chorus of “On My Way”.

This lively set proves to be the perfect primer for Carly Rae’s own brand of synth-driven power pop. Taking the stage to the slick saxophone intro to “Run Away with Me”, Jepsen dives right into her best and most astonishingly overlooked track. It’s clear from the get go that the vast majority of the crowd in Covington has little longing for “Call Me Maybe” – the fans belt out every note of the chorus, nearly drowning out Jepsen’s voice.

It’s exceedingly rare that an entire night lives up to those electric opening moments when the main act takes the stage, but this performance is a communal one from start to finish. During the course of her 19-song set, Carly plays every song from Emotion (bonus tracks included), along with standouts from 2012’s Kiss. Never once does the buzz die down or the crowd become disinterested. Instead, they sing and dance along in unison.

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Carly Rae Jepsen

Looking around the venue, it’s a diverse gathering. With the event falling on St. Patrick’s Day, many don green as they hold a drink and dance to the music. Smiles abound and the vast majority of the crowd seems to know the lyrics to almost every song. In fact, the night’s most rousing moments come with the performance of random tracks from Emotion like “Gimme Love” and “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance”, which elicit just as much energy from the crowd as more well known hits like “Good Time”. Perhaps the infectious nature of Emotion is finally spreading.

Jepsen’s stage presence matches her artistic persona – she appears full of joy and giddy excitement, but seems uninterested relishing the spotlight. Her performance feels akin to a friend singing along with you to your favorite song during a car ride, an act that seems natural and deeply familiar. It’s hard not to smile and nearly impossible to disconnect from the delight of those around you.

Carly shares relatable stories of heartbreak and longing before tracks like “Boy Problems” and “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” but invites everyone to brush it all off with “Let’s Get Lost” and “This Kiss”. No matter the subject, bright melodies, pulsing synthesizers and flashing lights keep the energy upbeat and the room jumping. By the time “Call Me Maybe” and “I Really Like You” crash through the speakers, the crowd is already on an emotional high.

Last year, I privately wondered whether the initial neon shock of Emotion would easily wear off over time. Nearly eight months later, I’m enjoying the record more than ever. There’s a very real shelf life in the world of pop radio – something Jepsen is acutely aware of. In 2015, certain pop mainstays managed to cast a convenient shadow over one of the year’s most critically acclaimed records, but Carly Rae’s ability to sidestep a potential drop off and barrel forward with the best music of her career has proved admirable. That she navigates an often dark and crooked business with a smile and a shrug, inviting us all to a much brighter point of view, is something even better.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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