Review: Carly Rae Jepsen brings 'Emotion' to gleeful dance party at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa
Midway through her concert Wednesday at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa, Carly Rae Jepsen made a confession.
“Is it okay to be honest about my hate for Los Angeles?” she asked.
L.A. is far from her native Canada, in both kilometers and temperament, and she has no love for the “BuzzFeed buzzards and TMZ crows” she sings about in L.A. Hallucinations. And yet, she said, she just bought a house there.
“It’s a strange decision,” she said through her omnipresent smile.
Well, these are strange times to be Carly Rae Jepsen. Her effervescent third album, Emotion, was one of the best of 2015; many think it’s actually a smarter and better pop LP than Taylor Swift’s 1989 – which, not for nothing, just won Album of the Year at the Grammys.
Yet Emotion kind of fizzled commercially – even after Jepsen’s winning performance as Frenchy in Fox’s hit musical Grease Live – and Wednesday’s concert was woefully underattended, with plenty of elbow room all across the Ritz’s checkerboard dancefloor.
But after the inescapable juggernaut that was Call Me Maybe, Jepsen, 30, is playing with house money these days, content to make only the kind of pop music she wants to make. This was all so clear Wednesday, as Jepsen, beaming from start to finish, delivered the gleeful dance party Emotion fanatics so desired, on no one’s terms but her own.
If Jepsen really desired to become some cookie-cutter L.A. pop star, would she have bounded onstage to Run Away With You’s high, screaming sax solo in a choppy black mullet, fringed vest and button-up blouse? Would she have hunched down to sing Emotion directly to fans leaning on the stage, inches away? Would she have spun and swiveled and skipped and shimmied without guile all night, waving her arms and shaking her shoulders in a manner that suggests Beyonce-level choreography is the furthest thing from her mind?
“A big epiphany for me was realizing you can’t change yourself too much for someone else,” she said, introducing the savvy and defiant When I Needed You.
It could have gone differently. Jepsen performed a few songs from 2012’s more conventional, more confectionary LP Kiss – including This Kiss and Tiny Little Bows, both made over with punchier riffs and a little more muscle, a la Pat Benatar.
But every song from Emotion – and she did play 'em all, including a couple of bonus tracks – was as satisfying as the album itself. Jepsen raced through all the album’s ‘80s and ‘90s touchstones – the satin-sheet Paula Abdul glisten of All That; the jittery Jamiroquai soul of Boy Problems; the Tiffany/Debbie Gibson sparkle of Love Again and Let's Get Lost.
On Emotion, Jepsen’s voice can feel wispy and fragile, perfectly conveying the anguish and vulnerability of young love. But in concert, she wasn’t afraid to go a little bigger (she did finish third on Canadian Idol, you know), particularly on an acoustic, full-throated version of 2012’s Curiosity.
She shared a little of Emotion’s songwriting magic from the stage. Like many of her songs, she said, the album’s title track was about a guy: “It’s about really wanting him to want me back, but what was confusing was that I didn’t really want him back.”
Gimmie Love, she said, “started out for a sweet” but “went over his head,” so she decided to send the song to the world. “It’s not subtle, so hopefully you get it,” she said, before singing: Gimme love ... gimme love, gimme love, gimme love, gimme love...
“I can’t tell you what it means to see you guys singing those songs along with us,” Jepsen told everyone near the end.
She looked happy up there, far from the bright lights of Hollywood, watching Tampa fans delight in the uncompromising feel-good party she started, with couples kissing in the pit as she beamed through Call Me Maybe for the 10,000th time.
Had Jepsen let her career fly off in another direction, perhaps that Ritz dancefloor would’ve been a little more crowded. Those who came, however, were glad she never did. It left that much more room for dancing.
-- Jay Cridlin