"Who are these guys? They're really fun," asked the fashionably dressed young man in his early twenties that was probably four or five drinks deep at this point (it would prove to be an unexpected theme of the evening but more on that later).
"Fairground Saints," I replied.
I had an unfair advantage in this regard. I'd known about Fairground Saints for a while. I'd heard their absurdly catchy folk-pop single, "Can't Control the Weather" ages ago, and I was at the show on their press list (and had written about a gorgeous acoustic performance of the track a couple weeks ago
). But by the end of their brief opening set for pop supernova Carly Rae Jepsen, the undeniable charm of this LA trio had won over a very antsy crowd who was waiting for Ms. Jepsen with baited breath (and way, way too much booze at T5 but, like I said, we're getting there). Their Nick Jonas & the Administration meets the Lone Bellow spin on folk harmonies is a winning formula, and we'll be very interested to see how they continue to mature and evolve as songwriters in the years to come. The other opener, Cardiknox, also got the crowd very excited but I was less sold by a performance that I wrote in my notes for the show as "pop with its training wheels still on."
But everyone was there that evening for Carly Rae Jepsen, and it's not complicated to see why. 2015 saw the release of two albums that will go down in the annals of the instant classics of the 2010s: Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly
and Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion
. And not since the time that I saw U2 at Madison Square Garden last year
(our pick for the best concert we caught last year
) have I been so struck by the total realization of the immensity of a performer's achievements despite already thinking that I loved it before the show began.
I don't have a car in New York City. I had one back home, but I totalled it the day before I found out I'd be moving here (sometimes life has a way of working out alright). I don't miss having a car in the slightest. They're awful, but if there's one area where I do miss having a car is that I could scream along to music at the top of my lungs as I was driving to work/the grocery store/to visit friends or family/wherever. You can't do that on the subway. You get...looks. And I have few opportunities to just sing along to the songs that I love unless I'm at a show. Friday night, Carly Rae Jepsen reminded us that she'd written an entire album full of tracks meant to be sung until your voice is raw.
It's patently absurd how many times I've listened to Emotion
since it was released last year, and I'm not just saying any of this because I had the opportunity to interview Carly Rae Jepsen the day the album dropped (find that below). Carly Rae Jepsen fused the best of vintage 80s pop/soul songwriting (as well as the best production from a who's who of the best of indie figureheads like Rostam Batmanglij, Dev Hynes, and Ariel Rechtshaid). But it wasn't just the pop gloss of Emotion
that made it stay with me so long (even after other records I adored from last year have left my regular rotation). She captures millennial relationship drama and angst and joy and complexities in a pop language better than anyone else working today (except maybe Years & Years). For an artist that turned 30 this year, Carly Rae still has an expert understanding of what it means to be young but also enough creativity to spin a fantasy that we all want to indulge in when the moment is right.
And Jepsen's stage energy is nearly unmatched. She's small, but her voice fills whatever room she's performing in, and she careens around the stage emoting every last line of the tracks. I'd never really appreciated how refined Jepsen's vocal performance on Emotion
was until Friday night. It isn't just that she has a powerhouse voice (though she does). She infuses the tracks with drama and subtlety...far more subtlety than you'd expect from a pop star with the highest selling digital single of all time. Even on a track as bombastic and hyperbolic as "I Really Like You," Jepsen sold the longing and desire inherent in that track and nearly the entirety of Emotion
At some point in the future, I'll write a piece about how that sense of "desire" and "fantasy" is fueling this pop renaissance that we're experiencing today. If pop music has always been a fantasy, artists like Years & Years and Carly Rae Jepsen revitalize that fantasy by making it as much about the act of wanting something as it is the thing that's desired itself. It's in direct opposition to the Taylor Swift model of the pop fantasy which is to become success and glamour defined. Carly Rae Jepsen just speaks to our need to feel love ("Gimmie Love") and to be wanted and work past the need to change ourselves for a relationship ("When I Needed You"). She's on top of the world, and it's difficult to imagine anything stopping her.
I would be remiss, however, not to talk about the atmosphere at Terminal 5 that evening which might keep me from ever going back to Hell's Kitchen to see a show there again. 80% of the evening was fine, but at the beginning of the show, I became worried for my personal safety and those around me (and I wasn't deep in the crowd). Today, I still have a sickly, yellow bruise on my right forearm from where a drunk dude in his early 20s who could barely stand up elbowed me viciously without thinking. The crowd was lit six ways to Sunday. A different drunkard wound up pulling the hair of a girl in front of me cause the drunk girl had no control over her feet. People were pushing and shoving while I was just wanting to enjoy Dev Hynes play "All That" with Carly.
Terminal 5's reputation as a "bro" hotspot may seem like it's exaggerated at times, but, trust me, it's not. I've been there two weekends in the last three weeks, and it's a circle of hell of every awful Millennial stereotype imaginable. And were it not for the fact that Carly Rae Jepsen is a consummate performer with an absurdly deep library of tunes, the night might have been ruined. Thankfully, Carly Rae Jepsen kept the night going smoothly despite the rowdiness of the crowd.