Carly Rae Jepsen at Minnesota Zoo, 8/18/13
Carly Rae Jepsen
With the Wanted
Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley
Sunday, August 18, 2013
There couldn't have been a better location for Carly Rae Jepsen to visit in the Twin Cities than the Minnesota Zoo. (Sure, the Mall of America runs a close second, but just the same.) The stony amphitheater, nestled as it is into a secluded hillside with leafy overgrowth, is tailor-made for school field trips more than for concerts, so there was a distinct air of the whimsical about the whole evening. Oh, and there were all those kids. Lots and lots of screaming kids.
The most enthusiastic (and ear-splitting) of those screams weren't aimed at the "Call Me Maybe" singer, however. No, those were unleashed on the opening act, a U.K. boy band called the Wanted. In fact, the mood in the zoo was almost subdued by the time Jepsen took stage -- a fact that wasn't exactly an anticlimax, per se. It was just, well, its own, separate kind of reality.
In all fairness, comparing the energy of the two groups isn't exactly fair to Jepsen: The Wanted had five members to carry the load, plus a backing band of hardcore punk vets -- for example, guitarist Brian Deneeve used to play with From Autumn to Ashes -- that even a grizzled concertgoer would have to admit sounded tight. (Plus the libidinal preteen fervor of the audience to help keep the momentum going -- never something to be underestimated.) Jepsen had it all to do for herself, not to mention that her backing band left a lot to the imagination.
The even more curious fact of the night was that, by the time the Canadian singer took the stage, most of those young audience members seemed to have already worn themselves out. She didn't start until a quarter-past nine o'clock, early by most shows' standards but probably past bedtime for a large portion of the audience. In a way, she might have had her work cut out for her.
In any event, Jepsen never tried to compete with the Wanted, whose hour-long set ran about 15 minutes longer than hers -- and about 20 minutes longer than it should have. Hers was a comparative game of small ball, one which also said a great deal about her strengths and weaknesses as a performer. Frankly speaking, Jepsen's not an especially outstanding vocalist. Mind you, she's not bad, either -- it's just that she doesn't have the range to really be able to sing over a full band.
Her efforts to overcome that fact -- or at least to work around it -- were hit and miss. Mostly, she played coy, which suited the material: Each break-up phone call, passing crush, and missed opportunity was greeted with a twirl of her hair or a knocking of her knees. Dressed in a silver jacket and neon-green Chucks, she danced and spun and even ran in place, a spunky, modern-day reincarnation of Cyndi Lauper. Her long bangs, meanwhile, always provided a means of retreat when a song called for being bashful.
The subtler details were what worked best, which came into sharper contrast when Jepsen tried going in the other direction, most notably, on a version of "Good Time." In spite of certain geographical proximities to Owatonna, it did not include Owl City's Adam Young, so we settled for cannons on the sides of the stage shooting off streamers into the audience. But rather than getting the party started, it felt jarring, even fell a little flat. She was far more effective on a song like "Almost Said It," where the acoustic accompaniment allowed her the delicacy she needed.
After that song in particular, however, the show seemed to have more momentum on its side. But even that waned gradually as anticipation turned to impatience -- after all, there was really one song that everyone there had come to hear. For all that the paying customers cared, Jepsen could've played "Call Me Maybe" three or four times throughout the set and it would've made them happy. Predictably, she saved it till last, and it was only just in time when it finally arrived.
For those final few minutes, when Jepsen pulled a few young girls on stage to dance with her, the amphitheater recaptured some of that scream-worthy excitement of earlier in the night. It's just that it was a little bit different -- a little sleepier, a little more delirious, and maybe even a little more surreal.
Critic's Bias: How could you be biased about a show like this?
The Crowd: Young. And not just "all ages" young.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I'm impressed. There were barely any songs that sucked offensively."
Random Notebook Dump: What to say about the Wanted? It was amusing case study in boy band formulas, right down to the carefully selected character types: There was the shy ethnic kid, the sort-of-ugly goofball, and the "cool" kid (he wore sunglasses, which is how you knew) who didn't try very hard but was actually sort of a good singer. To their credit, the mid-set Killers medley may have been the most tedious part.
Carly Rae Jepsen's Setlist
Tiny Little Bows
Tug of War
Almost Said It
Tonight I'm Getting Over You
Turn Me Up
Hurt So Good
Heart Is a Muscle
Call Me Maybe
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