Given her status as a popular pop artist it was a bit surprising to see Charli XCX booked at the 1,600 capacity Ogden Theatre but that’s been roughly the size of venues she’s playing on the tour supporting her 2022 album Crash. Reviews of the record suggested that it wasn’t as experimental as her earlier releases and perhaps that’s right. But the quality of songwriting is still solid and songs like “Beg For You” and “Good Ones” are easily among her most immediately compelling even if you’re not necessarily drawn to modern pop music. “Every Rule” was produced by Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never who is one of the most respected experimental electronic artists these days to name just one producer for the record pointing to how the experimental side of the singer’s material is still very central to her output.
But how would this new music that is seemingly more traditionally more pop in tone and composition and older favorites steeped in hyperpop and experimental electronic music translate live? The stage set was minimal with only Charli and two male dancers on stage dressed like pop stars from another planet. The projections and light show were also low key and the stage lighting low like we were getting to see the show in an even smaller venue, the kind of underground club where many pop artists might like to start and perform more often to have a more direct connection with the people that show up. Charli came to put on a show and sure there was some fine choreography obvious from her and the two other dancers but it was something somehow both dramatic and brash but low key. It was never over the top yet expressed the heartfelt melodramatic emotions that make for music that sticks in your mind for years. No one wants to see a pop artist that is too hesitant in self-expression.
Charli XCX also managed to exude an open sensuality and confidence but as part of her songs that are thoughtful, nuanced and raw but relatable. If she was miming the music you couldn’t tell and the set list seemed arranged in a way where she could take breaks and remain incredibly energetic and engaging throughout with more mellow songs hitting at just the right time for the emotional arc of the show as well. Not once did the artist remark on the altitude because, really, wouldn’t be a bit rote to say something about that knowing people hear it all the time? There was something that hit you as tasteful about the presentation even if you’re the puritanical type to note Charli’s minimal outfit. Charli’s music delves into both the internal emotional dynamics we all navigate as well as feeling and owning being an imperfect human with needs and desires that should never be a source of shame. The content of Charli’s words are never esoteric but also rarely unintentionally mundane, just crafted in a way that is accessible to pretty much anyone. This show drawing from a wide swath of her career but focused on the new record, as you’d expect, was proof that Charli XCX as a commanding and passionate performer and as an artist is someone that appreciates her role as an artist in its various capacities and the opportunity making pop music provides for commenting on the personal and making it vehicle for articulating collective experiences with creativity and a clarity that resonates beyond the realm of mainstream music and beyond the narrow confines of popular music genres.
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