The Greek Theatre looked like a massive diorama on Oct. 21. In the dim blue light of the autumnal dusk, Carly Rae Jepsen’s cotton ball clouds and glittery star decor filled the space like an extension of the sky. Stagehands soon wheeled in four floor-length mirrors to the center of the stage, propping them up in a neat semi-circle.
Jepsen’s beaming voice came over the speakers, and as she made her introductions to the crowd, Lorely Rodriguez flounced onto the Berkeley stage. Rodriguez, better known as Empress Of, looked like a Halloween dream in her classic buckled, short-skirted athleisure, set with hordes of stylish silver jewelry and black arm warmers.
Bluish tones melted with fuschia light to the titillating synth of “Save Me,” and the stirring title track of Rodriguez’s EP instantly filled the theater with vibrance. Soon, yearning oozed from “Give Me Another Chance,” its acute repetition summoning rave energy. Near Rodriguez, Juliana Ronderos of Salt Cathedral stood behind her mixing console with shades on, one hand raised and her head bobbing.
While Rondero happily hyped up the audience, eyes were on Rodriguez at all times. Her energy was ceaseless, to the point where her nonstop dancing seemed almost involuntary. Her music wasn’t just a backdrop to her dancing — it seemed to be a natural extension of her body, of her soul.
“I’m tired!” Rodriguez admitted breathlessly, hands on her knees for a nanosecond before returning to her mic. The audience cheered in reassuring solidarity and delight.
Although it appeared that the audience wasn’t too familiar with her music, “Love Is A Drug” made for an easy singalong to Rodriguez’s bend-and-snap-style choreography. During songs that featured Spanish lyrics, such as “When I’m With Him,” spirited cheers rose from the crowd.
On stage, while she still maintained connection to her audience, Rodriguez appeared to be in her own world. She closed her eyes, each wavering beat and full-toned hum sending a reflexive shock through her body. While some dancing was expectedly choreographed, most of her dancing appeared freestyle — Rodriguez performed impulsively, reflectively, spiritually.
This spirituality refracted into the audience quite literally, with the stage’s four mirrors reflecting mesmerized members of the crowd. At the end of a song, Rodriguez would glance back at herself in a mirror, giving a little smile before launching into the next zealous track. Sometimes she’d head to the edge of the stage, arching her back and performing on her knees. When her Libra confidence smoldered most, she glowed like lightning in a bottle.
From her MARINA cover of “Man’s World” to her feminist anthem “Woman Is A Word,” Rodriguez’s set radiated divine femininity. She’d throw her head back to a beat drop, her thick curls flying across her shoulders as she sang about change, womanhood, life and love. Rodriguez performed with a gravitational carefreeness, edged out only by her music’s centralized, thrilling intensity.
“When I break, I fix myself real fast,” she sang during the sanguine highlight “Dance For You,” head down and hips swaying in conviction. Often, she seemed to lose herself in her own performance, yet she always remained in definitive control.
Later in the evening, hands immediately shot up in the audience when Rodriguez queried, “Any wild girls in the audience?” Her spunky hit “Wild Girl” thrummed through the venue, instantaneously sucking everyone into her dance-pop’s inescapable spiral.
As her set came to a close with the surprising Jim-E Stack’s “Note to Self,” Rodriguez took a moment to thank Jepsen as well as shout out her tour mate’s new disco-pop record, The Loneliest Time. “Congrats to my girl, Carly!”
With every step, sway and shake, Empress Of’s stimulating opener performance reminded concert goers how truly immersive pop can be. Her vitality on stage wasn’t just buoyant; it was liberating.