Local Current Blog

Review and photos: Clairo turns the Varsity Theater into her own private world

Clairo. Photos by Lucy Hawthorne for MPR.

Surrounded by hundreds of enthusiastic teens at the Varsity Theater last night, it was nearly impossible not to think about firsts. First loves, first heartbreaks, first losses. At a show that was likely the first concert for many, Clairo performed the anthemic and deeply personal songs of her first album, Immunity.

Clairo exists in a brand new sort of niche. Instead of high budgets and untouchable levels of glamour, she rose to fame with a sort of universal realness. Her first major hit, “Pretty Girl,” was popularized by a YouTube video of her dancing in her bedroom, recorded on a webcam and sent into the ether. People, particularly young people, latched onto the relatability of the teenager in the video. One year and 40 million views later, Clairo is traveling the world, sharing her growing catalog of music and stories for her impassioned fan base.

She’s come a long way from plucking away at chords in her bedroom. Immunity came out in August 2019 and featured an all-star list of collaborators including superproducer Rostam (originally of Vampire Weekend) and Danielle Haim.

The show featured little dialogue from Clairo. She floated around the stage in light wash jeans, a corset over a T-shirt and pigtails. Her effortless charm translated flawlessly as she drifted through the evening in front of a half-moon backdrop that featured fuzzy camcorder recordings of landscapes. Her set featured every single track from Immunity as well as much of last year’s EP Diary 001. Midway she played the SoundCloud only track “Bubblegum.” Many fans sung along with pride: there’s a sort of badge of honor for knowing an artist’s earliest releases.

As the title of her EP suggests, Clairo’s songs feel like pages ripped from her diary. Being at her show was as if a trusted friend was whispering their secrets over a cup of coffee in a crowded café. Each song is a new tale that forces you to lean in closer to absorb every word. “White Flag” tells about trying to move past a now-distant falling out with an old friend. “Sofia” paints the picture of a saccharine crush blossoming. “Bags” unfolds a narrative of uncertainty in queer romance. All gracefully dance between highly specific and painfully universal.

She ended the set with the emotive album closer “I Wouldn’t Ask You.” Sitting on the side of the stage, face visibly displaying the raw emotion that the song embodies, Clairo led the audience in the line, “I wouldn’t ask you to take care of me.”

After a brief intermission, Clairo and her band returned for an encore including her viral breakout “Pretty Girl.” The song’s opening chords were immediately met with the expected frenetic yells, but the energy continued and even rose as the song continued. By the time the first chorus rolled around, the entire audience was in a feverish mosh pit to the bedroom pop hit, screaming the words “I could be a pretty girl, I’ll wear a skirt for you.”

Throughout the song, the YouTube video that launched the young star played in outsize scale in the background. A ten-foot-tall projection of the then-teenage Claire Cottrill dancing with an awkward smile felt emblematic of the artist’s career: a sort of magnified look at the all-too-relatable young girl still in the process of figuring it out.

California-based sludgy skate rock band Hello Yello opened the show. The group’s heavy sound surprised much of the audience, but the palpable excitement in the space led to much of the crowd bobbing their heads and applauding the noisy guitar rock. Their set was followed by indie rock trio Beabadoobee. With brightly colored hair and a smirk, the band got the audience pumped for the arrival of the beloved headliner.

Flaming Hot Cheetos
Get With U
White Flag
Feel Something
Closer to You
I Wouldn’t Ask You
Pretty Girl
I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again

Hello Yello