When I saw that Charli XCX was putting on a concert in Baltimore with tickets selling for only $22, that ticket was in my cart almost faster than I could read the offer. With so many of her songs topping my middle school playlists, it would have felt dishonest to do anything else.
While Charli’s name might not ring bells for everyone, the first few seconds of her hits will do the job for anyone who, like me, listened to the radio in the early 2010s. Her features on Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” are top-tier throwbacks to my middle school and early high school days, and her singles (such as “Boom Clap,” “Boys” and “1999”) frequently get me humming with their simple lyrics and catchy electropop vibes.
So I walked into the concert, which was at Ram’s Head Live! on Saturday, Feb. 16, with high hopes for a good time.
The concert, although advertised on the Ram’s Head Live! website under Charli XCX’s name, was actually only headlined by her. The event was in truth Z104.3’s first annual Bitter Ball, coined by the radio station as Baltimore’s ultimate “anti-Valentine’s Day Party.”
Before Charli XCX came out, three acts took the stage.
The first was DJ Dirty Elbows, who filled the down time before, after and in between acts with fun mixes of old and new party songs. It helped keep the energy up, with people in the pit singing along.
Next, Logan Henderson performed five songs. Those of you who watched Nickelodeon circa 2010 might remember him as a member of Big Time Rush (which was my pre-teen era boy band of choice), but Henderson has moved on from that.
His solo music today is far more adult than the bubblegum pop he peddled back when I was 11. The result is some promising pop, even if it feels like he hasn’t entirely found an identity of his own yet.
Considering that I hadn’t thought about him in years, it was actually a very pleasant surprise.
Before Charli XCX came out on stage, Baltimore drumming duo A1 Chops performed, slamming and twirling their drumsticks in time to Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” While unexpected, the performance was impressive and got everyone riled back up again for Charli XCX, who was still yet to make an appearance.
When Charli did finally present herself to the audience, the crowd went wild. As she started singing “Boom Clap,” the entire audience belted the words with her. It was clear that the crowd had a significant number of dedicated fans and that she was far and away the main draw of the show (which, since it was advertised under her name, was to be expected).
With an energy that the other acts approached, but never came close to touching, the audience jumped and sang along to her next songs, “I Don’t Care” and “Break the Rules.” In the small Ram’s Head Live! venue, it felt like the crowd’s enthusiasm filled the entire room.
Charli made the most of the tiny stage, repeatedly getting up on top of her DJ’s platform and table to stand high above the crowd and sing.
Energy remained high for “1999” (a personal favorite), “Dirty Sexy Money” and “Boys.”
Before singing “5 in the Morning,” Charli XCX apologized for being “selfish” and singing a lesser-known song, but the crowd didn’t need to forgive her. Plenty of the audience sang along even to a song Charli seemed reluctant to perform, and the rest were more than willing to dance along. The song was different from many of her other singles, more trap than electropop, but the variety kept the show feeling alive and exciting.
Then, after announcing her last song of the night and singing “Fancy,” the show ended abruptly and Charli XCX left the stage after performing only eight songs. Audience chants for an encore and a significant amount of boos failed to bring the singer back on stage.
Charli XCX sang only three more songs than her opener, Henderson. Realizing this, a fair part of the audience, including me, felt a bit cheated. After all, the night had been advertised as a Charli XCX concert, and her setlist was missing the fan favorites.
In fact the page online where you could buy the tickets featured the music video for “You (Ha Ha Ha)” — a song that wasn’t even performed. The MCs representing Z104.3 had about as much stage time as the girl who was supposed to be putting on the show.
As fellow attendees filtered out of the room, I heard disappointed and frustrated conversations from people who thought they had been misled.
The night was fun, and Charli XCX performed well, but as I followed the crowd out of the venue, I couldn’t help but feel like the ticket’s cheap price had been a warning.