April has proven to be a busy month for singer-songwriter Conan Gray.
In a two-week span, the 23-year-old artist announced the release date of his sophomore album Superache and premiered a music video to accompany his most recent, deeply emotional single “Memories.” Riding a wave of resounding acclaim for his heartfelt if not angst-ridden tunes, Gray also performed at Coachella for the first time this month.
However, new releases and a debut music festival performance haven’t prevented Gray from continuing to electrify crowds far and wide on his 2022 world tour. On April 13, the first night of back-to-back shows in Oakland, Gray immersed Fox Theater in resonant streams of vibrancy and vulnerability.
With a flair for the dramatic, Gray filled the opening moments of the concert with extended, exhilarating suspense. As fans waited for the indie pop star with feverish anticipation, a giant LED screen obscured the dimly illuminated venue in blinding white light. On screen, the unembellished sketch of a perched black bird in a cage — a direct reference to Gray’s debut album Kid Krow — caused crowds to erupt in demanding shouts of “Conan! Conan!”
Amid gradually ascending guitar riffs, the animated crow initiated its frenetic flight, only breaking free from the cage after more than 60 excruciating seconds later. As the bird ascended offscreen, spotlights smoothly landed upon Gray himself. Posing with hands aloft on an elevated platform above the visual display, he performed his explosive opener, “Wish You Were Sober.” Like the bird, Gray was uninhibited as he glided loosely back and forth across the stage.
Without missing a beat, Gray created immediate dynamism by racing down the stairs of the vaulted platform during “Telepath,” his second song of the night. Joining his bandmates and greeting his fans on the main stage, Gray’s face sported a brilliant smile. Reflecting the song’s buoyant synth-pop style, he twirled across the floor with infectiously playful abandon as his dark curls bounced wildly under vintage green-and-yellow lights.
Dressed in a cream vest over a white button-down shirt, coupled with brown dress pants, Gray’s attire suggested a sense of formality. Yet, the artist commanded the stage throughout the night with the unreserved warmth one would recognize in a close friend.
An atmosphere of soothing familiarity engulfed the venue as Gray invited audiences into the privacy of his “bedroom” — a stripped down stage set complete with a bed and a minimally decorated wall. Comfortably seated atop the bed, Gray was awash in an otherworldly fluorescent glow as he performed “Astronomy” and “The Cut That Always Bleeds.” “Stop tryna keep us alive/ You can’t force the stars to align/ When they’ve already died,” Gray implored in the former song, his serene, soaring vocals reaching impressive emotional heights.
In perhaps the most intimate moment of the night, Gray opened up to his audience about the difficult struggles of his childhood. “The fact that I get to sit here tonight with you guys is proof that life gets a lot better,” Gray admitted sincerely, revealing the hopeful upside to his tumultuous journey thus far. Met with encouraging cheers that resounded through the venue, Gray launched into the melancholic and sentimental fan favorite “The Story.”
Nostalgia lingered as Gray performed “Lookalike,” the only song from his 2018 EP Sunset Season, and “Little League.” Yet, as Gray entered the final stretch of his main set, the blaring guitars of “Jigsaw” and piercing cries of “People Watching” culminated perfectly in the addictive “Maniac,” which was performed beneath a vivid array of neon lights.
For an enrapturing encore, Gray reemerged in a sweater vest and pastel-blue plaid skirt to serenade fans with “Heather.” His unrestrained rendition showered the final moments of the concert in a raw radiance that the crowd eagerly soaked up with euphoria. While Gray might wish he were Heather, crowds will surely be wishing to replay this unforgettable evening for many nights to come.