A dreamy haze fell over Oakland’s Fox Theater on Nov. 8 when Arden Jones took the stage as an opener for Chelsea Cutler’s “When I Close My Eyes” tour.
Standing in front of a screen displaying his full name in fluorescent white letters, Jones looked like the typical boy next door. Clad in simple pants and a black sweatshirt reading “Class of ’47,” Jones exhibited the easy swagger for which he is known. Accompanied only by one drummer, Jones was at ease as he grinned out into the crowd of starry-eyed fans.
A newcomer to the stage, Jones’ career took off in 2021 after his first release, “Parallel Parking,” quickly became a viral sound on TikTok. The crowd was fittingly overjoyed when he opened his set with the single that instigated his success. “Her smile is picking up my heartbeat,” Jones sang, his voice shifting effortlessly from fast-paced rap to melodic tones. Fans swooned as Jones yearned for young love, breathing in his infectious optimism.
With palpable zeal, Jones sailed into the opening notes of “horror story,” dancing dexterously down the length of the stage. The track’s sunny, buoyant pop sound charged the venue as Jones clapped rhythmically along with the crowd. “This world is one big horror story,” he hummed into the mic, “but you got me by your side.” Jones’ voice filled with jubilance, his smile never once leaving his face.
Between fan favorites, Jones’ set heavily featured his debut album, Age Tape 0. Showing off pastel synth production on “Bad 4 Me,” evocative ukulele strums on “Starstruck” and candied innocence on “Indifferent,” Jones charmed the audience with his exhilarating spirit.
Jones’ instrumental dexterity soared as he eased into a cover of Vance Joy’s “Riptide.” “This is one of the best ukulele songs ever,” he announced as he plucked out a familiar set of chords and urged the crowd to sing along. They did so willingly, a chorus of voices floating from the pit to the ornate balcony of the theater.
On the second verse, Jones sang a collection of remixed lyrics that he wrote himself: “I was scared of dentists and the dark,” Jones sang, intensity settling over his words, “then I realized there’s bigger threats, like girls who break your heart.” Blending the track’s classic composition with his signature sincerity, Jones’ ingenuity was crystalline.
When Jones refers to his musical influences, he cites influential rappers as his greatest inspirations. Though generally revered as a pop artist, Jones’ love for rap stood out on “Not Afraid at All.” Following a jovial introduction, Jones demonstrated his vocal range to an entranced audience. In tune with the track’s title, Jones seemed to glide away from fear and embrace freedom, bopping his head to the brisk beat and pointing into the audience. With unrestrained euphoria, Jones delivered a standout performance.
After skating through nine tracks in only 30 minutes, Jones announced his final song, much to the chagrin of fervid fans. “We need everybody moving, OK?” he shouted out into the crowd, arms raised in the air as he basked in cheers.
Jones may have spent the majority of his set presenting a cheerful demeanor, but obscured depth made its way to the surface on the dark, cynical “Mr. Sunshine.” With biting vulnerability, Jones’ voice grew in power and passion. “How about when I’m in bed four or five days,” he crooned in a rare show of dejection, “will you love me now?” Overhead lights flashed in shades of yellow and orange, evocative of a sunrise — a sharp contrast to the angst of Jones’ lyrics. The crowd seemed to feed off of his fire, jumping and thrashing in rapture.
“Thank you guys so much for having us here,” Jones called out to the audience as his time onstage came to a close, a radiant smile returning to his face. Jones may not identify as “Mr. Sunshine,” but as ovations fell from concertgoers’ lips, the energy in the theater was luminous.
The sun may have set that evening, but Jones’ vibrancy left its warmth at the Fox Theater even after the show had concluded.