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Concert review: Oliver Tree’s over-the-top antics distract from music at Shrine Expo Hall show

Alt-rock musician Oliver Tree, known for his theatrics and wacky persona, opened his “Cowboy Tears” tour in Los Angeles on Saturday night following the Friday album release of the same name. (Marie Goldfarb/Daily Bruin)

“Cowboy Tears”

Oliver Tree

Shrine Expo Hall

Feb. 19

By Vivian Xu

Feb. 20, 2022 6:22 p.m.

Bucking broncos and bitty bicycles have nothing on Oliver Tree.

The alternative rock musician rode them both for a raucous crowd during his Saturday concert at the Shrine Expo Hall, which was the first performance of his headlining tour. With a set that lasted an agonizing one and a half hours, Tree flaunted all the tricks up his sleeve, which included a dizzying array of costume changes and larger-than-life props ranging from cows to guitars. Despite an undeniable knack for showmanship, Tree’s bizarre amalgam of performative choices was more mediocre meme than revolutionary recital.

His set was accompanied by a bare-bones stage, consisting of a desert rocks backdrop from his newest album,“Cowboy Tears,” which was released the day before the concert. The Wild West-themed stage appeared to cower in comparison to the leviathan general admission venue, which was chock-full of preteens clad in skater streetwear sandwiched shoulder to shoulder with millennials in cowboy hats, all of whom were clamoring for a prime vantage point of the eccentric musician himself.

And Tree certainly did not let his fans down as he unleashed an over-the-top stage presence, which began the moment he stepped foot on the platform, shouting commands loaded with expletives for the audience to scream along to the lyrics. Decked out in his signature oversized pink and purple windbreaker and uber wide-legged JNCO jeans from the cover of his debut album “Ugly is Beautiful,” Tree launched into a tirade of jokes that showcased his eclectic wit, touching on the dark side of growth hormone abuse before dabbing on his knees.

[Related: Album review: Oliver Tree proves he’s more than a meme in eccentric debut album ‘Ugly is Beautiful’]

It was unequivocally clear from the start that Tree was a performer who was ready to put on a show with high entertainment value, with his intense diction and eagerness to contort his body in caricature-esque dance moves. Though initially titillating, his fierce demands for the crowd to engage with him began to feel exhausting and borderline aggressive as he threatened – albeit jokingly – to kick out fans who did not turn on their phone flashlights when requested them to.

The first portion of Tree&squot;s set blended old with the new, as the artist wore his signature outfit from debut album "Ugly is Beautiful," but paired it with the new blond wig from "Cowboy Tears" instead of his familiar bowl cut. Tree later flipped through a multitude of costume changes, eventually settling into the Wild West theme completely. (Marie Goldfarb/Daily Bruin)
The first portion of artist Oliver Tree's set blended old with the new, as the artist wore his signature outfit from his debut album "Ugly is Beautiful" but paired it with the new blond wig from "Cowboy Tears" instead of his familiar bowl cut. Tree later flipped through a multitude of costume changes, eventually settling into the Wild West theme completely. (Marie Goldfarb/Daily Bruin)

Yet the audience fed off Tree’s rambunctious energy, which prompted levels of candor from the musician, resulting in a wide variety of tangents that were a crossover between motivational TED Talks and impromptu stand-up comedy. Some of his cornier messages, such as brushing off materialism, were thankfully outshone by genuinely endearing sentiments as he deemed the concert a safe space for all misfits before performing “Freaks & Geeks” and gave a heartfelt shoutout to the fans cheering in the back of the venue.

Though Tree was intent on maximizing both audience engagement and enjoyment, his desire to please was certainly a double-edged sword. He seemed to have subscribed to the philosophy of quantity over quality, which yielded a cattywampus assortment of theatrics. At least half a dozen costume changes required the audience to entertain themselves while he scurried off for a brief makeover, and a mere shift in the color of his suit was certainly not worth the cost of listening to an abundance of artificial flatulence noises as he pretended to suffer from digestive issues in an outhouse.

[Related: Concert review: Twenty One Pilots’ ‘Takeover Tour’ greets audiences with scaled-up performance]

And even when he was not talking, there was some form of visual stimulation occurring, whether that was Tree undulating his hips against props on the stage, performing martial arts or basking in spotlights that seemed more fitting for a gender reveal party with their constant pink and blue color scheme. The excessive theatrics came across as an overcompensation on his part – as if he was hesitant to let the audience’s attention lie fully upon his music.

It was rather unfortunate that Tree chose to lean so heavily into the visuals of his concert since he undoubtedly had the vocal chops to back up his bravado. His live renditions of classic songs like “Alien Boy” and “When I’m Down” sounded remarkably similar to his recordings, and if he had only chosen to prioritize the sonics and delivery of the tracks, he would have achieved the musicality that the set was lacking.

Of course, with Tree’s reputation as a meme musician, a somewhat ridiculous performance is to be expected – and he certainly delivered on that front. But the concert would have been an opportunity for him to peel back even just a few layers of the onion rather than distract the audience with scooter tricks and stripteases and then interject songs in between. Ultimately, the night felt more akin to a heap of wasted potential, disguised as a rowdy concert.

Despite boasting flamboyant foliage, Oliver Tree did nothing more than blend in with the forest.

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Vivian Xu | Daily Bruin senior staff
Xu is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment. She previously served as the Arts editor from 2021-2022, the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2020-2021 and an Arts reporter from 2019-2020. She is a fourth-year neuroscience and anthropology student from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Xu is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment. She previously served as the Arts editor from 2021-2022, the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2020-2021 and an Arts reporter from 2019-2020. She is a fourth-year neuroscience and anthropology student from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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