Jacob Whitesides endears with wide-eyed wonder at Slim’s

Jacob Whitesides_Alexandre Bui-Staff copy
Alexandre Bui/Staff

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Jacob Whitesides was all smiles at his June 17 show at Slim’s in San Francisco. “I have a feeling this is gonna be the best show of the tour,” he shouted to a crowd mostly made up of teenage girls and their far less enthusiastic parents.

Whitesides drank in the room’s energy. The 18-year-old’s rise to fame has been dizzyingly rapid: Three years after his 2012 appearance on “The X Factor,” the Youtube star’s sophomore EP A Piece of Me debuted at No. 26 on the Billboard 200 chart. Now, Whitesides is the CEO of his own merchandising, touring and record label, Double U Records. Friday’s show was part of Whitesides’ “Lovesick Tour,” a 24-date tour around the United States and Toronto.

Gussied up in a dapper button-down shirt, a thrilled Whitesides opened the show with “Rumors,”  a soulful and meditative song made upbeat and energetic when performed live. Whitesides continued this trend throughout the concert: Songs recorded in heavy, melancholic, thoughtful tones were transformed on stage — made intense, passionate and wild.

The show was evenly divided between Whitesides’ two original studio productions, A Piece of Me (June 2015) and Faces on Film (October 2015). He even threw in “Open Book,” a song off his unreleased EP (speculated to come out this year).

Between songs, Whitesides chatted it up with the audience. During a lull in the show, the singer-songwriter asked about the Warriors, eliciting enthusiastic screams from the crowd. Later, Whitesides told the crowd about a 2-month relationship he had had that left him bitter. “I kind of turned into a fuckboy,” he admitted, but only for “two seconds, though.”

From his short talks with the crowd, one thing became clear about Jacob Whitesides — he’s really young. It’s not just that he has a baby face or that only a tiny percentage of his fans can legally purchase alcohol. Though he’s been on the country’s national music radar for four years already and has topped charts everywhere from the United Kingdom and Canada to Portugal and Brazil, Whitesides is definitely still a kid.

His songs deal with heartbreak and loss but as seen through the lens of an adolescent. Whitesides relies heavily upon cliché to describe his feelings. During “Not My Type At All,” Whitesides sang platitudinously, “It’s all so right / It’s all so wrong.” Even his love songs borrow from convention: “Magic Bullet” begins, “I wanna be your love and your best friend.” And though Whitesides seemed to suggest at one point in the concert that he had experienced a small bout of depression, that admission, too, was colored with all of the tenderness and innocence that come with adolescence.

Maybe Whitesides is young but so are his fans, who clearly adore him. Before the show, one fan passed out small signs that read, “Jacob, you break the rules of beautiful,” which the audience raised up when Whitesides launched into “Rules of Beautiful.” He’s a heartthrob in the same way that Zac Efron was in the “High School Musical” days: adorably young to everyone older than him (one woman in the crowd shouted to another, “I’m the same age as him, but I feel like his mother”) but oh-so-dreamy to scores and scores of middle schoolers.

The thing about Jacob Whitesides, however, is that no one would go to his concert expecting a mature show. His rise to fame didn’t come from poetic descriptions of drug abuse or a hard life before stardom (listening to him cover The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” felt a lot like watching a child play house). Whitesides’ appeal — his main selling point since he first appeared on “The X Factor” four years ago — is his youth.

Jacob Whitesides is simultaneously a niche artist and one with wide appeal. He’s likely the new Shawn Mendes — beloved but mostly by the very young. In many ways, Whitesides is a lot like his fans: inexperienced but excited and ready to see the world.

Contact Sarah Coduto at [email protected].