Clairo soothes Fox Theater with honeyed repose

Photo of Clairo in concert
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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Clairo’s music feels made for the morning. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter, Claire “Clairo” Cottrill, evokes the kind of soundscape where daylight pales and the mind occupies an early, ephemeral clarity. The sound, dewy and lush, is currently traveling like Eos’ chariot as Clairo embarks on The Sling Tour to promote her titular sophomore album. On March 31, Clairo transformed Fox Theater into a haven, her voice casting a spell of soft radiance. 

Luminous under blue light, opener Arlo Parks inaugurated an atmosphere of tenderness. The night marked Parks’ first performance in Oakland, but she commanded the stage with seasoned prowess and mesmerizing dexterity. Wholly in her element, Parks waded through green-eyed melancholy in “Eugene” and teary optimism in “Hope.”  An easy charmer and earnest performer, Parks traversed the setlist’s varied moods with liquid-smooth movement, bending and dipping in sanguine concentration.

A crew of stagehands undressed Parks’ sunflower-studded stage, and as the new band stepped into place, an expectant keyboard stood just left of center stage. Clairo came styled like an Ann Taylor mannequin: dark blazer and black jeans, and her hair bobbed in a low, corporate ponytail. Though at odds with her relaxed sound, the singer’s oddly formal aesthetic thawed from her warm, cozy disposition.

The concert opened with a trio of tracks from Sling, a pastoral and vulnerable record refreshed by retro instrumentals and lilting chord progressions. It treads a divergent path into denser woods from her previous bubbly project Immunity.

Perched at the piano, Clairo set the night’s pace at a cool andante with “Bambi.” Her voice settled into its quintessential warble, and the melodies of woodwinds melted around her piano’s steady stride forward. The tempo picked up briefly in “Zinnias,” only to relax into the smooth chromaticism of “Wade.”

This third track led Clairo from the piano to an acoustic guitar. Unassuming and introspective, the song of quiet devastation unspools in an open-ended meditation on loneliness and loss.

“It’s dark and it’s lonely, but it’s nothin’ to me,” she mused in muted resignation. “At least somebody’s home.” The melody flows in an aqueous cycle but delays resolution — the chordal equivalent of a homecoming — by wedging an aching secondary dominant into the progression.

Bathed in a sunset palette of purple, pink and yellow, Clairo captured the ache of estrangement while her band wrung out the deceptively lucid song for all its worth. The saxophonist and flutist’s transcendent harmonies coalesced, and even Clairo succumbed to the instrumental flurry, swapping out her acoustic guitar for an electric. 

The retreat to Clairo’s Immunity era started off promising, beginning with the uptempo and endearing “North,” only to encounter unexpected complications. During the song, the singer stopped the show when she realized that members of the crowd had passed out.

Time felt suspended as the music skidded to a hard stop. Clairo took charge and insisted upon urgency, firmly instructing security to take care of the unconscious audience members. Her care was unambiguous and unbending as she refused to resume the show until they were safe. Once the health issues were resolved, she said, a little breathlessly, “You gotta drink water, people.”

The setlist struck a fairly even balance between the two records; onlookers swayed to Sling, baltered to Immunity. With coy excitement, Clairo teased a guest duet, and the venue bloomed with excitement as Parks returned to the stage to perform “Blouse.” 

Clairo’s nimble voice crested in little waves while Parks fleshed out supple harmonies. The vulnerable performance even touched Clairo herself as she moved through the set, eyes glazed in wonder and a little weepy.

The duet marked a welcomed surprise for a night that was inching toward a plateau. The volley of back-to-back bedroom pop ballads — only broken up by the reveal of one unreleased song — lulled like a sedative, ushering in a cozy but drowsy period of the night.

Yet, Clairo saved her old, upbeat songs for the end, performing “Pretty Girl” and “Sofia” for a crowd itching to dance. Though moments of serenity perhaps overstayed their welcome, Clairo charmed the Fox Theater, cradling intimacy and possibility like the lambent split of dawn.

Maya Thompson is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].