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WILLOW reigns Oakland Arena with punky, vivacious verve

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CAROLINE LOBEL | SENIOR STAFF

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Staff

JULY 28, 2022

Wallowing at a WILLOW show is impossible.

While Willow Smith is known mononymously as WILLOW, her stage presence doesn’t reflect the delicacy associated with the gauzy, gentle tree. Rather, WILLOW’s music digs deep into the earth, grasping at the roots of riot grrrl rage and pure pop punk — and on July 19, Oakland Arena blossomed with her seething, gritty passion.

Among a hurricane of martini glasses, questionable tattoos and “Jennifer’s Body” heart-patterned zip-ups, WILLOW emerged triumphant at the eye of the black and pink storm. Although the 21-year-old performed before headliner Machine Gun Kelly and fellow opener Avril Lavigne, her voltaic energy often outshone both of her tourmates.

Naturally poised even in a clumpy rainbow knit hat, WILLOW conducted her performance with uninhibited zeal. Her one-of-a-kind tracksuit swallowed her up with wonderfully random decor — patches of lighters, a Furby, a zebra print star, a Winnie the Pooh dedication — yet consistency marked her striking performance.

Eight songs flitted by like flashes of lightning. “Transparent Soul” jolted the audience into motion, kick-starting with anticipatory drums and a guitar riff echoing the chorus’ ascending melody. “Smile in my face, then put your cig’ out on my back,” WILLOW muttered, each word a shard to skin.

WILLOW sucked in the smoke from the extinguished cigarette, made the ash mark a tattoo — the whirlwind song stung with piercing betrayal, but reflecting on such grief only fueled her passion and intensity. From her commanding performance, it’s clear that she doesn’t let anything define her; she makes everything her own, even her pain.

After “Transparent Soul,” she pointed to a concertgoer’s sign in approval of its message: “F— the system.” Rather than elaborating, she decided to dive into “Gaslight,” with lights strobing to the beat of the drums. While the stage glinted with minimal lighting theatrics, WILLOW’s raw talent outshone any visual spectacles.

Watching WILLOW perform feels like a head rush. A dizzying deluge of pressure engulfed the arena, and even over her roaring band, her vocals cut across the venue with commanding clarity.

Particularly piercing was “Don’t Save Me,” during which WILLOW slid to her knees and bowed down to Liso Lee’s intoxicating guitar solo. With her blonde side bangs and black braids thrashing, Lee stunned as an electric tempest alongside her deft bandmates.

After sharing the spotlight with Lee, WILLOW shifted gears a moment, acknowledging that there’s a lot of “f—ed up s— happening in the world.” While she didn’t offer specificity or a call to action, she knew her cursory acknowledgement was enough to let sadness briefly simmer in the stadium.

Similarly, she later noted how being on stage made it feel like she was “birds-eye viewing this beautiful, but also tragic landscape.” The declaration, though meant to encompass the state of the world, also effectively described her music. Infused with both youthful vigor and profound severity, WILLOW’s music organically traverses peaks and valleys. Her discography throbs with anguish, steeped in such heartbreaking candor that beauty inevitably ascends.

Transcending all expectations as a must-see live track, “Wait A Minute!” floated above any affliction with its unforgettable, plush neo-funk. “I left my consciousness in the sixth dimension,” WILLOW sang. “Left my soul in his vision, let’s go get it, oh!” Soothing ribbons of white-gold light rippled above her in a revolving spotlight, extending a heavenly moment of much-needed tranquility.

“We’re just vibing, that’s all we can do,” she said afterward, shrugging before her serene rendezvous anthem “Meet Me At Our Spot.” Her nonchalance was genuine, though it wasn’t exactly lighthearted. Sorrow tended to tinge her interludes, but her show was by no means low-spirited — her subtle inflections of dolefulness only lent her set more emotional weight.

Emerging as a disquieting closer, “<Maybe> It’s My Fault” boiled with uncertainty, self-doubt and fear. WILLOW blistered with screams at its conclusion, expectedly shattering calm with irrepressible catharsis. The song left the arena in a daze, devastated yet newly empowered in cold violet light.

A vital force of nature, WILLOW bristled with visionary brilliance at Oakland Arena. Clouds might come and go, but WILLOW’s storm is undying.

Taila Lee is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @tailalee.
LAST UPDATED

JULY 28, 2022


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