Conan Gray Plays Dallas for First Time

By:  Briana Lao, Regional Music Journal Contributor

 

Late this October, YouTuber and musician Conan Gray set out on his first tour since starting his YouTube channel in 2013 at the age of 14. Uploading his first cover, a video of him singing and playing Adele’s “To Make You Feel My Love” on ukulele in 2015, Conan’s musical career picked up as the frequency of his cover videos and original songs did. The Austin-based teen performed his second concert of the tour at the Deep Ellum Art Company in Dallas on Monday, October 29.

The Deep Ellum Art Co. opened its doors in the summer of 2017 and has since hosted dozens of food trucks, art galleries and concerts. While the fairly new venue boasts an almost five out of five stars rating on Google and Yelp, my photographer Meredith and I experienced multiple less-than-welcoming run-ins with the staff. When the doors opened for the concert at 7 p.m., Meredith and I approached a staff member who was checking tickets and letting people in. I told him we were looking for the will call area and was told, “This is will call.” as he motioned toward the line winding around the building. Even after letting him know we were press, we were told to get in line. So we walked to the back of the line and waited around 30 minutes to make it back up to the entrance. Again, we asked to pick up press passes and were told to step towards a table five feet away. Another staff member promptly asked for our names, which we were told were “not on the list.” After contacting my editor, she told me to let the staff know she had discussed the press passes with the publicist of Conan Gray’s record label, Republic. However, a woman handing out wristbands told us, “We have never heard of anyone like that,” in a bluntly standoffish way. We then had to ask another man if we could talk to Austin Luna, Gray’s tour manager. The employee went inside to find Luna, and as we waited, the same woman told us in the most condescending tone, “If all else fails, we still have tickets for sale.” However, when Luna walked out of the building, he immediately shook my hand and apologized for the inconvenience. We did not receive any apologies or other comments from the other staff members who had blown us off earlier.

Sara King opening for Conan Gray at Deep Ellum Art Company in Dallas TX on 10/28/18 – Photo Courtesy Meredith Holser

When we finally got into the building, we walked through a corridor while younger kids attending the show physically pushed us as they ran to get to the front of the stage. “The attendees were a little bit wild,” concert-goer Henry Thomas said about his experience that night. “The overall venue seemed uptight. More uptight than any other venue I’ve been to. I don’t know if that was just because [it was] one of Conan’s first concerts, or if it was because of the age range that was there.”

Younger kids piled in front of the raised stage while adults, most likely the chaperones of the attendees, strayed near the back of the room and the bar that took the length of the left wall. The right wall of the building hosted a “Rockabilly” art gallery featuring the work of William “Bubba” Flint, and the merchandise table was set up in the back. Blue lights shined on the stage, making the colors of the red iridescent streamers and black “Conan Gray” cut-out banner in the background almost unrecognizable. As the first band walked out on stage, the crowd chanted “Conan, Conan” until opener Sara King, another YouTube artist, walked onstage and began singing a cover of “American Spirits” by the band Inner Wave. The lead guitarist nodded his head to the beat of the song as the bassist and King, also playing guitar, swayed to the music. King’s rose-colored sunglasses complemented the teal and purple spotlights sweeping across the stage, and the glasses stayed on through the band’s entire set.

Sara King performing at Deep Ellum Art Company 10/29/18 in Dallas TX – Photo Courtesy Meredith Holser

King’s voice was calming and melodic, and the crowd joined with her as she sang “88 Days,” a song from her newest album, “Heat,” released in August. Afterward, she sang several cover songs, including “Bleach” by hip-hop group Brockhampton and “Supermodel” by R&B artist SZA. During an intense guitar riff in King’s song “Midsummer Night,” the crowd cheered louder and at the end of a song, someone even yelled, “Do you have a Facebook?” to the guitarist. King then sang her song “Honeymoon,” dancing slowly and kneeling down lower to the crowd, looking over the rim of her pink sunglasses as people cheered louder. After King ended “Honeymoon” with a flutter of her fingers, people in the audience yelled, “Play ‘Dreams,’” to which she replied with a smile, “It’s coming later.” After singing covers of “Speed Racer” by Her’s and “Diet Mountain Dew” by Lana Del Rey, King ended her set with another original song. “This is gonna be my last song,” King said. “It’s called ‘Dreamz.’ Let’s dance together. Thank you, Conan, for having me.” During instrumentals in the song, the guitarist folded the two setlists onstage into paper planes and threw them into the crowd as people cheered louder. “I’m so f*ckin’ pumped to see you tonight,” King said at the end of the song. She let the crowd know that she and her band would be in the back by the merch table, and anyone is welcome to go hang out with them.

After King’s band walked off stage, the crowd immediately broke into intermittent chants of “Conan, Conan,” or “I say ‘Conan,’ you say’ Gray,’” every few minutes as the crew set up for the next performance. When the background music playing over the venue speakers stopped, the crowd cheered and chanted louder, and dozens of phones shot up in the air as the people tried to record the moment Gray walked out on stage.

Conan Gray at Deep Ellum Art Company in Dallas TX 10/29/18 – Photo Courtesy Meredith Holser

But the stage remained still and instead, a recording of Gray’s voice when he was younger played through the overhead speakers. With the sound of a heartbeat thumping in the background, Gray talked about how he’d always wanted to make music. “I’ve dreamed of this day since I was very young,” the voiceover said. “I always thought it was stupid to dream.” The phrase, “It’s not stupid,” echoed and faded away as Gray walked onstage and the crowd went wild. Screams of, “I love you” lasted until the first song started. With a very short introduction, Gray started the concert with his song “The Other Side,” originally uploaded on YouTube in August of 2016. Gray played guitar during some songs, and his all-girl band consisted of a drummer, keyboardist and bassist. Later on in the night, Gray introduced them to the crowd. “Say, ‘Hi,’ to my band, by the way,” he said. “We call them the Powerpuff Girls. They’re adorable, and I love them.”

Gray’s second song started immediately after the first, and the crowd screamed the loudest they had all night as Gray sang “Crush Culture,” swaggering across the stage and dancing to the music. When the song ended, Gray addressed the crowd. “Thank y’all so much for coming out,” he said. “This is the most amazing thing.” He then asked the crowd how many of them were from a “small town.” Throughout the show, Gray talked about different topics, such as feeling trapped in a small town as a teenager, to segue into his next song. His “small town” talk led to his song “Generation Why,” during which the crowd cheered and yelled even the backup vocals of the song. After the song ended, Gray shyly said, “I love you, too,” in response to a cry of, “We love you,” from the crowd. He then told the crowd, “Y’all guys’ outfits are really cute, and that’s really concerning because I’m supposed to be really cute,” to which the crowd responded with more declarations of, “I love you,” and cheering. When someone handed him a pin, he held it up and said into the mic, “Thank you so much for this.” The entire night, Gray and the audience interacted directly. The crowd loved him and wanted him to know it. While playing his song “Lovesick Boys,” Gray stumbled on the guitar intro and quietly apologized, to which someone in the crowd yelled back, “I love you,” in reply.

Conan Gray at Deep Ellum Art Company in Dallas TX 10/29/18 – Photo Courtesy Meredith Holser

Gray then sang his song “Grow,” with the crowd screaming and singing along. The stage was lit up bright white, and Gray seemed to be truly enjoying himself as he spun across the stage with his arms extended, dancing and singing until the lights changed to a vibrant neon rainbow as the song neared its end. After “Grow,” more attendees tried handing small gifts to Gray, to which he said, “I’ll get my gifts after the show, don’t worry,” referring to the scheduled meet and greet at the end of the performance. Gray introduced a new, unreleased song, telling the crowd, “This is a song about mean people, and it’s also a song you don’t know yet. This is ‘Greek God.’” After playing the new song, Gray surprised the crowd again. “So you guys are in for a double whammy,” he said, “Because this song you haven’t heard either.” The second unreleased song, “Lookalike,” was a slower, melancholy song about loving someone so much but the relationship not working out. After thanking the crowd again, Gray walked offstage as the band continued playing. At the end of the song, the band followed Gray through the curtains to the right of the stage.

The crowd began chanting “Conan” again, getting louder and faster until Gray and the band walked back out. While walking, Gray began singing the beginning of “Idle Town. The crowd sang along loudly, throwing their arms and phones up into the air. Gray let the crowd sing the last line of the song on their own, and then he ended the show. “Thank you guys so much for being the biggest and best crowd I could’ve ever asked for,” he said. “I’m gonna be meeting as many of you guys as possible at the merch table.”

The crowd began chanting “Conan” again, getting louder and faster until Gray and the band walked back out. While walking, Gray began singing the beginning of “Idle Town. The crowd sang along loudly, throwing their arms and phones up into the air. Gray let the crowd sing the last line of the song on their own, and then he ended the show. “Thank you guys so much for being the biggest and best crowd I could’ve ever asked for,” he said. “I’m gonna be meeting as many of you guys as possible at the merch table.”

 

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