A Peek at Oliver Tree's Love Letter

Oliver Tree
Oliver Tree Photo by Jennifer Lake
Oliver Tree
713 Music Hall
March 25, 2022

There was a running gag in last night’s Oliver Tree set at 713 Music Hall where the oddball artist earnestly asked his oddball fans, “Who wants to hear one more song?!” The first time Tree asked was right after he’d finished “Forget It,” the set opener. The joke appeared again throughout the show, sort of a poke in the eye to the concert performance cliché but also maybe a bit of self-awareness. Tree’s music has blown up over the last few years and his growing fame is still fresh as that gag the first couple of times we heard it. He may literally be wondering who wants to hear the next Oliver Tree song.

Of course, each time he asked, the audience responded wildly, which reflects Tree’s evolving music career. His new album, Cowboy Tears, was a Billboard Top 10 charter on its release in February. Despite that — or, maybe because of it — the eccentric hip-hop pop star has proclaimed this his last concert tour ever, a note he emphasized at the end of his 18-song, 100-minute set last night. But, c’mon. It’s a tease on par with making nearly 5,000 people beg for another tune.

There’s a reason Oliver Tree can’t stop making music and the reason doesn’t have dollar signs, numerals or cash machines to it. The songs in Tree’s catalog are heavy on the sorts of self-affirmations that would make Stuart Smalley proud and while Tree may have written them to uplift his own self, they have become a bit of life glue for his devout fans who might also feel a bit cracked. During a pre-show interview with Tree, he described the live show as “a shitty Broadway musical,” but it’s really an endearingly goofy love letter. There were scripted bits between each song on the set list, written by Tree for his own amusement and consolation, just as those songs were.

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Tree performed tunes from Ugly is Beautiful and his new album, Cowboy Tears
Photo by Jennifer Lake

As it happens in art, those songs and the show they created became love letters to Tree’s avid fans. We met a couple walking into the venue, Michelle and Tristen. We didn’t have to ask what they especially like about Tree, it was evident in their attire. They were dressed in ski jackets and donning blond wigs which mimic his look —  or, at least, his look of the moment since it’s allowed to change, as he told the audience wondering about the “bowl cut hairdo” and the “big puffy pants” he once favored.

“First of all, I am a human and I am allowed to change, evolve and grow!” he shouted to the crowd’s glee. “Second of all, if you missed the last five years where I did that shit every day, that’s on you, you stupid motherfucker!”

Tree’s brand is embracing your true self, flaws and all, but allowing yourself to do it through the veil of some guise. You can reveal every weird thing about the wonderfully weird person you are without shouting it from the mountaintops. It’s totally okay and Michelle and Tristen were good examples of that, completely at ease talking with Mr. Reporter Man while relaxing before a show on a beautiful Friday night in Houston.

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Oliver Tree fans, Michelle and Tristen
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

The set started right at 10 p.m. and nearly stretched into the next day. The run time of the 18 songs in the show is only about 45 minutes, but the set was more than double that length, filled with bits designed to provoke laughter, thought and enthusiasm for the next song (“Who wants to hear one more fucking song?!”) Just like stealing someone’s written romantic confessions and blurting them aloud, it would be very uncool to reveal the exact details of Oliver Tree’s love letter to his fans. But, at times it included multiple onstage wardrobe changes, the 7-foot tall intergalactic guest artist Little Ricky ZR3, who kept referring to the crowd as “Coachella,” a cow statue and two literal cowhands, on stage to rotate the prop at Tree’s will and a stage right outhouse which allowed Tree to engage in some scatological humor while changing his apparel.

There was also a wedding proposal followed immediately by an onstage wedding. Tree rose to prominence on the outlandish and outlandishly original videos for his songs. He’s a master at fully extrapolating the meme, taking it from it from banality to something more original. Introducing his megahit “Life Goes On,” he said, “This next song was one of the biggest songs on TikTok last year. For those of you who don’t know what TikTok is, it’s an app made for ages one-to-four years-old. So, if you look around and see a bunch of babies next to you, well, you can thank Tikky-Tokky for that one. But guess what? I don’t give a fuck if you’re one years-old or 101 years-old, everybody’s welcomed at an Oliver Tree show!”

Tree would never be satisfied being the artist whose fans simply propose matrimony during his live show. That can happen at any concert. Only an Oliver Tree show would possess the foresight to include Tree becoming an ordained minister by taking a three-hour online course of study the very day some random couple pulled from the audience gets engaged onstage at his show. Following the natural and logical progression, Tree “married” them right on the spot.

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A wedding took place at the show
Photo by Jennifer Lake
While calling the show “a high school play on steroids” during our pre-show chat, Tree promised some motivational speaking and that was at the heart of the show. Mixed in with tall tales told to set up one more song, Tree hyped fans by saying things like “I need you guys to understand that this is an energy ritual. I put out this energy and whatever you give me back, that’s gonna make the best show of your life, if you wanna do this shit right!” But the most genuine moments were the ones where he spoke to fans the way he probably once spoke to himself, back when he was writing the songs for just himself.

“If you take away just one thing from this show,” he said after “I’m Gone,” the actual one last song of the night, “just remember, no matter how strange you look, no matter how ugly you feel, you are fucking beautiful!”

The Openers: Sueco and 347aidan turned in good pop punk and pop hip-hop sets, respectively. Both acts are young — 347aidan being just 18, though Tree kidded he’d just graduated middle school last week - and their musical expressions are rife with Zoomer wisdom. Honestly, the lyrics these young artists are singing, which audiences sing back, are so knowing and healthy. They’re both worth a listen. Where they need some fine-tuning is in the live performance aspect. In case you were an amnesiac and wandered into the show not knowing where you were, Sueco had your back, shouting out Houston at least two dozen times in a half-hour span.

347aidan leaned hard on the standards — asking the crowd to put up its tiny glowing screens, challenging different sections of the audience to outshout each other, jumping into the crowd, and that was all within a few songs. As Mrs. Sendejas keenly put it, they were trying too hard to make the audience connect instead of letting it happen organically. I hope they’ll get better at that — and believe they will with Tree as a role model - because they both have some important messages to deliver. 347aidan has hundreds of millions of streams for his positive music and closed his set by saying, “If you have a dream, please follow it. It’s not weird, it’s not corny — it’s dope as fuck to be passionate about something.” From the mouths of babes, folks.

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Tree connects with his fans in meaningful ways
Photo by Jennifer Lake

Personal Bias: “Let Me Down” was thankfully in the set list, the first Oliver Tree song I personally heard, thanks to my son. It’s another of those self-motivation songs and helped my son through some hard times. He wasn’t with me last night, he’s doing his own rock star thing (IYKYK) but he was there with me, Mom, his sister the Rza and a bunch of the rest of us who came around for the show.

The Crowd: The freaks and the geeks.

Random Notebook Dump: A few songs into Tree’s set, my phone started buzzing with the news that Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins had unexpectedly died earlier in the day. My social media feeds being heavy with local musicians, they were sharing their personal tributes to the drummer. I saw him just once, back in 2018, with my cousin Daniel who is arguably the biggest Foo fan on the planet. Hawkins demanded attention with high energy, a wide grin and precise playing and I’m so glad I got to see him and especially that I shared the experience with a loved one who loves that band. The sad news made the moment all the more poignant when Tree told the crowd late in the set, “I just wanna say this — your friends and your family, the people who make your life what it is, don’t be afraid to tell them that you fucking love them. A lot of people are too scared to say that to their friends,” he said, “Well, guess what? It might be your last chance to ever say that, so say it when you fucking can.”

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Photo by Jennifer Lake
Oliver Tree Set List

Forget It
Alien Boy
When I’m Down
All That
Life Goes On
Cowboys Don’t Cry
Swing & A Miss
Freaks & Geeks
Miracle Man
Cash Machine
Get Well Soon
Let Me Down
I’m Gone/Alien Boy reprise
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.