Live: REX ORANGE COUNTY // O2 Academy Brixton, London
A joyous triumph for one of the brightest young artists in modern music.
Taking over the O2 Academy Brixton for a three-night residency, Rex Orange County is about to make history. A musical wunderkind, not only can he pride himself on releasing three studio albums at the age of 21, he has now found himself performing to a crowd totalling 15k over the course of three days. The bar is high.
Tonight’s performance marks the second out of the three sold out London shows of ‘The Pony Tour’ and from the moment I enter the venue, it is a sight to behold. The floor is lined with green grass and bouquets of flowers, whilst a red curtain is hanging down the ceiling, partially covering the stage. There is no support act, so the crowd is his.
Alex O’Connor swaggers on to the stage, waving at the audience with a heartfelt smile and boyish charm, taking it all in. Sitting behind the piano, he kicks things off with 10/10, an exuberant opener of his most recent record, Pony. With a cheerful, uplifting feel, it sets a celebratory tone for the night, only intensified by an electrifying guitar solo that triggers the crowd in an instant.
Transforming the stage into an idyllic scenery reminiscent of a warm summery day, with clouds rolling over above our heads, the view is spectacular. Shouting “I’m home!”, in reference to the lyrics of 10/10 – “And I can’t wait to be home again”, it only adds to the excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd.
Rex’s rap-infused flow and honesty shine on Laser Lights, soaring with sparse piano notes and saxophone flares, whilst Face To Face brings forth the sentimental tinge with its mellow melodies, flickering keys, and dulcet vocal harmonies.
“Do you think tonight is gonna be the best out the three? Can you help me sing the next one?”, he asks the crowd as Pluto Projector takes things down a notch with yet another personal confession of his. Despite being laced with a darker tinge, touching upon themes of doubt and uncertainty of youth along with the toils of life, at its core Pony is an album that empowers, searching for a glimmer of hope.
With the curtain coming back up, we are next treated to a solo set from Rex. The emotionally-charged Every Way is sure to make many hearts melt, whilst a guitar-driven, melancholy Grease cover of Hopelessly Devoted To You makes for quite a pleasant surprise, in spite of Rex admitting that he was scared to play this one in the first place. On the other hand, we’ve got Corduroy Dreams which finds the crowd swaying to its pulsating rhythms and delightful whistling.
Bathed in kaleidoscopic lights, a new stage arrangement is revealed as Rex returns with his full band for the absolute banger of a song, Never Had The Balls. Prompting a change in the dynamic of the set, the galloping drums and sparkling instrumentals set hearts racing and feet pounding, whilst a giant balloon in the shape of a pony draws everyone’s attention to the centre of the stage. Covering the room in a confetti rain, it feels like a grand finale, yet we’re only halfway through the set.
Continuing in a similar vein, the rest of the show falls euphoric and triumphant. Magnified by impressive visuals, the fan favourites Sunflower and Best Friend take the energy to the next level. Asking the crowd to put their phones away for the latter, it shows the respect and adornment the fans have for the young musician as I can’t spot a single phone being held up in the air.
Revealing “Playing this venue is a dream come true”, Rex rounds things off on a soothing, tad bittersweet note with Always. With his jovial demeanour, familiarity and warmth of a best friend, the night does feel special and you can’t help but be utterly fascinated by it. Perhaps still a ‘pony’ at heart, there is no doubt that the live format of Rex Orange County hints at true growth. Bringing out the light in the dark, it shows the metamorphosis Alex has manifested as both musician and individual, and it is wonderful to witness.
Photos: Kasia Osowiecka