22nd February | Thekla
After we had waited over an hour and a half for a support act that never turned up, Rex Orange County charmed the youthful crowd with a set that, although relatively short, captured the essence of his infectious personality and irresistible songs.
Immediately endearing himself to the sold-out audience, Rex (real name Alex O’Connor) entered the stage alongside his five-strong entourage with a joyful, if goofy dance, indicative of the laid-back vibe often present in his music. Positioning himself behind his keyboard, the multi-instrumentalist launched into ‘Apricot Princess’, the title track from his acclaimed debut album, with the opening line: “You can never do wrong, it’s me that makes the evenings long”, setting the lyrical themes for the evening as love, longing and loss.
This was followed by the impeccable ‘Television/So Far So Good’, perhaps the young musician’s finest work to date. The subtly humorous, yet emotionally weighty content of the song, coupled with its upbeat tempo, clearly demonstrates the nineteen-year-old to possess a creative precision well beyond his years and goes a long way to explaining just why he’s been so hotly tipped for success, having recently placed second in the BBC’s Sound of 2018 poll.
Throughout his set, Rex displayed incredible versatility whilst maintaining consistency in the essence of his sound, which falls somewhere between the relaxed musings of Mac DeMarco and the intense spontaneity of Frank Ocean. His band merge bass and electric guitar with trumpets and saxophone to spark an indie-jazz fusion, whilst his vocal delivery oscillates between being rap-like and similar to that of a traditional crooner. Most striking, however, is his ability to flip between song styles and moods. One minute Rex was stood isolated on the stage, performing the bittersweet ballad, ‘Untitled’ and the next, he was surrounded by his band, bouncing to the euphoric, ‘Loving is Easy’.
Rex also connected with his audience throughout, something that was very much reciprocated. Sheepishly asking at the start: “Are you ready for a singalong?” at least 90% of the capacity duly obliged, reciting each song word for word, seemingly without mistake. It was apparent that Rex’s fans have invested in him as a person and not just in his music, with a middle-aged man even shouting out halfway through, offering the Surrey-based singer custody of his children, something that was duly rejected, albeit with appreciation.
Thoughtful set closer, ‘Happiness’ perfectly captured the mood of the devoted audience as they departed from Rex’s first headline Bristol show, firmly holding onto the promise that it wouldn’t be his last. Whilst the performance itself may have been brief, it is worth noting that this was reflective of the artist’s material, which is steadily growing in magnitude and remaining consistent in its high quality.