Going to a Rex Orange County concert single is a dangerous game to play.
A specialist in songs that would fit in perfectly on the soundtrack of an emotionally complex romantic comedy, Rex Orange County’s concerts make perfect date nights. And when you account for the fact that I was going within two days of Valentine’s Day? There was absolutely no way that I (single and slightly bitter about it) wasn’t going to be surrounded by couples.
But luckily, his set at The Anthem was captivating enough that I wasn’t left alone with my thoughts for too long. On tour to promote his 2019 album Pony, Rex — real name Alex O’Connor — has perfected his craft.
Backed by a blue background spotted with fluffy, cartoon clouds and awash with blue and purple lights, Rex’s opening performance of “10/10” — my favorite track off of Pony — gave the impression he was performing in a twilight sky. That sort of whimsy was a common thread throughout the show, from those opening tracks to the neon pony outline and confetti that popped up later.
His between-song chatter was charmingly personal. He kept asking the crowd if it was OK if he played some of his older songs, if he played a cover, if he played some songs by himself. And, of course, his adoring crowd was more than OK with it all — in fact, their screams were the loudest when the curtain dropped and the band exited the stage, leaving Rex to perform several songs by his lonesome.
And I get it — his live vocals are flawless and they’re best on display when it’s just him and a single instrument. Despite this obvious fact, he kept encouraging his fans to sing along.
“I can hear you singing a little bit, and it sounds beautiful,” he exclaimed. To be fair, “beautiful” was a bit of an exaggeration. Rex’s vocal acrobatics — interesting key changes and weird runs that somehow work — are not easily replicated, especially not by a scream-singing crowd. The result was a “Pluto Projector” rendition that was vaguely off-key but still touching.
From the get-go, his crowd had their phones out, recording every moment. People didn’t want to leave a single second undocumented or unremembered. But before he launched into two of his most popular songs — “Best Friend” and “Loving Is Easy” — he asked everyone to put their phones away.
“You can show everything else to your friends who couldn’t get tickets, it’ll all be on the internet. Let’s just have these next moments for just us,” he explained. And, out of respect for his wishes, I’ll keep those details to myself.
But I will say this: Standing in that sold-out crowd, I was struck by the sensation that I was at a Valentine’s Day pregame. Sure, the main event was yet to come, but the concert was an opportunity to get into the lovey-dovey headspace. And, by the time he left the stage, I had succumbed to his rom-com magic, allowing myself to be buffeted into swaying by the couples surrounding me.