Review: Rex Orange County @ Marble Factory

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By Epigram Music

Epigram Music offers two alternative reviews of the recent Rex Orange County gig held at the Marble Factory.

By Ben Carpenter, Film and Television Editor

Picture me, my friend Nicole on my shoulders, wobbling about to the sound of ‘Loving Is Easy’ as a neon clad security guard waves his unceremoniously sausage-esque finger at our clear health & safety violation. Funnily enough, the aforementioned security felt warmer to me than Rex himself, who provided a collection of old & new, but never seemed invested in the swarms of hipsters yelling his lyrics back at him.

Opening with the first track of his latest album titled Who Cares? (released by RCA March 11th), it became clear that Rex, real name Alex, has very much refined his style of spoken word bedroom pop as the crowd erupted into viscous cheers and iPhones flew up into the air. As we all hummed along to the easy beat of ‘Keep It Up’ I have to admit the vibes were immaculate even at the very back (I’m far too irritable to immerse myself in the push & shove of the front row these days let’s be real) and for the first time in my life I was actually happy to be at Motion.

As he followed the opener with the chronological order of his new album he interspersed a collection of (in)appropriately foul mouthed remarks in his ever-strange hybrid of an accent. Thanking us for being there and talking of how excited he was to be in Bristol, all was fine on the surface but what persisted was an element of arrogance and general disinterest in the crowd. Despite his style of well scripted thanks, the set couldn’t help but feel rushed, a fact secured in the glaringly obvious financial decision to position two 45-minute performances back-to-back for two different crowds. What resulted was a whistle-stop tour through his greatest hits.

Starting with Corduroy Dreams and moving seamlessly to the ever-existential Pluto Projector, the set-list proved efficient yet effective as he sprinkled lesser-known fan favourites in between his biggest chart successes, culminating in a finale of Best Friend that had people overjoyed, myself included. But despite the quality of his live vocals and the positive energy of the crowd and friends I attended with, I couldn’t help but feel Rex will always be a singer-songwriter first and a performer second.

Known for his lyrical self-reflection and ballads of anxiety and isolation, the sensitive and sweet Rex presented via his studio recordings differed from the distant, almost road-man-esque, energy of his stage presence. It’s no secret Rex is from money, being raised in Surrey and attending a collection of independent schools and later a private music school. And that is neither praise nor criticism, just context for the star who recently scored his first UK Number 1 album. However, an understanding of his background and musical style makes his stage persona even more baffling, as his music presents a soft, almost anti-macho young adult, whereas his on-stage demeanour seemed ready to start a fight at any given moment, a sentiment secured in his speech to the crowd prior to his finale:

“Put your f****** phones down and enjoy the moment. I’m serious, you’re not funny or special for keeping them up, just put them down”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I agree with the man. I can’t even imagine how frustrating it must be to feel like you’re performing to a sea of cameras and not people. But for all of his lyrical word play, his live-essence lacked the nuance that has sent him soaring to the top of the music industry.

Credit: Ben Carpenter

By James Magee, First Year Politics and Spanish

It’s difficult to pinpoint Rex Orange County’s appeal. The 23-year-old – real name Alexander O’Connor – doesn’t have a commanding stage presence. He has only a limited vocal range and dances like me when I’m listening to music in my room through my headphones. His plain white t-shirt and baggy jeans wouldn’t make him stand out in the queue for the cafe at Senate House.

Yet it’s precisely that regular kid-on-the-block style which makes him such a hit among the younger demographic and keeps his shows selling out. His gentle persona is hard not to warm to as an audience member. Arguably the highlight of the show was when a ladybird flew onto his shirt just before he broke into another song, at which point the band paused and Rex carefully placed the insect into the hands of a nearby steward.

Of course, his knack for writing songs also helps redeem his shortcomings. His tunes about relationship difficulties as well as dealing with mental health struggles feel very raw and genuine, without compromising catchy-ness, and particularly resonate with our generation. So popular has his music proven that his fourth album, Who Cares?, fired straight in at No. 1 last week.

Credit: James Magee

This show formed part of a tour across the UK celebrating the album’s release and was the second of the night, after another performance was put on to cater the enormous demand for tickets. It comprised of two halves: the first in which he performed a host of tracks from the new album, before singing some of his biggest hits to date.

The Bristolian crowd were as great as ever. The built-up energy in the room was instantly unbottled the second that the intro to ‘KEEP IT UP’ kicked in. Throughout the night they belted out the words to all his songs, even the fresh releases.

Members of his core fanbase maybe would’ve enjoyed one or two lesser-known album tracks from his back-catalogue alongside his commercial hits, although he may have wanted to keep the rest of the room on side after a string of new, relatively unheard songs.

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However, the main issue was that it was all wrapped within around 45 minutes. Perhaps forgivable, given that this short tour could be treated as a preview before he embarks on a world tour in May and he had to play two shows in the space of a few hours.

Nevertheless, it’s understandable that fans may feel like they deserved more for their money. After capping off the set with ‘Best Friend’, he didn’t even return to the stage for an encore. Having made the effort to learn all the lyrics from the new album in the space of just 10 days, and in doing so scored O’Connor his first No. 1, the fans may have felt they deserved more than they were given on the night. Then again, even if he plays a four-hour set, for the fans who hold his music so dear, that’s never enough.

Featured image: Ben Carpenter


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