Written By | Nathan Washington
Despite torrential rain pouring down in Melbourne tonight, a dedicated crowd is still building outside 170 Russell, eager to see upcoming British artist and fan favourite Alex O’Connor, stage name Rex Orange County, play his debut show in Melbourne between his stops on the Laneway Festival circuit. Bringing his unique blend of lo-fi indie pop, alternative hip hop and soul to his first ever Australian headlines, sold out within minutes of release, he is sure to put on quite a performance for the adoring crowd.
The first hour of the night is slightly underwhelming but full of anticipation, with no support artist taking the stage but instead a curated playlist of hip hop, R&B and pop keeping fans interested, allowing the venue to fill up before a single note has been played. By the time that final sound checks have begun, the audience are cheering for anyone and everyone who walks onto stage, a bit of light-hearted fun to fill the long wait. Not too long afterwards, fans are rewarded for their patience, as the lights dim and the crowd erupts as Rex Orange County and his band emerge onto stage, O’Connor positioning himself at his keyboard and starting off the show with his tender and lavish track Apricot Princess, the title track off his 2017 debut album.
His unique and textured vocals ooze with personality, backed up by his personal and charming lyricism as he also shows his skill as a multi-instrumentalist, transitioning from keyboard to synth to electric guitar in between his first few tracks. His understated charm is also apparent through his dynamic stage presence; quickly shifting from reserved and subdued while seated and singing softly, to moving around the stage and engaging fans energetically with his guitar in hand.
At only 20 years old, O’Connor’s songwriting is also on full showcase, his expressiveness while singing lending even more power to the personal topics of love and loneliness touched on within his music. As for the musical performance itself, his accompanying band are both tight and lavish, filling the room with warm sound and fitting the mood perfectly, whether it be a quieter and more introspective track or something upbeat and frenetic, getting the audience dancing and singing along, with a saxophonist and trumpeter even making a couple of appearances on stage. O’Connor pulls out an homage to Alicia Keys with a fun cover, something quickly becoming a staple in his live performances, before transitioning into his self-reflective track Untitled and then treating fans to a spirited guitar performance on an older song, Corduroy Dreams, drawing cheers for his melodic whistling featured at the end of the song. The eclectic charm that his lo-fi sound brings is still as unique as it was upon the release of his first project, Bcos U Will Never B Free, and leads to an intimate experience for fans in person, the combination of well-written, catchy music and open-book lyricism providing a memorable experience as well as a good dance.
As the set draws near its end, O’Connor plays his captivating ballad Happiness, beginning as a contemplative piece featuring just his vocals and keyboard and swelling into a massive whole band affair complete with an anthemic guitar solo, and as the track develops into its final crescendo gold confetti is fired over the crowd, a fitting end to an incredible night of performance. However, the night isn’t quite over yet, as fans demand one more song from Rex Orange County as he departs the stage, quickly re-emerging to blow fans away with a rendition of his hit song Loving Is Easy, another barrage of multi-coloured confetti fired over the fans complete with flashing technicolour strobes as the night comes to a triumphant end.
Dedicated fans have waited a long time for an Australian headline from the young English artist known as Rex Orange County, and they were given more than they could’ve ever hoped for, a spectacular and one-of-a-kind performance from one of the most interesting new artists of the last few years. Full of personality, unique vocals, tight performances and incredible music, it is clear why the show sold out so quickly, and why fans are so keen to see many more performances from him in future, as well as looking forward to his next musical releases, with his debut album having been released in 2017 leading to fans hoping for a follow-up sooner rather than later. For O’Connor, his remaining Laneway Festival performances await, sure to make plenty more new fans by the time his Australian visit is over.