I found myself at a Rex Orange County show in January of 2020. I was going into that show blind but knew that he was all the rage with the youth and just had to see what this man was all about. It was a trap and I instantly fell in love with this musician so when he announced another performance at The Armory for Thursday night, I knew I had to be there.
Alexander James O’Connor is the real name behind Rex Orange County. He is an English singer/songwriter and, at only twenty-four years old, has truly made waves in the scene. The question is, what scene does he belong in and I think that’s the main appeal for me when it comes to this act. Rex Orange County’s sound is all over the place from jazz to hip-hop to lo-fi soft rock to a more standard indie rock. Although I used standard right there to describe some of the elements of his music, I feel like that’s such an unfair word I just can’t think of a better one to use right now. He is seriously doing something that nobody else is doing and has a very distinct and fresh sound.
I was a little surprised that Rex Orange County was the sole performer on Thursday night. It wasn’t a question of having enough material to cover the entire night as he has four full-length albums including ‘Who Cares?’ which is the new album he is currently touring on. It was more I worried about his draw. Sure, that fateful show back in 2020 was sold out but that was at the much smaller Palace Theatre in Saint Paul. Was he going to be able to pack the giant Armory? My question was answered before I even got inside the venue. The sidewalks leading up to the main door were littered with Starbucks cups and half-eaten bags of snacks (come on, kids, clean up after yourselves!) which signified that people had been camped out in line for a bit. I wasn’t surprised by this but it was just nice to see. Although I think most of what the kids these days are listening to is crap, Rex Orange County is the exception to the rule, and to know that people had camped out a bit just to get into his show gave me hope for the younger generations.
My timing was next to perfect and as soon as I scouted out a perfect spot to view the show from, the house lights went down and everyone’s phones shot up. Annoyed by this, I started to scoff off the entire show. Sure, I love his music but this crowd was going to just make me mad if they were going to have their phones up the whole time. That’s when the massive band took the stage and jumped into “Making Time”. I instantly forgot about my annoyance with the young crowd and their need to film the entire show. The band had swept me off my feet within the first few notes and I honestly don’t think my feet ever hit the proverbial ground until I was walking to my car at the end of the night.
Rex Orange County’s set was full of new songs and old tracks which I appreciated. I feel like he was somehow inside of my head and played all of the songs I had been wanting to but the highlight for me was when the band played “10/10”. There’s just something about this song that has stuck with me since the first time I saw him live. Like most of his other tracks, the lyrics are raw and relatable for any age and this song just seems to hit particularly hard for me. Every track Alex and his band played came with an undeniable sense of heart and honesty. Sure, I get that that’s his schtick and he does this for a job but there was just something so genuine about the way the entire band performed. Although they played a lengthy 20+ song set, it wasn’t enough and I would have gladly stayed for another few hours just to continue getting that feeling.
Although there was a lot to look at on stage, I loved that there really wasn’t much smoke and mirror antics going on. The stage was a bit cluttered with cut-outs of hands giving the thumbs up and stylized as little characters and there was a giant “Who Cares?” sign hanging from the back of the stage but, other than that, there was very little to distract you from the music or performance which I truly appreciated.
Clearly, I loved everything about the show on Thursday night and although I may be a bit biased just due to my love for Rex Orange County’s music, there’s no denying that Thursday night was an impressive show of talent from this young man and his band. Although he has absolutely hit “superstar” status, the sky is truly the limit and I expect to see a lot more from him in the near future.