He’s one of those artists that’s hard to pinpoint or describe his music; Rex Orange County’s sound is an amalgamation of indie/folk/rap/soul with elements of jazz and ska added for decoration. Maybe it’s this unique packet of genres that earned him 2nd place in the BBC Sound of 2018 (narrowly missing out to Norway’s pop delight, Sigrid). He’s now nearly notched up an impressive 2 million followers on Spotify at the ripe young age of only 19. Originally meant to play at Deaf Institute, due to high demand/love for him the venue was changed to the larger capacity Gorilla, and that was even before he was announced as the BBC Sound of 2018 runner up.
Entering the stage to a packed out venue full of devoted fans, none passed the age of 30, Rex looks like he’s still in high school and it’s passed his bedtime but don’t let that fool you, what he lacks in age he makes up for in talent. He kicks off with ‘Uno’ and ‘Television/ So Far So Good’; the latter being an unavoidable crowd pleaser that got everyone moving to Rex’s quick paced, jazzy, rapping, soulful groove. It was a nice touch to bring his girlfriend, Theo Morgan Murrell, with her super long, blonde mermaid hair on stage to sing adding a feminine perspective to the gig.
He broke up the set list nicely with acoustics as a breather from the full on, big band tracks, switching from keys to guitar and having a chat with the crowd; “We’ve been here a few times in Manchester and this is the best one so far…” Rex’s lyrics are so honest and insightful you can’t help but feel like his friend; he writes about painful break ups, self doubt, insecurity and unrequited love. Tracks like ‘Corduroy Dreams’ and ‘A Song About Being Sad’ were a hit with the crowd (they all were really) because of Rex’s unpretentious ability to let you in on his emotions; “I even started sitting down in the shower, girl/I’ll take my time on my own/And I’ll be fine now I’m alone”
‘Are you ready for a dance?’ Rex hesitated as he broke into latest hit ‘Loving Is Easy’, a beautifully simple, soulful song that could break him into the mainstream. It’s like listening to a modern, refreshing take on an early Billy Joel track; bloody gorgeous. Even the animated music video will make you like it more with every listen. Rex and his amazing five-piece band (including trumpet and saxophone for those jazzy elements I was telling you about) built up the momentum track by track, getting the crowd more wired for sound ready for the final segment with his best tracks ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Best Friend’. It was like going back to a Ska gig in 1979 (not that I would know) when Rex wanted the crowd to mosh to ‘Best Friend’, where his trumpet and sax players absolutely belted out the melodies to his song about an intense desire to please and hurt at the same time “…I still want to break your heart and make you cry”.
‘Happiness’ was one last example of Rex’s originality that captivated the audience all night. He played keys, belting out the notes to a climactic raucous finale. With no encore it didn’t seem to matter. Even with the audience chanting ‘ONE MORE SONG, ONE MORE SONG…’ as he left the stage and the lights came on. Rex’s talent gives me an inkling that with a little fine-tuning, he’ll soon be a household name with the likes of Ezra, Bay and Sheeran (or according to Elton John at the Brits; Sheran). Let Rex ride this year on the success of his recent critical acclaim and I’m sure we’ll see him selling out even bigger venues next time round.
Words by Tom Frodsham.