Rex Orange County – Patterns – 19th February 2018

Photo by Liam McMillen

You know an artist is going to be big when you, at the age of 22, are the oldest person there. This was the case for Rex Orange County, performing only his second show of his first ever headline tour, at Brighton’s Patterns on Monday night. With no support act, and with fans queuing down the road before the doors had even opened, there was a huge amount of pressure on the 19-year-old from Haslemere, Surrey, to deliver.

Throughout the 90 minute wait for him to arrive, I could overhear teenage fans stating, “Oh my god Rex is going to be on *that* stage” and, “I’m gonna cry so much when he comes on stage”. Luckily for the crowd, and indeed the BBC Sound Of…2018 runner-up, his performance was a roaring success and a celebration of everything the artist is about. With a hit-packed set, featuring all of the crowd’s favourites, it was a riotous evening where, for the majority of the night, he didn’t even need to sing such was the passion and loyalty of the crowd.

There’s certainly something about the artist to demand this amount of passion out of teenagers, but it’s also incredibly refreshing to see an artist mix the likes of jazz, hip-hop and pop in a fairly experimental way, and still have the youth clamouring for him. The best example of this was with ‘Television / So Far So Good’, which gained one of the best reactions of the night. With Rex at the piano, it’s a hip, unconventional boogie number, that drifts, loiters and wanders idiosyncratically for a pop number as chart-ready as this.

Of course, Rex Orange County has multiple examples of his accomplished, captivating songwriting. Most recent track ‘Loving is Easy’ is a sweet-toothed helping of luscious effortless listening. For an artist of such a young age, his musicality is mightily impressive. Throughout the night, there’s glimpses of delicious 80s pop in the vein of Hall & Oates, American hip-hop in the ilk of recent collaborator Tyler, The Creator and heartbreaking, melancholia like Bon Iver.

Certainly, I think this exhibition of vulnerability is an important aspect in why he’s getting the youth vote. From ‘Edition’s: “And I don’t mind if you hate me/’Cause baby if I were you/I would probably hate me too” to live favourite ‘A Song About Being Sad’, Rex isn’t afraid to write songs about his feelings. This allows his vulnerabilities to shine, to which his young audience respond vocally by chanting and crying along to each and every word. So much so, that Rex announces, “Brighton, you’ve been magnificent”.

It’s 2017 single ‘Best Friend’ where both Rex and the crowd come together unequivocally, though. An excellent showcase of Rex’s backing band, featuring an excellent brass section, it’s a song that has no shame about its pop sensibilities and, once again, showcases his knack for a tear worthy lyric. “I still wanna break your heart and make you cry,” is sung by both Rex and the crowd with enough malice to suggest it’s more than just a throwaway lyric for both.

There’s an endearing charm to Rex Orange County that makes his success all the more enjoyable. Whether he’s hopping from guitar to piano, affirming cheekily, “Now I’m over here!”; or making time for a fan’s request to sing Soulja Boy’s ‘Crank That’; or, quite brilliantly, responding to a fan’s request to follow him on SoundCloud with a firm, “No”, everything he does comes with a contagious amount of fun, a knowing nod and with his tongue firmly in his cheek. Rex Orange County’s first time in Brighton was a joyful look into the future and, ultimately, a heck of a lot of fun.

Liam McMillen