“It took all my strength to carry on,” admits Rex Orange County during the flourish of opening track ‘10/10’ before he high kicks the air in a moment of punch-the-sky celebration. A wailing guitar solo then plays out as he has his moment in the spotlight. He’s here. He’s made it.
Tonight, The Pony Tour, named after his five-star rated third album, comes home to London for the first of three nights at Brixton Academy. There’s no support band, just a red curtain masking a majority of the stage, and from the moment 21-year-old Alex O’Connor strides onto the stage, the crowd are his. As the curtain opens, revealing band and floating clouds, it’s triumphant from the off.
Never complacent, Rex takes that feeling and runs with it. ‘Laser Lights’ is an urgent blitz of getting things off his chest, aided by saxophone bursts while ‘Face To Face’ sways with a twinkle of keys and a crooning honesty. The louche lounge bar sounds of ‘Stressed Out’ start relaxed but are quickly drowned out by the voices in the room. Like most of the set, it’s both manic and mellow.
A record that wrestles with despair, uncertainty and self-doubt, ‘Pony’ always manages to turn towards hope and tonight, that pull is magnetic. Time and time again the music is taken over by a delirious joy – but the frank admissions in the lyrics is a reminder of how hard-fought that happiness is.
‘Pluto Projector’, a song about the fear of failed potential, shadowy regrets and unwavering love, cuts to the core of the room as Rex sings, “I don’t think I’m meant to understand myself.” A sparkling ‘Corduroy Dreams’ – “the first song I ever wrote in my whole life”, he says – and a cover of Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber’s ‘I Don’t Care’ follow, the attention and energy of the capacity crowd all on Rex.
As the optimistic ‘Never Had The Balls’ hammers out, the curtain drops, revealing a stage lit up by glittering mirror balls and rainbow lights. It gives the likes of ‘Four Seasons and ‘Sunflower’ a sense of jubilance while the honest stomp of ‘It Gets Better’ sees Rex sing, “Look how far we’ve come.” It’s impossible not to be impressed by it all.
The opening notes of ‘Happiness’ start a singalong that just won’t quit and just before ‘Best Friends’, Rex implores the crowd to put away their phones: “If we don’t film this moment, it stays between you and me forever.”
It’s the only time he asks the crowd for something and they oblige wholeheartedly. From the front to the bar, arms are held aloft as Brixton loses itself in the love-in. It’s chaotic, frantic and truly special.