“Do you promise me from now on in the show you’re gonna give me everything you possibly have?”
With a simple question, the 6,300 seat Shrine Auditorium erupted into an ear-shattering roar Saturday. L.A. was the second stop on the Rex Orange County’s (Alexander O’Connor) “Pony Tour” to promote his album of the same name. A diverse audience with members ranging from groups of teens celebrating a birthday to a middle-aged couple belting out lyrics with perfect accuracy hung onto every word the 21-year-old indie-pop artist said.
The opening stage design was a background of clouds illuminated by magical pink and yellow lights, creating a surreal and imaginary setting that matched the opening ballads. Partway through the set, a curtain dropped behind Rex, isolating him from the rest of the band and forcing Rex toward the front of the stage. Closer to the audiences, Rex turned the high-budget national tour into a concert that felt as intimate as a backyard show.
Rex continued to prove his musical ability beyond singing, as he accompanied himself on the Wurlitzer piano and electric guitar. A few songs later, the curtain abruptly fell to the ground, revealing an entirely new stage design complete with a wall of flashing lights and a towering “Pony” logo with an illuminated silhouette. This new electric stage matched the shift in songs, as Rex played his earlier, more upbeat electronic hits.
“It was a very well designed show, not just with his good performance but with stage design, lights, sounds,” said Nathan Hirsch, a freshman at USC who attended Saturday night’s performance. “ I think naturally L.A. will change anything given where it is and the environment because given that we’re in the center of entertainment for both music, cinema, TV, I think even stage performances in general, is that there is an expectation to make it super big and bombastic, and I think he definitely did that.”
The highlight of the show came early on: As the first note of “Pluto Projector” rang through the venue, fans started cheering and hugging one another in a moment of solidarity representative of the song’s profound impact on all Rex Orange County fans. As the fan-favorite string section reached its height, an audience member nearby was brought to tears.
In a unique request, Rex paused in the middle of one of his biggest hits, “Best Friend,” and asked the audience to stop recording, put away their phones and be in the moment. Audience members complied and experienced the rest of the song with a feeling of unity. They jumped in synchronization, held up hearts and enjoyed an unobstructed view of the stage free of phones.
The set-list was a perfectly balanced mix of songs from his new album, “Pony,” and older hits that were the foundation for his fame. Since this was the beginning of the tour, the newer songs were more performative, with Rex bouncing around the stage with dorky, uncoordinated dance moves that charmed audiences. His older hits took a different route, performed with simpler instrumentation, frequently just a piano and sometimes a saxophone accompaniment. This pared-down style allowed audiences, full of emotion, to belt out the lyrics without being distracted by fancy performances.
With a declaration that he was going to play the last song of the night, Rex gave a heartfelt performance of “It’s Not the Same Anymore” and the audience sang along with everything they had left. Even after the confetti fell and the band left the stage, the audience broke into chants of “encore” and “Alex.” The unified plea was successful, and the band returned to play “Always.”
Concertgoers left with hoarse voices, the result of singing along to the setlist for an hour and a half straight. Because of this sustained crowd inclusion, the concert was elevated to an experience that engaged everyone in the venue and left the artist declaring his thanks for the energy and commitment of all who attended.