Rex Orange County plays ‘the best show I’ve done in San Francisco’ at The Masonic

Emma Drake/Staff

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For his San Francisco stop on “The Pony Tour,” Rex Orange County swung by The Masonic on Jan. 16 for a night of old hits and new dishes off of his newest release, Pony

The show was advertised to start at 8 p.m., but once 8:30 p.m. rolled around and the artist was still in hiding, a half-hearted chanting of “Rex!” trickled out from the crowd. After another 20 minutes had passed, the venue filled with annoyed chatter. Once the lights finally turned down, however, all tensions seemed to melt into the music. 

Alexander O’Connor, known artistically as Rex Orange County, entered the room in a simple black sweatshirt, jeans and white sneakers. He trotted to the front of the stage as if to say, “Well, I’m here now,” giving a cute wave as fans screamed from every level of the venue. 

O’Connor started the show with the same song that starts Pony, a full band in his back pocket. “10/10” was performed with an even tone as the artist paced his vocals skillfully, never sounding out of breath even though the lyrics move at a rather fast pace. On this tour, O’Connor took a wide step in engaging more with fans than on his previous 2018 tour. Getting more active onstage and spending less time sitting behind his keyboard, the artist turned his quirkiness into more of a spectacle.

As the show progressed, it was obvious that fans had forgotten all about the earlier delay. No matter the wait, fans were still sending roaring cheers in O’Connor’s direction for the whole show. He introduced the show as a part of “The Pony Tour,” but said, “With your permission, would it be OK for me to play a song from Apricot Princess?” And with a British accent like his, how could anyone say no? 

Sending “Never Enough” into the lineup, the cool boy vibes of 2017 ran wild as O’Connor picked up a guitar and played effortlessly. The crowd rocked like waves in sync with the song, the lights flashing on the band making the members’ shadows appear to float against the sky-patterned backdrop. With the switch to “Television / So Far So Good,” pink lights came down to make a vibrant sunset appear behind the instrumentalists as the show reached its midpoint. 

An eerie, electronic voice sounded over the loudspeakers and O’Connor breezed back into the Pony section of the night with “Stressed Out.” He said he wanted to direct a singalong for the next song, and while many may have been expecting “Corduroy Dreams” for this gentle moment, O’Connor pulled out “Pluto Projector” from his new album. Soft runs graced the progression of the song, peppering soul into the heart of his performance. 

A curtain dropped down into the middle of the stage to separate the vocalist from the rest of his band, introducing a series of acoustic songs that included just O’Connor and his audience — no full band necessary. During “Every Way” and “Untitled,” cellphone flashlights made their anticipated appearance for the emotional moments. 

O’Connor looked to the audience to dictate where the set was going at this point, taking a request from someone in the front row for “No One” by Alicia Keys. Although he was worried he wouldn’t remember the chords, the song added dynamism to his overall show, seeing as many of the artist’s songs follow a similar style and pacing. 

But when he plucked that one special note on the strings of his instrument, the crowd went wild in anticipation. “Corduroy Dreams” was one of the loudest performances of the night, considering that this song is one which fans definitely know all the words to. As he charmingly whistled the outro, O’Connor gleamed at the crowd, the curtain eventually falling to reveal the band once again — and a giant blowup pony to represent the theme of the tour. 

“It’s about that time for us to lose our minds and self-control,” O’Connor said, as the notes for “Sunflower” picked up the momentum for the end of the show. For the last bit of “Best Friend,” he politely asked that everyone in the room put their phones away to preserve the specialness of the last moments of the show. 

“This is the best show I’ve done in San Francisco, 100 percent, 100 percent,” he said as the night ended. Even with a late start, Rex Orange County truly accomplished what he aimed for — a show that was 10/10.

Skylar De Paul is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.