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A Walking Emotion: Live Music’s Impact on the ‘WHO CARES?’ Tour, by Megan Harrison

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

DISCLAIMER: This article was written and published before Rex Orange County's sexual assault charges were made public. RedHawk Radio does not support musicians who commit such atrocious actions.

Listening to a recorded album of our favorite music never gets old. As something that connects us and makes us unique at the same time, our music taste is important in defining who we are (or, who we’re on our way to becoming).

A lyric or a guitar riff or a drum kick in our headphones can carry us through the day — our favorite albums are always waiting for us when we need them.

Hearing our favorite songs live? It’s breathtaking. The meaningful lines or a certain melody we hear recorded will never compare to hearing it being performed in front of us.

I’ve only been to a few live concerts, but the show I remember most fondly is the Rex Orange County concert I went to over the summer.

Alexander O’Connor, known professionally as Rex Orange County, is an alternative indie pop singer-songwriter who released his most recent album WHO CARES? earlier this year.

I started listening to Rex Orange County during my sophomore year of high school. Best Friend was the first song to grace my ears, and my love for his music only grew from that moment.

I felt his lyrics perfectly articulated so many feelings and milestones in life, even if I had yet to experience them. From his use of string instruments to the conversational feel of his songs, I felt the strongest connection to the music and each song’s story. I quickly discovered more of his older songs, along with my favorites from his album Pony, released in 2019. When WHO CARES? came out this past March, it only reignited my love for his music.

The tour celebrating the album was announced shortly after its release, and I bought tickets for my hometown’s show immediately. I vividly remember reading the confirmation email on my couch during spring break and grinning with excitement.

A live show and its elements are completely different from a recorded album. By physically interacting with a stage and the tour’s showmanship, we gain a new perspective on the album.

This was only my second general admission show, and securing a spot is a process in itself. My friends and I talked to other fans for hours in line and bought merchandise at the front gates. I make it a habit to buy the T-shirt with the tour’s dates and locations on the back as a way to remember the experience — this concert was no different.

The front of the shirt only had the album title in the corner while the back had the tour dates in black underneath a line of rainbow cartoon thumbs. These were a part of his brand, representing the tour and the element of youth he adds to his music.

A popular lyric from his song 4 Seasons contains the words “walking emotion,” and each thumb represented a new emotion: the blue one shed a single tear, the pink one grinned with hearts for eyes … you get the idea.

The stage was mesmerizing. Sunflowers and cutouts of the thumbs I mentioned decorated the stage, and the album title hung high above it. A piano sat near the front, with my city spelled out on the side. My city — one of my favorite artists was in my city!

The band arrived first, before the intro to the song MAKING TIME began. Then Alex ran out on stage.

Starstruck isn’t quite the word to describe how I felt, but it makes the most sense. Alex was there, he was real, waving to us and giggling as the song began.

When we hear a recorded album, most of the time it’s easy to feel that the artist or band we’re listening to is lightyears away. Their voice plays over our speakers, and we know it’s the artist, but we don’t exactly expect that we’ll run into them during our lifetime.

That’s why tours are so huge: our initial expectations are exceeded, and the artist is standing on a stage in front of us.

I swayed along at the beginning of the concert in disbelief. The songs seemed truly real, and it felt like I was hearing them for the first time.

The beginning of his setlist contained songs from the newest album. He then played songs from his previous albums Pony and Apricot Princess, which have my favorite songs of his. Watching him perform for us and sing with us made Alex seem like more of a person to me.

The feeling of hearing a song we know by heart is beautiful. The collective scream of the audience when the first notes begin instills community as we start singing together.

Alex added more of his perspective to the songs with his performance. His positive energy was contagious as he moved around the stage and acknowledged each section of the audience. His ability to play piano and guitar also added so much to the show; he could keep time and play riffs that weren’t originally in the recording.

At one point during the show, the band left the stage, leaving Alex in front of us with his guitar in hand.

“It’s just me and you now, okay?” he announced. “So I'm going to sing some songs by myself. Does that work?”

Obviously, the audience cheered in delight as he strummed his guitar to the opening of Untitled.

The entire acoustic part of the concert where he performed alone added to the reconstruction of the recorded versions of his songs. I didn’t hear the accompaniment I was used to, or the seemingly perfect studio recording. No, but this was better.

Even when the band returned, Alex ad-libbed some lines, let us shout the lyrics back to him and slipped vocal runs in between pauses that I wouldn’t have heard on any other occasion. The band played the melody I was used to, but made each beat more impactful. The drums and saxophone specifically carried the most force. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

This connection to the audience from the front of a stage is something we can sense only at these live performances. The recorded album hints at this connection when it tugs at our heartstrings, almost persuading us to see the live tour, but doesn’t compare.

The show ended with three of the songs I loved most: Always, “Best Friend” and Pluto Projector. Hearing these lyrics come through the microphone produced so much more emotion. I placed these songs with certain feelings and memories for years and was now able to shift my perspective and place them with a new memory: this memory.

Live music on tour is everything. It’s loud, clear and thought-provoking. The performance emphasizes our connection to the music and the artist. When we leave, the recorded album almost seems better. There is often something more to discover about the recording after returning from a concert.

It’s an intensity we can’t replicate.

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