BY VICTORIA MIDDLETON // Alex Cameron was unexpectedly solemn at points during his performance at Songbyrd Music House Monday night.
“I wrote this song in Vegas while thinking about Tom Petty,” he recalled, lamenting the ways of “the universe” before performing the song “Runnin’ Outta Luck.” However, Cameron never allowed the vibe to to get dark for more than a few seconds, even when an eager fan shouted for him to play one of his slower tracks, “The Hacienda.”
“Oh god, no,” Cameron laughed. “It’s too sad.”
Standing well over six feet tall in a black Canadian tuxedo and Western belt, Cameron has a commanding presence. His face is kinder than it appears on his album covers, but his long hair is just as greased. As he walked onto the stage, he greeted the crowd with a classic reminder to “use protection” in his Australian drawl.
Cameron began his set joined by a drummer, a bassist, and the man he lovingly calls his “business partner,” saxophonist Roy Molloy. Dressed in a white tee and tweed grandpa slacks, Malloy acts as a foil to Cameron; while Cameron is cheeky and animated, Molloy is consistently deadpan. The fans love him for it. In between each song, voices from the audience lauded him. Pins engraved with the phrase “Roy Squad” were sold for five dollars at the merch booth. In response, Molloy’s expression remained unchanged beneath his curly brown bangs.
Cameron opened with the song “Happy Ending” from his first album Jumping the Shark. His synth-pop sound translated surprisingly well live, although he deviated from the studio versions slightly in order to allow Molloy plenty of saxophone solos. Cameron’s voice sounded smooth and effortless. His gaze was intense under the red lights and his stage presence was like that of an internet-conscious Greaser. He performed two more tracks from Jumping the Shark, “Real Bad Lookin’” and “The Comeback,” before introducing “Take Care of Business.”
“I started writing this song about my ex-girlfriend, but by the end… it was about my mother,” he smirked, shaking his head. “I guess it’s about the strong women we know who show us how to be better men.”
Before moving into “The Chihuahua” and “Candy May” from his latest album Forced Witness, Cameron grabbed a guitar and welcomed two guests from backstage. The first was the opening act, Jack Ladder, who, ironically, had Cameron open for his shows back home in Australia. Ladder is even taller than Cameron and sings in a deep, melancholy tone reminiscent of a classic country crooner. The second guest was Australian indie-pop artist Holiday Sidewinder, who looked like a fair-haired mod girl in her short, banged-bob, white minidress and white denim jacket. For the rest of the set, Sidewinder took to the keyboard and back-up vocals and Ladder played guitar.
Although Forced Witness came out less than a month ago, the crowd excitedly sang along with each track Cameron preformed from the album. Cameron is known for being a concept artist who writes songs from a character’s perspective. For instance, Jumping the Shark is written through the lens of a failing performer. On Forced Witness, Cameron turned himself into the embodiment of machismo in order to convey themes of toxic masculinity. The satirical lyrics are unexpected, rude and intentionally uncomfortable at times; yet, the audience seemed to just get it, without any need for explanation. The engagement didn’t go unnoticed by Cameron, who vocalized his appreciation for the enthusiastic crowd after years of playing to “rooms full of nobody.”
The high point of the set came near the close, with the performance of “Stranger’s Kiss.” The cinematic-sounding duet is shared by Cameron and singer-songwriter Angel Olson on Forced Witness. During the live performance, Sidewinder filled in for Olson. Sidewinder’s voice sounded vulnerable and hauntingly beautiful, invoking wide-mouthed reactions from the audience. She and Cameron’s harmonies were seamless, but the real showstopper was Molloy’s hypnotic saxophone riffs.
Cameron’s stage movements are slightly more subtle than the iconic dances featured in his music videos. However, he reached full form during the closing song, “Marlon Brando.” Cameron described the track as one about a “confused straight, white male.” The upbeat tempo allowed him the perfect opportunity to bust out his indescribable step-touches and rhythmic lunges.
Cameron and his crew’s set ended too soon for many in the crowd. Though he played a fair number of songs, Cameron’s effortless banter and captivating performances could have held the audience’s attention through many more. But, not to worry, though the crew did not return to the stage for an encore, one member, Mr. Roy Molloy, graciously walked into the crowd to grant a hug to one of the number of fans passionately chanting his name.