Published Dec 15, 2019On Saturday night, Australian singer Alex Cameron returned to Vancouver for the first of two back-to-back tour-closing shows at Venue Nightclub.
Although the show was sold out, only 18 people trickled to the front of the stage for New York comic Emily Panic. Faced with such a small turnout, she skipped her usual crowd work and went straight into her material. Over ten minutes, she recalled her dad texting her "six years ago" on the latest anniversary of 9/11 (he was actually referring to his knee surgery), and being told she, who is Jewish, looked like she could have been in a movie about the Holocaust. She also noted that her teenaged cousins were beginning to resemble the hot girls who bullied her in high school, but would ask to borrow her clothes for Halloween.
The first musical offering of the night was Cameron's fellow Aussie, Jack Ladder. With only a guitar, a drum machine and a velvet-smooth baritone, Ladder showed why Cameron calls him his favourite songwriter. Ladder sang cheeky ballads, including "Susan," a low-key disco song about euthanasia, and "Feel Brand New," a musically upbeat number about reincarnation. He donned sunglasses, which he called the most intimate gift, for a droning cover of Iggy Pop's "Shades." "It shows you understand the personal contours of a person's face," he said of giving a well-fitting pair of shades. "You know their style."
Looking unusually unfashionable in a tight, white holiday sweater with dark print, Cameron led his five-piece band through robust renditions of "Bad for the Boys," "Divorce," "Candy May" and "Stepdad." "Gaslight" and "Country Figs" were particularly spirited, with Cameron announcing, "Roy Molloy!" before his dear friend and business partner wailed on his saxophone.
"If you know the words to this song, sing along, because it's not often you get to say these words in public and mean them," Cameron instructed ahead of "Miami Memory." It is indeed a magical moment any time 600 people can come together and sing the words, "Eating your ass like an oyster, the way you came like a tsunami."
Halfway through the set, it was time for the classic Roy Molloy bit where he reviewed the bar stool provided to him by the venue. Delving into the make and model, he called the aluminum-and-pleather specimen by P&G a benchmark of commercial seating solutions and awarded it a generous four stars out of five.
Getting back to the music, Cameron threw back to his first album, 2016's Jumping the Shark, with the dank loser shuffle "Happy Ending," which they amended with a live sax solo, and scrappy underdog mini-anthem "The Comeback."
Aside from Molloy, the band member who shone the brightest was guitarist Lilah Larson, when she sang backup on "Other Ladies" and "PC with Me." "If you love the way Lilah Larson plays guitar, you're gonna love the way she sings," Cameron assured the audience before she subbed in for Angel Olsen on "Stranger's Kiss," his most beloved fan favourite.
Cameron's songs are filled with characters with fragile egos, characters whose masculinity ranges from problematic to straight-up toxic. Throughout the night, he let his music do the talking through a veil of irony. But before his sole encore of "Marlon Brando," he took a final moment to speak to the audience directly. Bringing up 2017's Forced Witness, he told them, "I consider that record to be our contribution to the investigation of the condition of the straight white male." He urged any such person at the show to not let any confusion they might feel about being a straight white male in this time of self- and public interrogation to turn into frustration and violence. With that song, and many more across his set list, Cameron did his part in sparking internal dialogue over problematic masculinity and left the rest of the work up to the individuals. Hopefully, his audience is as up to the task as he is.