Alex Cameron at Mono, 2/12/17

Alex Cameron is a consummate showman, at complete ease with himself as he and his band tear through a set of immaculate pop at a sold-out Mono.

Cameron’s songs are crafted at the intersection of Tom Petty-style heartland rock, replete with yearning vocal melodies, and the glossier sheen of eighties new wave.

 

One often hears that ‘the sax is back’ in 2017, and Cameron is a particularly keen purveyor of the trend: on tracks like ‘Runnin’ Out Of Luck’ and ‘Marlon Brando’, saxophonist Roy Molloy adds a buoyancy that lifts an already energised crowd into the stratosphere.

There’s a wry, good-natured humour running throughout the entire performance, too; as evidenced when Molloy (who also doubles as Cameron’s manager) provides an impromptu review of the stool he’s sitting on. Spoiler: it gets a sturdy 3.5/5.

Cameron also exudes this combination of drollness and generosity, emphatically thanking the fans in attendance for their support before introducing ‘Candy May’ thus: “I wrote this song for my girlfriend. I thought it was a love song. Then I played it to her and she started to cry. That’s when I realised it was a break-up song.”

As fans will know, Cameron treads a thin line between fantasy and reality in his songs: across his LPs Jumping The Shark and Forced Witness, he channels the persona of a down-and-out lounge singer, fond of picking fights and trawling the internet for love (or something like it).

It’s refreshing to see that Cameron doesn’t actually look to ‘play’ the character tonight, in such a way that could easily have dragged the show down to the level of cabaret.

His touring band are impeccable: the keyboard player, whose name I unfortunately couldn’t catch, takes Angel Olsen’s place on the vocal duet ‘Angel’s Kiss’, giving the My Woman singer a real run for her money.

Off stage, I couldn’t help but notice uncomfortable undercurrents of machismo from a sizeable minority of the crowd.

Cameron’s sleazy narratives frequently push the boundaries of taste and political correctness, and a heavy dollop of self-awareness is required to see them for what they are: ironic and intelligent deconstructions of white, heterosexual masculinity.

However, that doesn’t translate for certain men in the audience, who instead seem simply to revel in being permitted to belt out the occasional piece of misogynistic or homophobic language at the top of their lungs.

It’s a tough knot to unravel: at what point does the artist become responsible for the reception of their work, when dealing with close-to-the-bone social and cultural issues?

In my view, Cameron is doing everything right: more white male musicians should be following his example and dismantling turgid masculinist mythologies, rather than reinforcing them.

Ensuring that Cameron’s fanbase gets his nuanced but important message is part of a much wider project, which is another thing 2017 will hopefully be remembered for – besides the sax.

Words: Graham Neil Gillespie

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