Concert Review: Alex Cameron @ Songbyrd Music House (10/2/17)

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Alex Cameron @ Songbyrd Music House

DC’s Songbyrd is the right venue for certain artists at certain points in their careers. Alex Cameron was that artist at that point on Monday night. Ascendant; playing to a packed room of people who knew the words to the hits and the anti-hits, songs from the new album and the old; and who were in thrall to his dance moves, his character-based glare, and his and Roy’s “pretty mean posse”.

A shaggy ten-song set, made fat only because of some microphone and cord issues that led to some early delays, Cameron worked the room like a schizophrenic emcee. Cameron, the man, appears to be a funny, sweet, charming singer. But each song is a character sketch of some (almost always) man on the fringe, either fighting his way in on all the wrong terms, or fighting to maintain the foothold that he has. And when each song begins, something changes. It might not be in his eyes – let’s hope it doesn’t reach down to his soul in that way – but it’s at least in Cameron’s frame. Lithe and tall, maybe wiry, maybe lanky; he puffs his chest, extends his arms, and transforms himself into “the drunkest, ugliest girl at the bar,” someone who feels “like Marlon Brando circa 1999,” or the guy who doesn’t care if “this women on the internet… is some Nigerian guy”.

It’s fun to watch and even better to hear. More than on the records, you can hear the influence of Brandon Flowers on the newer songs, off the recently released Forced Witness. They are hits to my ears, and the groundwork of anthemic hits to come. I can see Cameron dancing his way across large, hectic festival stages to “Runnin’ Out of Luck”. Older songs, like “Happy Ending”, get solid live treatment as well. A certain scuzz ran underneath the song, it might have been the bass, that gave a deeper layer to the cleaner synth of the album version.

The full band (Roy Molloy employed perfectly on the saxophone, plus a bassist and a drummer, and then an extra guitar player, plus combination keyboardist/percussionist/singer for half the set) filled out the stark, 80’s-driven production of the first album, Jumping The Shark, and energized the fuller sound of the new album, Forced Witness (a 4:6 ratio). Where the albums could be day-to-day soundtracks for Patrick Bateman, the live performances elevate them to something that floats outside of time. Reminiscent of the past, but absolutely present.

Now is your chance to see them in a small, intimate venue. Do it. Next summer, you’ll be angling for a good view on a festival stage. And the way things are looking for Cameron, after that, he could be on to even bigger things. See him. Now.

Stray thoughts:

  • Roy Molloy makes the best case for saxophone in every song.
  • There is something very cathartic about hearing anti-hits live. The songs that have special meaning and resonance for the fans. The ones that won’t jump out to a first-time listener but grow in their own special way and become currency. They lend themselves to a connection throughout a performance space. “The Comeback” is precisely that kind of song, and that energy filled the room early.
  • That said, hits are hits, and the combination of writing and performance for new singles like “Runnin’ Out of Luck” and “Stranger’s Kiss” (and “Candy May” to a lesser extent) is powerful in a small room. These are songs I expect to hear on larger stages.
  • I was surprised to hear no Tom Petty cover the night he lay in the hospital.

Setlist
Happy Ending
Real Bad Lookin’
The Comeback
Take Care of Business
The Chihuahua
Candy May
True Lies
Stranger’s Kiss
Running Out of Luck
Marlon Brando

 

Author: Mathew Harkins

A writer and editor in Washington, DC.

1 thought on “Concert Review: Alex Cameron @ Songbyrd Music House (10/2/17)”

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