Alex Cameron has been steadily building a profile for himself in the UK and US alike since the release of his frankly brilliant sophomore album Forced Witness back in September. He’s not headlining academies yet and he’s still making witty, self-deprecating Facebook posts about barely breaking even, but his reception at a packed-to-the-gills Mono proves that he has definitely tapped into a musical vein worth following.
Mono’s unassuming location in a deserted shopping arcade behind a carpark under a railway bridge is fitting enough for an act as bizarre as Cameron: an Australian songwriter with a knack for melody and a facetious turn-of-phrase who parades as a failed, morally bankrupt lounge singer. Accompanied by his “good friend and business partner” (and saxophonist) Roy Molloy, Cameron puts on a show that perfectly balances theatricality, humour and social commentary, while still leaving plenty of space for a good shuffling bop and a catchy chorus.
The rumbling voice that he uses to intone lines such as “I am the dumbest, richest guy at the bar” in ‘Real Bad Lookin’ or “I feel like Marlon Brando circa 1999” in ‘Marlon Brando’ complements the sleazy double-denim & grease persona Cameron adopts on-stage. Slipping into his characteristic crouchy dancing between verses, it’s difficult to keep your eyes off Cameron – his face does slightly (and disconcertingly) have the “Beckham-like quality” boasted about in the latter song, but when he pouts and runs his fingers through his slicked-back hair it’s done with full self-awareness.
His deadpan tone between songs gives little away, but hints at the nuanced message in his songs: “As long as everyone is hydrated and being respectful, we’re happy”, he reassures, before introducing a song about “a confused straight white male”. Cameron wants to dismantle the cultural legend of heterosexual masculinity, rather than reinforce it, and this requires some discerning from his audience, so that they acknowledge the lyrics as well as the infectious melodies, and don’t shout along to lines like “Tell that little f*ggot call me f*ggot one more time” just for the sake of it.
The two most sombre songs in the set are surprisingly some of the strongest. The downbeat ballad ‘Candy May’ is the closest thing to a serious love song in Cameron’s repertoire, without taking itself seriously, and ‘Stranger’s Kiss’ is in equal amounts despairing and optimistic, with synth-player Holiday Sidewinder’s vocals filling in nicely for Angel Olsen’s pained drawl on the album track. Roy Molloy’s sax solos on these songs (and many others in the set) receive rapturous applause, and rightly so – the introduction of the sax on the final choruses and outros gives them their euphoric quality. Molloy’s review of the stool which he inevitably spends much of his time waiting for his solos on is a wry alternative to Cameron’s social commentary. It gets 3.5/5 – “stability-wise there are challenges.”
The pair are, by their own admission, “a pretty mean posse” in the best sense: they’ve wrapped up one of 2017’s most prominent socio-cultural issues in a nuanced and fascinating album, and brought it to the stage in a show that neither stifles nor preaches.
Image: Chris Rhodes