Returning to Toronto for the second time this year, Alex Cameron graced the Phoenix Concert Theatre on Friday, November 15. Perhaps more than gracing it though, Cameron and his band set the Phoenix stage alight – figuratively, of course – twisting, shuffling and strutting about over the course of 14 barn-burning New Wave gems.
While Cameron’s studio albums draw on more restrained arrangements, on stage they are more rounded, steadier on their feet and with more bounce. If on record Cameron’s terse lyrics and voice recalls 90s-era Nick Cave, his onstage presence and arrangements point to the band leadership of Springsteen and the bravado of Freddie Mercury. Even Cameron’s latest persona, somewhere between lanky prom date circa 1976 and Glam Rock god, works as a pastiche to those artists. Donning a slim fitting, pale teal tuxedo and slicked back jet-black hair, Cameron physically mimics the spastic stickman dancing of Cave with a physique to match. His metallic eyeshadow, wifebeater, and shaven eyebrows recall the alienness of Ziggy Stardust and the mid-eighties machismo of Mercury. His unique nod of those artists results in a persona gloriously at odds with itself, like an extraterrestrial attending its first dinner party.
The packed audience reacted accordingly, sustaining an impressive level of ecstasy throughout the set. Over the course of six years and three studio albums, Cameron has earned himself a cult following. His dynamic with saxophonist “business partner” Roy Molloy is undeniable and contagious, with Molloy playing the role of straight man to universal laughter. In a kind of inside joke with both Cameron and the audience, Molloy stepped into center stage midway through the set to review the stool on which he had been sitting stoically in stark contrast to Cameron’s restless flaying. Over a bizarre and endearing few minutes, Molloy remained in character while reviewing the stool’s style and build, ultimately rating his Toronto pedestal four out of five stars.
The show’s success rested as much on these moments as it did on the setlist and musicianship. Cameron’s charisma, only hinted at on record, is palpable onstage. The crowd is with him every step of the way, party to each gag and each trademark explicit and ironic lyric. Cameron knows it, too, offering both Molloy and the audience a seat at the table of his surreal dance party.