Alex Cameron | photo by Joe Del Tufo | moonloopphoto.com | courtesy of the artist
The audacious Alex Cameron packs Johnny Brenda’s for a two-night stand
There’s clearly a thing going on with Philly and Alex Cameron. In his fourth appearance here in the last 15 months, it’s clear that the Philly grit and Cameron’s often raunchy but always catchy song-stories resonate. Last night, the final of two back-to-back sold-out shows at Johnny Brenda’s, was a triumphant night of bouncing singalongs. Cameron emerged in Bowie-tinged glitter and an American flag shirt, arms open wide as the packed house roared. He opened with the Randy Newmanesque “Bad For the Boys,” a song addressing a key thread throughout Cameron’s three releases: the confused and complex state of the heterosexual white male in 2019. “Here come the grammar police, here comes the PC brigade, And here comes a mattress on the floor, From the bed you tried to get her to make.” Cameron inhabits the persona of the heterosexual white male loser, but in a way that is somehow both sexy and awkward, flawed and human, and always lyrically clever.
With his friend and business partner, sax-player Roy Molloy at his side, Cameron and the six-piece band (which included Lilah Larson, guitarist of Sons of an Illustrious Father) roared through what was effectively a greatest hits set, with the crowd singing every line full blast. He has been called the Slutty Springsteen, which is fitting. His songs are like eating a delicious candy bar only to find it filled with tin foil, and realizing you actually like its shocking sensation. The album touches on a lot of current events from staring into rising waters of climate change, to gaslighting a loved one and toxic masculinity. The title track to his new Miami Memory was originally debuted (as a duo) when Cameron performed at Johnny Brenda’s in January. Last night, he introduced it as a “song where you will have the opportunity to sing things that you wouldn’t normally be able to say in public.” Which, yeah, the lyrics are so over the top that I’ll just leave you to Google them yourself (and not while eating seafood). Equally audacious is its video with girlfriend Jemima Kirke, which cannot be unseen.
The key to what makes Cameron special is the way that his often subtle lyrics surprise you again and again, long after you feel like you’ve known the song. One has to pause before humming such hidden gems like “Yeah there’s this woman on the Internet / Even if she’s some Nigerian guy / Yeah well you should read the poetry he speaks to me / I don’t care if they’re just beautiful lies.”
An Alex Cameron show is equal parts music and performance art. His “awkward is the new cool” dance moves seem to have been ratcheted up a notch, with positive effects. We received another episode of Roy Molloy’s bar stool reviews, in which the nuances of comfort and function of the venue’s butt-seats are expressed in detail. “I’ve thought a lot about this stool since yesterday’s show. And I’ve decided to change my rating. The Johnny Brenda’s barstool gets 4 stars out of 5.”
Other highlights were “Happy Ending” (from his debut Jumping The Shark), “Country Figs” and “Runnin Outta Luck” (from Forced Witness) and the closer “Marlon Brando.” The latter was described as song that Cameron wrote about his native Australia but says is now somehow more appropriate in this “very strange” country. “Girl, I guess I just want you to be with me. / I want you to say that my hair looks nice and my face has a Beckham-like quality. / And I know that I blew it and I know it ain’t right to be calling men faggots and to be starting fights. / But I can’t stop, I’m a dam overflowing, I’m a river run wild and I guess it’s about that time.”
Holiday Sidewinder opened with a spirited (and aerobic) set from her debut Forever Or Whatever. A tight 30 minutes set of delicious synth-pop included perhaps the most original cover of The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo,” complete with a conga line.
Bad for the Boys
PC With Me
Far From Born Again
Runnin’ Outta Luck