If you were to have happened to stumble into the Wonder Ballroom on a rainy, mid-December evening in Portland and thought that you were witnessing the reincarnation of David Bowie in front of your very own eyes, you’d be wrong; but you wouldn’t be far off.
Such was the height of showmanship and musical extravagance displayed by Alex Cameron and his band on Thursday night. The Australian singer-songwriter soared through his recently released smash of a third album (September’s Miami Memory) while peppering in some classic crowd-pleasers such as “Happy Ending” and “Country Figs” (from 2013’s Jumping The Shark and 2017’s Forced Witness, respectively).
On Miami Memory, one of 2019’s standout albums, Cameron continues to display his affinity for crafting interesting, sometimes seedy stories of love spurred on by specific moments and experiences. His ability to create characters in his songs, and to have the music perfectly accompany as a sort of soundtrack to the character’s feelings and emotions, is almost more akin to that of a short story writer than a pop songwriter. These stories transition perfectly to a live setting, and the backing band (including “business partner” and saxophone virtuoso Roy Molloy) do the tracks justice by matching Cameron’s sky-high energy and enthusiasm.
“Country Figs” ignited the whole place, with it’s Korg 1 driven disco vibes eliciting foot stomps from the crowd that seemed to make the building shake.
“Miami Memory“, the album’s title track, mesmerized the audience and showed Cameron’s passion on true display, as he invited the audience to sing it alongside him. Many of his songs sound like they took a time machine to modern times from the ’70s or ’80s; they invoke feelings of nostalgia and mystery while managing to feel sonically fresh and exciting at the same time. “Miami Memory” is perhaps the best example of that on the album, and it showed live.
Later on, he had the crowd hollering back the melodies to “Far From Born Again,” one of his catchiest songs to date. It’s an ode to female empowerment and the validity of sex work and is another example of Cameron’s unflinching willingness to take on broad and interesting lyrical subjects.
One of the most impressive and endearing aspects of Cameron’s act, aside from his obvious knack for storytelling, writing excitedly warped love tunes, and ability to work a crowd (he could easily be a comedian), is his energy. You can take one look and one listen and be fully convinced that he’s having as much or more fun than anybody in the venue. It’s refreshing to see Cameron so deeply engaged in putting on a show. He’s a true performer in every sense of the word, and walking into his gig felt like entering another world. He could have merely danced for an hour and the crowd still would’ve loved it. When a performer lets loose as Cameron does, it’s inspiring.
There’s always conversation around whether pop music should strive to merely elicit joy or whether it’s fair game to use the medium to try and say something grander, deeper, and more interesting. Alex Cameron’s ability to keep his music fun and uptempo while also crafting intimate love stories is one of the things that makes him an important and worthwhile artist to engage with. The fact that he puts on a wonderful show doesn’t hurt, either. He reaches out and attempts to touch faith on that stage. And it was all on display on a rainy night in Portland.