Review of Alex Cameron live at the Imperial

Review of Alex Cameron, Molly Burch, and Jack Ladder live at the Imperial in Vancouver
Alex Cameron Photo by Leslie Chu

Alex Cameron played Vancouver last night (February 27) for at least the third time since late November 2016, and despite the risk of oversaturating a market, his draw continues growing. This time, his show was upgraded from the Fox Cabaret to the Imperial Vancouver which boasts a higher capacity – and which Cameron can boast about having sold out.

The towering Jack Ladder opened the night with just a guitar and backtracks. Sometimes, he even went hands-free. It may seem lazy to compare him to a fellow Australian, but songs like “Come on Back This Way” and “Beautiful Sound” did call to mind Nick Cave, specifically Cave’s song “More News from Nowhere”. However, on both “Come on Back This Way” and “Beautiful Sound”, Ladder jammed around a single chord or two, like Suicide. And like Cave, Ladder’s ballads were slightly morbid. A new piano ballad slated to come out this Thursday was about a kidnapping. Other highlights from his set included a cover of Conway Twitty’s “You’ve Never Been This Far Before” and, maybe more so for fans of Ladder’s, a ballad with drawn out synths called “Merciful Reply”, another song from his upcoming album.

Austin-based songwriter Molly Burch didn’t pick up the pace much, but she brought live vocal harmonies with her two guitarists. Unlike Martha Wainwright, Jenny Lewis, and Angel Olsen whom Burch echoed at times, her voice remained subdued. Even when she sang her most confrontational lyrics like on one of two new songs, “Who do you think you are? I gave you all of my life,” she only revealed a hint of her vocal power. Despite pleading over unrequited feelings on “Try” and singing about heartbreak in general, couples cozied up, arms around shoulders and waists or facing each other instead of the stage. Little did the audience seem to have known that Ladder would return as a member of Alex Cameron’s band. Along with Ladder on guitar, the band included Holiday Sidewinder on keyboard and tambourine, Justin “Juice” Nijssen on bass, Henri Lindström on drums, and of course, Cameron’s “business partner” Roy Malloy on saxophone.

Cameron performed a balanced mix of songs from both 2013’s Jumping the Shark and last year’s Forced Witness. His live shows around the time of Jumping the Shark consisted of himself, Malloy, and a drum machine and sometimes, when Malloy couldn’t make it to the show, just Cameron, backtracks, and his dance moves. But the full band configuration breathed fresh life into songs from his lo-fi beginnings. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, I doubt many fans felt his high-fidelity renditions robbed those songs of their chintzy spirit. It’d be difficult to argue that “Happy Ending” didn’t benefit from Cameron and Sidewinder’s vocal harmonies.

Although the sold-out Imperial was the biggest house Cameron had ever headlined (so he said), and the Imperial is a sleek room with sleek audio/visual specs, he still was unable to avoid a technical issue with his guitar’s patch cord. The situation stalled “Candy May” as Barry the house tech and Cameron’s personal fixer Mad Dog tried their best to get the show back on track. But after several minutes, Cameron abandoned his guitar for the rest of the night and moved on with “The Chihuahua”. Sidewinder faced a great challenge too: filling in Angel Olsen’s stand-out parts on the duet “Stranger’s Kiss”. She more than won fans’ approval though; they burst with applause and cheers after her every verse and chorus. And speaking of women receiving dues, after “Marlon Brando,” “a song about a confused straight white male,” as Cameron put it, he introduced his first encore, the shadowy “Take Care of Business.” “If that last song was about a weak man, this next one’s about a strong woman.” Finally, he closed with the dark wave track “She’s Mine”.

Surely, some Alex Cameron die-hards will miss his days of essentially singing karaoke to his own music, but even though he often portrays a failed entertainer who dwells in dingy back lounges, the real Alex Cameron is looking good in the bright lights.

review by Leslie Chu