For a band with an entire album named for Mississauga, The Hidden Cameras and Toronto sure haven’t seen much of each other of late. Friday night at the Phoenix was the band’s first full-length show within the GTA’s walls in almost a year, the too-long hiatus forced by (pictured) lead man Joel Gibb’s Berlin exile; as he goeth, so goeth the band.
Live show as interactive spectacle has always been the motif at Cameras shows, whether it was the go-go dancers of years ago or the blindfolds given out out to the audience during “Smells Like Happiness” (key lyric: “happy we are when we choose to wear the blindfold”) or yellow streamers thrown out to them during “Golden Streams” more recently. Friday night, it was more of the same: lollipops given out during “Lollipop”; a ten-person choir that, one-by-one, crowd-surfed (or “levitated”) to a new track, “He Falls To Me”; and (in addition to that choir), the ten-or-so band members on stage rotating dozens of instruments—violin, maracas, cello, double bass, harp, trumpet, drums, guitars and a glockenspiel, to name a few—as well as tossing the occasional tambourine into the audience. The crowd, in turn, needed no prompting from the band: at the appropriate moments, they stomped, clapped, yelled, or “awoo”‘d along.
But even on the eve of Pride for a band who is difficult to describe in adjectives without using “gay,” spectacle still took a back seat to music. Twenty people together on stage playing and singing at once shouldn’t have sounded as good as it did Friday night, but somehow the levels were just right the entire set, with Gibb’s voice and signature yelp coming out loud and clear over top of it all. The performance was not quite loose and never sloppy, but it did lack polish, something that Awoo had in abundance (at times to its fault, something we hinted at in our review of the album last year): while the recorded versions of songs off the Cameras’ first few releases stood up decently against their live versions, the songs from Awoo sounded significantly better on Friday. The three new songs—”In the Na,” “Big Blue,” and “He Falls To Me”—all hinted at a return to that looser sound, but it’s always tough to tell what Joel Gibb and the ever-changing cast of the band have rolled up their sleeves.
The only downside of the otherwise fantastic show was, well, cameras. Filmed for a television show, cameramen were placed around the stage, in the front and sides of the audience, and blocking off the Phoenix’s upstairs. The filming itself wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t forced the creation of a strange stage configuration that had two large blocks jutting out into the crowd, extending the stage in a way that could have been more interesting had the Cameras or their surprisingly-excellent openers Spiral Beach used them (which they didn’t). Instead, the layout created a small three-walled pit, forcing everyone who wasn’t in it about six feet further back from the band.
Still, in spite of the cameras, the Cameras managed to pull off an incredibly fun show. To end the night, the band played one of the most perfect pieces of pop this city’s ever seen: “Smells Like Happiness.” The lyrics “happy we are when we choose to wear the blindfold / And mark our own day with a parade and a song” proved half-true: an ecstatic crowd (some of whom we can safely assume were gay) was, after all, on the verge of Pride. This time, though, there were no blindfolds tossed into the audience: the band simply played a killer rendition of one of their best songs, sans spectacle. Which was quite alright with us.
Photo by David Topping. More are in the concert’s Flickr set.