After a few years paying attention to the LA music scene, I’ve learned that it’s better to enter into any live concert experience with little to no expectations. Performers, it seems, tend to get what you might call the ‘yips’ when they know they’re performing in a bigger city… especially when they’re a (relative) newcomer… especially when it’s their first solo tour with their name on the marquee.
With all that said – I’m extremely glad that I’m going to positively review Cameron Avery’s excellent debut album Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams on my own blog in the near future, because I’m not going to give high marks to his performance at Teragram Ballroom this Tuesday evening. As terrible as it sounds, when you know you could’ve spent your evening seeing a master of intense, low-key live performances (Andy Shauf was playing just a few blocks down at The Regent), you can’t help but see all the flaws of a poor intimate live show. When Cameron ‘joked’ halfway through the set that South by Southwest was a mess by commenting “Four shows in one day? I can barely do one!” — I don’t think he realized just how awkwardly meta and uncomfortable his one-off came across to the crowd.
The biggest takeaway from the evening was this: when Cameron’s confident and commanding? The crowd shuts the fuck up, and quickly. During the psychedelic breakdown on penultimate song “Watch Me Take It Away”, Cameron tore into his guitar and swaggered around the stage maniacally. Every eye in the audience was focused on Cameron’s intense guitar playing. There were no other noises throughout the venue. Suddenly, the audience knew who was boss — it’s too bad it took nearly the entire set to get to this point.
And it wasn’t like Cameron didn’t have opportunities to truly let the music take hold – the problem was, Cameron hindered these moments with his own nerves and self-defeatism. Halfway through the set, Cameron’s supporting band (members from one of Cameron’s past bands, The Growl) gave Cameron the spotlight on keys so that he could delicately envelope us in his lyrical lullaby and album opener “A Time and Place”. Halfway through the song, though – during a very quiet pause – someone in the crowd laughed… and — while rude — as a performer you’ve got to know when to choose your battles. And instead of pushing through and relying on all of the song’s many strengths, Cameron folded, squinted into the audience to find the chuckling culprit and asked, “What’s so funny?” before continuing onward. It’s hard not to roll your eyes at such an amateur-hour move.
The show wasn’t a total wash. Cameron and his band members from The Growl played a track off The Growl’s second LP What Would Christ Do?? (which gave Cameron a much needed confidence-boost) and gamely performed a cover of Phil Spector, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” (made famous by The Righteous Brothers and, later, Dionne Warwick and Hall and Oates) which he humorously noted was his favorite karaoke song.
In the end, Cameron invited famed LA-based (and, more importantly in this reviewer’s opinion, Echo Park-based) Jonathan Wilson to jam with them for their closing track, “C’est Toi” (It’s You in French!) Before beginning the track, Cameron thanked Jonathan for letting him crash at his place in Los Angeles after a grueling tour with Tame Impala (another band Cameron used to play in) and credited Jonathan for help with the creation of the track. It was an honest, gracious moment of stage banter and Cameron nailed the sentiment, leaving me feeling hopeful for Cameron’s future. Sure he didn’t nail the entirety of his performance, but it was his first time performing as a solo artist in Los Angeles. Stage anxiety is cute and it can be used as a strength during a live setting, the trick is figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Everyone deserves a learning curve under his circumstances — let’s hope Cameron knows LA’s is steep. He better truly be ready the next time he sets out to impress this city’s jaded music obsessives.
Conor Patrick Hogan is a writer living in Los Angeles. He pens articles exclusively about debut LPs on his own website Debuts of Note. You can find him on Twitter @cpatrickdood. Oh! And his favorite My Little Pony is Magic Star. Duh.