Live Review: Alexander at CAMP Basement, 15th February 2011

Having had a few typically unproductive reading week days to stew over Alex Ebert and his troupe of bearded men, or Alexander, I still can’t work out what exactly happened. The gig was disorganised, interesting, enjoyable, and ultimately a mess.

I guess I could start with the venue. Mildew and exposed pipes aside, the pub-come-creepy-basement-cellar did exude some sort of charm. It seemed the kind of place to come across a little known band, where the small dingy basement would add to the feeling of exclusivity of your discovery of said band. And true enough, it did do that… for the openers The Shute. With an element of grunge perfectly suited to the room, they managed to overcome the biggest challenge to support acts and actually capture the attention of the crowd. Though I can’t tell you what any of their songs were about due to a profoundly poor sound system, there was an eerie, captivating quality about the lead singer’s voice, which I have to assume was paired with fittingly mysterious lyrics.

Off to a good start, I had high hopes for the main act. Admittedly, all I knew about Alexander was that singer Alex Ebert had had previous success with the fun family of folk that is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I suppose what I expected was some easy listening American style folk, or sounds in a similar vein. This being a band with which Ebert created such emotive lines as, ”Nobody better pinch me, bitch I swear I’ll go crazy.” It was a shame the speakers didn’t clear up for the headline act. The set did start out well, with opening reggae-jazz number ‘Awake My Body’ getting the audience in high spirits, and ‘A Million Years’ showcasing some impressive whistling no doubt harnessed during his Edward Sharpe days. Silly and unnecessary hat aside, Alexander had a strong stage presence and blue grey eyes you couldn’t help but stare into.

The night, however, soon spiralled into chaos. It began with the failure of one of the guitars, which left the band an instrument short. Seemingly pointless pleas to the crowd for a spare following the disappearance of all members and instruments of The Shute were to no avail, and saw Alexander trying to excuse the mishap by arguing it was only his “second ever gig” in this line-up. It was during crowd favourite ‘Truth’ that the first of two restarts occurred, when the audience stopped the band because a man had fainted, not because they had found a spare guitar as Ebert had hoped. The man soon got up, and embarrassingly made his way towards the exit. The second restart happened when Alex stopped playing, saying the song would “sound shit” if they didn’t do it over. After changing nothing, it appeared it was not so much the way they were playing but the song itself that needed a rethink. The pathetic promise to “try [his] best to get through the set” left you with the feeling that there should have been a bit more practise before they started charging £7 to watch them epically crash. A guitar washing up on stage in time for the last song didn’t do enough to salvage the night. In fact it only helped to emphasise the fact that the band was incomplete for most of the time. Though upbeat songs like ‘In the Twilight’ momentarily got the crowd back on his side, it didn’t do enough for the long-term.

Overall, the music was good, but I would suggest giving Alexander some time before seeing him live.

Aimee Wang

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