Hidden Cameras - Live

By james

 Hidden Cameras
Cleveland, OH - Grog Shop
14 June 2003

There are some things in this world that words simply cannot describe in their full glory. Unfortunately for this review, The Hidden Cameras live show and, in fact, the Hidden Cameras in general is one of those things. I'll do the best I can, though.

First off, a little bit about the band. It is the brainchild of Joel Gibb, though in the live setting all eleven members are equally crucial to the performance. Gibb describes their sound as "gay church folk-music", and I suppose that's as accurate description as you're going to get. I certainly can't think of a better one. At any given point in time during a full-band Hidden Cameras show, there is so much going on on-stage [and even off-stage, more on that in a bit] that you can't help but feel at least slightly over stimulated. And it's fantastic.

Take last night's set opener "A Miracle", for example. Even with only six or so people on stage at this point (including a cellist, a violinist, at least a couple of guitarists, and probably a few more) it was almost sensory overload between trying to figure out who was doing what and follow along with the lyric sheet that was conveniently projected onto the side wall of the stage via an old-school overhead projector [bonus points for that, by the way].

Or take the next number, "Boys of Melody". For this particular song, ten of the eleven members of the band were on stage at their various instruments. Did I mention that the stage at the Grog Shop is 10x12 feet at the absolute biggest? And the eleventh member? Why, he was the man go-go dancing on the large speaker next to the stage in a quarter shirt, white pants, running shoes, and a jock strap over his head of course! Even though I knew he was coming [I had seen their sound check and knew someone was planning on dancing on the speaker for the show] it still caught me completely off guard when he ran by me, jumped onto the speaker, and started doing his thing.

A couple of songs later, yet another variable was added to the equation. For "Breathe On It", we were informed that there was a dance routine that went along with it. Two members stood on the steps at the front of the stage and, along with the go-go dancer, led the audience through the simple dance moves while the rest of the band played the song. The last number of the main set (a rousing rendition of "Fear of 'Zine Failure" from the "Ban Marriage" single) featured similar yet more complicated dance moves, so three instrumentalists plus one go-go dancer led the audience through that one.

And what about "Ban Marriage"? All of the instrumentalists were on stage (four at the two keyboards alone) for what was the highlight of the evening, though it certainly had some stiff competition. The sheer amount of activity that was going on on-stage was impressive in and of itself. But wait, there's more. By this point, the go-go dancer had stripped down to the jock strap, the running shoes, and a pair of white underpants with silver sequin/stud things and what looked like charm bracelet charms [also silver, of course] hanging off of them. The entire audience had been completely won over as well, so everyone was singing (or rather, shouting) along with the song's chorus and dancing like men and women possessed.

The most incredible stroke of genius, however, came during a simple yet very effective move at the end of "The Animals of Prey" a couple of songs later. The song's last line (which mentions playing dead) was sung as each and every member of the band was falling to the floor [or speaker], until they were all playing dead. While that may not look so impressive in writing, it was entirely unexpected and completely stunned the audience. Even at the most basic level, that ten full-grown adults were able to lie down on a stage that size without smothering at last one member was mighty impressive.

As if that wasn't enough, this was the first show I've been at where the audience has flat out demanded an encore. The play dead move effectively made the last two songs "the encore", but we as an audience were having none of that. As the band started packing up their equipment after "Fear of 'Zine Failure", we were still clapping/stomping/whistling/shouting/whatever for even one more song. After a couple of minutes of this (and a couple of questionable comments from a rather drunk woman) Joel gave in and the band returned to the stage and speaker for one more song, a rousing ten-plus minute rendition of "I Believe in the Good of Life" complete with audience participation. Yes, 10 people was not enough to perform this particular number, and various percussion instruments were handed out to three audience members, who joined the band on stage halfway through the song for a grand total of 13 performers and their instruments on a 120 square foot stage. What a finale.

To top it all off, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joel Gibb before the show [on the roof of the club no less!] and speaking with various members of the band before and after their performance, and found them all to be incredibly friendly people. They seemed truly amazed at the audience reaction, though truth be told I think the audience was amazed at the audience reaction.

In short: better dance routines than a Britney Spears concert, better go-go dancing than Madonna's Girlie Show tour, and brilliant pop songs to boot. Show of the year? By far. Don't miss it if it rolls into your town.