Live Review: Cam Cole @ The Zoo

18 March 2024 | 11:04 am | Liv Dunford

Cam Cole's show was filled with a unique blend of genres, an otherworldly scale of energy, and lots and lots of melodies.

Cam Cole

Cam Cole (Source: Supplied)

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“Oh, the melody definitely comes first,” is swiftly becoming a frequent answer to a frequent question I find myself asking, and Cam is no different.

Doubtful, I look back at him, wondering if it’s truly like this for everyone and the lyrics just materialise later in the writing process like some phantom apparition. Cam smiles at me, seeming to read my mind, then laughs bright and clear. “But of course, it’s a different process for everyone,” he adds.

For a multi-instrumentalist like Cam Cole, whose show depends solely on the backbone of his one-man-band musicianship, it certainly makes sense that his songwriting process has subsequently leeched into his live performances. A unique blend of genres, an otherworldly scale of energy, and lots and lots of melodies that assimilate from thin air into a grunge-blues riff you perhaps heard in a long-forgotten dream. 

If there’s anything more impressive than just one man being able to entertain an audience with multiple instruments, it’s one man simultaneously performing a comedy set.

In the fortunate case of Ruben Reeves, he strolled onto the platform at 8:15 and had everyone in stitches by 8:17. “I’m from Tasmania, don’t hold it against me,” was the first thing he said, a wide grin plastered onto his face in a way that seemed he held it against himself more than we did. “This first one goes out to all the backpackers, it’s called Stealing Shit From Woolies.” 

In what was perhaps the most brilliantly alarming call and response of the night, almost every person in the room raised their hands and cheered when Reeves asked if anyone had ever stolen from Woolies. By the end of his set, the venue had transformed into an unruly medieval tavern, and Reeves was our own Aussie bard with his modified guitar. “It’s a seven-string slide, and do you see these frying pans on the front here? It’s my favourite mod; they actually double as frying pans, and I used it to cook my breakfast this morning.” 

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By the time Cole surfaced, donning a purple and green top hat not dissimilar to the style of the Mad Hatter, the crowd was rabid. It was the closing show of his first-ever Australian tour, and he’d just blitzed a gritty rendition of New Age Blues, the opening song of his 2019 album I See. “Now’s probably a good time to let you all know that everything you see and everything you hear is one hundred per cent live and played in the moment… there’s just a guitar, some foot drums, and a man.” 

He sat high and regal on his unique drum set that, adorned with antlers, may as well have doubled as a throne. “We just rocked out pretty hard then, broke a string and all.” He addressed his subjects after Mama. “So, the plan now is I’m going to play some tunes with this other guitar. You guys up for some heavy blues?” Everyone screamed, and this man’s fuzz pedal was turned on. 

Needing a quick set fix-up, a trusty tech worked on the stage before us to the sound of feral cheers. Cole, delighted, introduced our saviour. “Give it up for the gentleman in front of me between my legs! He’s my manager and my general life coach… Marcus!” 

Marcus laughed, shaking his head, and soon a wild chant arose from the back. “Marcus! Marcus! Marcus!” Each time he ventured onto the platform, the crowd was mindless. Hysterical. If nothing else, after that night, Marcus had garnered a mini army of radical disciples. 

Reeves appeared from the edge of the mist, and Cole descended from his throne for some intermission mayhem. “My second or third show here, Ruben pointed out to me I’d never done an Aussie custom, which is a shoey, so there and then a shoe was presented, and I did a shoey because I’m a guest in your house.” Everybody cheered him on, pleased.

“And then Marcus also did one, so there’s only one who didn’t do a shoey, and it’s the one calling for a shoey. So tonight, he’s got his moment.” 

Backed into a corner, Reeves still managed to get in a jab of his own. “Take your shoe off then, Cam. Come on, I want Cam’s shoe!” 

It should be noted that instead of beer, Reeves used milk, which is unequivocally worse. Later, amid the crowd, Reeves turned to us and said, “See, now he’s got to fly back to London tomorrow with a milk shoe.” Genius. 

In his characteristic send-off, Cole closed his show with his three rules of thanks. “Thanks for your time, your attention, and thank you for your energy.” 

“You gave the energy, man!” A devoted voice called from the back. 

Cole laughed. “Nah, man, there’s an exchange going on. I’ve street performed to nobody so many times, like two people and a dog. Trust me, when you give the energy, I give it back, and it goes back and forth.” 

Reeves started an “Encore!” chant from the middle of the pit, and Cole had never looked more like a king than in that moment. He was on the other side of the world, performing to an audience that was definitively larger than two people and a dog.