Funk and R&B pioneers Cameo are celebrating two major anniversaries this year. For one, it’s been 30 years since their biggest and best-known hit, “Word Up!” was released. Even if you don’t remember the band by name, there’s a good chance that by a few bars into the song you’ll be saying “oh, them!” and dancing along. But if “Word Up!” (and maybe the band’s follow-up hit “Candy”) is the only Cameo you know, you’re missing out on a band with a long and storied history. The group’s other anniversary dates back a whole decade earlier to 1977, when they released their first album, Cardiac Arrest, and had their first charting hit, “Rigor Mortis” (which peaked at #33 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart). Over the course of seventeen albums (so far), Cameo has maintained the kind of longevity and dedicated following that many bands only dream of, even if their chart-topping days are behind them.
Currently in the midst of a year-long residency in Las Vegas, Cameo had originally been scheduled to perform at the Howard Theatre in DC back in September, but scheduling conflicts forced the band to postpone. They were finally able to make up that missed show this weekend, and it was well worth the wait. Through an hour and a half-long set, the band kept the audience moving and grooving to some of their biggest hits.
The band is still fronted by founder Larry Blackmon, complete with his infamous red codpiece, and many of the members responsible for the band’s most notable recordings are still around. Blackmon shares vocal duties with singer and original member Tomi Jenkins, as well as guitarist and singer Anthony Lockett, who joined in the late 80s. Bassist Aaron Mills and guitarist Charlie “The Phantom” Singleton joined in the early 80s, and drummer Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett (also known for his work with Michael Jackson, among others) has played live drums for the band since then as well (on the band’s albums, Blackmon is credited as the main drummer).
The band opened the show with “Alligator Woman,” the title track of their 1982 album, and drew their setlist for the evening primarily from their late 70s and early to mid-80s output. The title tracks from She’s Strange (1984) and Single Life (1985) were featured, along with trips back to “Why Have I Lost You” from the band’s second album We All Know Who We Are (1978), and “Sparkle” and “I Just Want To Be” from 1979’s Secret Omen. Things took a brief turn to the political as Blackmon spoke out against Trump (“we didn’t elect him”) and noted that one of the band’s most political songs, “Skin I’m In” (from 1988’s Machismo), is sadly still relevant today. And of course 1986’s Word Up! was well represented, with “Back and Forth” and “Candy” appearing earlier in the set, and the title track closing out the show.