Being unemployed has its’ advantages – one of the ways I’ve been occupying my time (besides looking for jobs – obviously – swimming and binge-watching “24”) has been to rediscover a couple of bands which I’d overlooked “back in the day”. The Icicle Works being one (and subject of a tasty double-header themselves, this coming Autumn), but the other being this lot, Manchester’s The Chameleons. Early 80’s contemporaries of the likes of Echo And The Bunnymen, New Order et al, for some reason they slipped through my net at the time, but recent purchases of their 3 seminal 80’s albums revealed a band of true depth and substance, falling between a dark, angsty pseudo Gothy sound and the more prevalent, sweepingly heroic post-punk “rockist” template evident in the Bunnymen’s and even The Wild Swans’ works. Right in my wheelhouse, then… Kicking myself for not discovering this lot 35 years ago, my pain was eased with the announcement of a local date by ChameleonsVox, an ersatz line-up comprising sole original member, vocalist/ bassist Mark Burgess (hence the “Vox” suffix, I guess…), along with an all-new backing band, including, intriguingly, drummer Yves Altana, former guitarist of early 90’s mutant indie-spacerock faves Wonky Alice!
Tix duly sorted, I set off for this one down a sunny M4, encountering the ridiculous carnage that is now Bristol city centre and having to drive up Park Street and double back to get to The Fleece! Bristol – you can’t get there from here… So by my arrival at 5 to 8, openers Final Hour were well into their final number, an intriguingly dark and heavily pounding beast which made me curse the traffic even more. Soft Kill were next up in short order, a guitar trio plus drum machine, weaving some dissonant textural proto Goth, overlaid by the vocalist’s heavy growling tones. I enjoyed the morose tuneage and guitar work, but the drum machine beat became an oppressive drone at times, although it lightened as their set took a more chiming, early-Cure-like direction later on. For some respite from the weight of the drum sound, however, I took a wander out mid-set, running into Yves in the process! Showed him the Wonky Alice set-lists on my blog, to his amazement, and enjoyed a brief chat about those Wonky times with this most affable of men. Result!
Thus buoyed, I took a spot down the front and passed the time comparing gig experiences with a couple of blokes of similar gig vintage to myself (as, unsurprisingly, was the whole crowd tonight…). ChameleonsVox came on prompt at 9.15, the bowl-haired, bohemian scruffbag Burgess taking in the crowd’s adulation as Yves pulled faces behind him on his way to the drum stool, then, as the crowd hushed in reverential anticipation, remarking “you can talk, it’s not a library!” The intricate guitar riffery of “Swamp Thing” eased in, the gorgeously mesmeric interplay between twin guitarists Neil Dwerryhouse and Chris Oliver already a standout feature (and remaining so throughout), giving way to Burgess’ strident, commanding vocals as the song took flight. “A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days”, dark, dramatic and dynamic, with the prescient lyric, “what kind of times are these?” followed in short order, and we were away.
ChameleonsVox were amazing tonight, making me curse my ignorance of them all this time, but revel in my finally having acquainted myself with them. Burgess, authoritative and masterful, was backed brilliantly by his band – evidently Chameleons fans to a man, they poured their passion for the band into this performance. “Looking Inwardly”’s haunting and chiming opening guitar riff made it evident where The House Of Love nicked the intro to “Shine On” from; “Monkeyland” was flesh-creepingly atmospheric, building to a massive hook; and “Thursdays” was angular and insistent proto-shoegaze (Ride doubtless being another band who were weaned on this lot). “You fucking genius!” shouted a punter to Burgess before “Caution”’s open soundscape saw him throw in lyrical vignettes of The Doors’ “The End” (“all our leaders are insane…” you said it, Mark!) Bowie’s “Be My Wife” and The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”, much as McCulloch does with “Do It Clean”. Likewise, vitriolic closer “Singing Rule Britannia” referenced “White Riot”, “Transmission” and The Fall’s “Rebellious Jukebox”, closing out a deliciously plangent set of expertly delivered guitar rock. Superb stuff!
The soaring “woah-oh’s” of a brilliant, sinuous “Second Skin” and a dramatic, anthemic “Don’t Fall” encore double-whammy preceded my grabbing a list and getting it fully signed by the band (barging backstage to get the final signature from Yves!) before the usual frustrating M32 roadworks-affected drive home. I may have been a little late to the party, maybe, but I’m a full-on Chameleons convert now!