The Chameleons were once described as “The best band you’ve never heard of” and never was a truer word spoken. Every experience I’ve had watching Mark Burgess (singer, guitarist, songwriter) has been a bit, well, strange. I first encountered him playing in the back of The Castle Hotel at a funeral wake. I’ve since seen him play in Matt & Phreds (the legendary Manchester jazz club), The Moon Under Water (the legendary Manchester, umm..Wetherspoons..), Retro Bar (the night we were under siege by the crazy Russian and Glaswegian football hooligans) and finally last night in Sub61 (a weird club off Deansgate – a sort of cross between dingy indie club and scally strip joint).
Typical of a Burgess gig, I didn’t find out about it until the morning of the show (he has about 5 websites – none of which are regularly updates, performs under various names and you never really know what to expect). We turned up at 8pm after finally finding the venue, handed over our £10 to get in (eek!) and got a beer (£1.50 a pint. Get in!). There was one support band, The 66, who, while technically talented and very tight sounding, were completely devoid of originality and I found them totally uninspiring. Imagine Ian Brown singing for The Music, having only ever listened to Kasabian. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. Rent-a-lad crowds with daft haircuts and Fred Perry jackets. *yawn*.
After what seemed like an eternity, Mark Burgess/Chameleons Vox/The Chameleons took to the stage. Now reunited with drummer John Lever, and with a full band backing him, this is as close to the original Chameleons show as we’re ever going to get. Burgess was suffering with a bad throat and could hardly sing. This changed things somewhat. Instead of stripping things down a bit and playing a subdued set, he seemed to want to embrace the gritty sound and scream every note as loud as possible. While this made for a show that was full of energy and punk influenced enthusiasm, I personally felt that by taking this approach they lost a lot of what appealed to me in the first place; the harmonic complexity and time shifts that made them stand out from their peers. Last night, the atmosphere was more ‘some old band who were almost famous’ than ‘one of the greatest bands from Manchester who deserved to be a lot bigger than they were.’
This was a dire shame, as every other time I’ve seen Chameleons Vox he/they have really stood out as being phenomenally talented, and what I love about Mark Burgess is his ability to take old songs and change them into something different, which is perfectly demonstrated in his solo show and the acoustic Strip album. I will go and see him again, and I still love The Chemeleons. For now though, I think Burgess should stick to his solo acoustic set, and leave the louder sound to recorded material.