Live: Mark Burgess/Chameleons Vox – Sub61

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.




Filed under Reviews - Shows

5 responses to “Live: Mark Burgess/Chameleons Vox – Sub61

  1. Maddi

    Clearly you weren’t having a good day mr reviewer. Did you get lost on the way trying to find the club, did this put you in a bad mood? The venue itself is perfect for live bands, the acoustics were amazing in there and plenty of room for the 200 crowd to enjoy Mark burgess ant the 66. As for ‘rent a crowd’ – the fans in attendance were there because they genuinely appreciate good music and support up and coming talent. Just for the record, there wasn’t a ‘fred perry’ in sight. Maybe if you weren’t so preoccupied with people watching and haircuts you could have picked up on the many influences, spanning over 30 years which drive a band like the66.

    As for the chameleons vox yes mark did have a sore throat but he gave 110% in terms of his performance and if you asked any of the 200 in attendance I am sure they wouldn’t hold it against him.

    This was a cracking night with 2 outstanding live bands in a top new venue.

    I suggest you sick to strip joints in the future!

  2. Hi Maddi,
    I wasn’t in a bad mood at all – quite the opposite, I was really excited about seeing Mark again.

    RE: The 66 – Let’s just agree to disagree on them. As I stated, I found them technically proficient and talented, but totally lacking in inspiration or originality. It was the same old Stone Roses style ‘Manc swagger’ revival stuff that has been crippling Manchester’s indie scene for years. I just found them boring and I’ve heard it all a million times before. It isn’t 1989 anymore. Manchester is a big victim of it’s own success (just look at Peter Hook re-opening Charles St…makes me cringe…). But that’s a whole other debate that I could happily go into for hours.

    RE: Burgess. Again, I didn’t say he wasn’t putting in the effort. He was. I just thought the band didn’t do the songs justice and he’s much better solo, or with the Sun & The Moon stuff. It was really sad to see him butchering classic songs like that, sore throat or none.

    I’m glad you had a good time though, and it’s always great to hear from people who have a genuine passion for and a real interest in live music.

    All the best for 2010,

    FR x

  3. Just to let everyone know, “View From a Hill” the book by Mark Burgess (Chameleons & ChameleonsVox & Black Swan Lane) will be available in North America and worldwide in August 2010.

    Pre orders** can be entered at
    **All pre orders will receive limited edition promo items with their book!**

    This is a fantastic, personal book from Mark Burgess about Mark’s life before, during and after the Chameleons. Written with wit, humor and honesty. It’s a brilliant and enjoyable read! Recommended!

    P.S. If you are one of the lucky few that have already read a copy of the previous limited release of Mark’s book, please contact me, as I would love to hear your review*** and comments on it!

    send to: or
    Subject line: “Burgess Book Review”

    ***FOR YOUR REVIEW/COMMENTS…..I’ll be happy to send you a very limited edition MARK BURGESS Promo Book plectrum for your review of “View From a Hill” book***

    Looking forward to hearing from you. 🙂

  4. Alita

    I saw Mark play at a show a little while ago here in NYC. I was excited to be able to see him and hear Chameleons songs live, but I can’t say that I was totally satisfied. He put all of his energy into it, but it was just a bit much. Like you mentioned the harmonic complexity of the music was totally gone. It was loud and abrasive. I could never imagine head-banging to the Chameleons, but I witnessed it at this show! I’m really happy that I went, but at the same time it makes me sad that I’ll likely never get to see the original band in all its glory.

  5. Each band Mark plays with is a bit different. Mark will be performing at The Troubadour in LA on September 4, 2010, with some guys that are really good guitar players, with all of the “effects” like the 80s sound. While it isn;t the original band, it’s a beautiful way to hear all of the Chameleons songs LIVE with Mark’s vocals, the Chameleonsvox.

    I have to wonder if you woul have been impressed with the original line up live?

    As for head banging, go to youtube and check out the video of the song “Splitting in two” by the Chameleons…yoou’ll see headbanging. That song brings it out, and from what I ahve heard….he played it at the NYC shows…it is a cover BTW.

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