The story so far: talk about a rollercoaster ride. The Chameleons formed in 1981, recorded three albums before 1986 then broke up. Various members formed various other bands with limited success. In 2000 or so, Chameleons front man Mark Burgess relaunched the band and over the last 20 years they have formed and split and reformed as Chameleons Vox, with various members coming and going. A couple of years back Burgess reunited with original guitarist Reg Smithies and The Chameleons dropped the Vox and resurrected themselves all over again for the umpteenth time. Which is where we find ourselves as they take to the stage in an absolutely rammed to the back teeth Manchester Academy in this year of our Lord 2022.
They kick off with ‘A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days’ and ‘Here Today’ from their debut, Script of the Bridge (released in 1983, sounding as contemporary as anything by Interpol – who are fans). Burgess, adorned in white face paint and a black bandanna, is taking no prisoners. The crowd, surprisingly young and old with all stops between, know all the words and sing as if their lives depended on it. The gig has been a long time coming, cancelled and postponed what with various Covid bouts, but now they are here, Burgess tells the crowd, he’s here to give them an experience. We get ‘Return of the Roughnecks’, ‘Perfume Garden’, ‘Pleasure and Pain’ and ‘Mad Jack’, which might have been a number one in the kind of world where great songs just do well.
Yes, some of these songs are forty years old but you wouldn’t know it. Folding in the kind of shouty-barking you hear from Future Islands’ Samuel T Herring, Burgess gives it his literal all. And the lyrics thrum with a weird modern resonance (“Our leaders are all insane,” he yells at one point, as true then as now). By the time we reach their rendition of ‘Up the Down Escalator’, the crowd are in full-on worship mode, singing along where there are not words, just roaring along with the music as if The Chameleons are playing on the terraces rather than in the Academy. Even the band looks slightly surprised by it. Mark heads out into the audience and gets a bit carried away.
By the time we’re treated to ‘Swamp Thing’ (a song that should be as big as the kinds of song that find themselves Radio 2 staples 40 years later), ‘Nostalgia’ and the always mighty ‘Don’t Fall’, we find ourselves playing a game of whether or not there are any ‘big’ Chameleons songs that have been unplayed and the only one we can settle on it ‘Tears’. So, you know, if you’re reading this Chameleons, can you fix that next time? Otherwise, 10 out of 10 for effort.
Words by Pete Wild.