September 26, 2015
Three Links Deep Ellum
Dallas, TX USA
Review by David Depietro
Photos by David Depietro
Old World Lizards Return 2 Big 'D'
Producer Brian Eno once remarked about the Velvet Underground, that their first album may have only sold 10,000 copies, but that everyone who bought it formed a band. The VU would go on to have an immeasurable influence on artists 20 years later, when hipster bands such as R.E.M., My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain would not only cite them as an influence, but record many of their tunes.
If the enthusiasm level and 20's-50's age range of the Dallas crowd Saturday night at Three Links in Deep Ellum was any indicator, England's Chameleons may also finally be on the verge of getting some of the well-deserved credit that has so long eluded them.
Touring on the 30th anniversary of the U.S. release of Script of the Bridge (U.K.,1983), bassist/singer/songwriter Mark Burgess commemorated the occasion by taking the stage and launching into the LP and playing every note of it. Straight through. The crowd couldn't have been happier. Or luckier.
As the opening snippet of dialogue drifted through the club signaling the opening track, "Don't Fall," I found myself almost envying the younger audience members who had never before seen the Chameleons live. For those who happened to be at the club by chance, it must have been pure epiphany.
"Here Today," morphed into a murky "Monkeyland," just as it does on the album and the songs seemed to get a slightly slower, slightly heavier treatment then they did on the 1983 LP. For details, refer to the contents of the Live at the Academy album from 2002. The sound was that good.
A soaring, "Second Skin" featured chiming tones and dual interplay from guitarists Neil Dwerryhouse and Chris Oliver. By the time the band hit their early anthem, "Up the Down Escalator," many members of the crowd were in a trance-like state, while reciting every word, of every tune. At times it was something akin to being at a smaller-level Grateful Dead concert.
This was my first occasion at Three Links and the sound was crisp and loud. Loud enough that some friends I attended the show with were content to listen to the proceedings from the patio in front of the venue. I remained front row center. My only complaint about Three Links is that it was horrendously hot and stuffy inside, with many of the late 40s and 50-somethings in the audience sweating our collective asses off. But a Turkish bath is therapeutic once in a while and the torrid Texas heat did not deter any of the 250 in attendance.
If any in this Deep Ellum crowd were not aware that there simply is not a weak song on Script of the Bridge before hand, it was loudly sealed, stamped and delivered. Yves Altana, who has been drumming with Burgess since his days in Invincible in the late '90s, was effortlessly solid in filling in for original drummer John Lever. Altana has mastered Lever's militaristic, Joy Division-like drumming style, relying much upon 16th notes.
The melancholy "Less Than Human" (originally left off the original American release of the album), sounded damp and wet and is maybe one of the great rock songs about death and the futility of existence. To borrow a cinematic metaphor, the Chameleons are straying into Ingmar Bergman waters on this tune.
"Pleasure and Pain" got the tempos up, as well as the Dallas crowd pogoing post-punk. The ultra-ethereal, "Thursday's Child" sounded to be culled directly from the album and "As High as You Can Go" had the audience trying to take the band at its word, as the pungently-sweet smell of marijuana began to fill the stiflingly sticky air.
"A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days," (long an opening number), sounded great as usual, segued into the anti Reagan/Thatcher area diatribe, "Paper Tigers," Burgess spitting out the songs' sarcastic, anti-Imperialist lyrics.
A lilting "View From a Hill," closed the album out and the band exited the stage briefly, to catch their breath. By this time the Dallas crowd was already deafened, drained and damp.
Many in the audience began chanting for some Strange Times material and Burgess & company did not disappoint. Simply put, the epic, "Swamp Thing" is the Chameleons' "Stairway," in that it manages to balance the delicate with the bombastic. It is a mesmerizing tune and the crowd ate it up like a a Labor Day barbecue.
"In Answer" followed, and the trademark flanger-treated, Rickenbackers were officially on full display.
To editorialize, Mark Burgess has to be one of the most underrated songwriters of his generation (Steve Kilbey of the Church is another) and his output of work, in or out of the Chameleons, is one of the unsung treasures in rock music.
Still, you wouldn't know it by how the guy acts. Pre-show, was he acting like a Goth-diva and brooding sullenly in his dressing room? Nope. He was at the bar having a beer and since band pictures were sparse on any Chameleons album, 95% of the audience probably didn't even know who he was until he took the stage.
The name the Chameleons was apt. Their music is constantly changing colors, the lyrics remaining just out of grasp. This stuff is trance-inducing. With or without drugs. I hear fountains in the background of their sound that aren't even there.
Dallas was graced by this concert and the crowd fortunate enough to be there knew it.