November 12, 2011
Dallas, TX USA
Review by David DiPietro
Photos by Scott Witty
One of the most criminally overlooked guitar bands of the last 30 years, the Chameleons may finally be on the verge of getting some of the Stateside recognition that they have long deserved.
Formed in Manchester, England by bassist/vocalist Mark Burgess in 1981, the Chameleons managed to record three superiorly mesmerizing studio LPs and one official live album during their initial existence, breaking up in 1987 following the death of band manager, Tony Fletcher. The band reconvened and recorded an album of new material in 2000 (after being fawned over and name-dropped by the likes of Oasis and My Bloody Valentine), as well as two acoustic discs, which reworked old material.
The fact that many of the band's musical contemporaries who played on the same stages at the same clubs as the Chameleons made the jump from cult acts to mainstream superstars during the Chameleons' absence in the late '80s (the Cure, the Psychedelic Furs, R.E.M. among them), could not have sat too keenly with the band, especially considering that the Chameleons' music and song writing is superior to all of the aforementioned acts, in my opinion.
The Chameleons set about righting a few of those wrongs at Trees Saturday night, turning in a masterful set of chiming, delay-ridden guitar scapes before an extremely enthusiastic crowd, in their first-ever Dallas performance.
Amid arcs of blue and green light, the band hit the stage with, "A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days," a cut from one of the truly classic 1980's guitar albums, Script of the Bridge, an album which, after over 1000 plays on my turntable since 1983, has yet to sound old; its magic still undiminished.
With a signature snare drum intro courtesy drummer John Lever, the band then launched into a crisp, up tempo version of "Looking Inwardly." By now the house sound had been balanced and resolutely tuned-in, which had the crowd down front pogo-dancing in ecstasy. The Chameleons' patented, dual-guitar interplay was loudly and clearly on display, as were Burgess' emotive, world-weary vocal style and mannerisms. Even at this early point of the show, it was quite evident that the Chameleons are back sounding better than ever and are intent on reclaiming much of the turf lost during their unfortunate hiatus.
The evening's set list concentrated solely on the group's first three albums and the crowd roared in approval as they were treated to a track rare to U.S. audiences, "Paper Tigers," which MCA Records inexplicably left off of the much-truncated domestic release of the band's first LP.
"Tears" had the Trees audience singing along in unison. The fact that most everyone in attendance knew every word to the song seemed to surprise and delight the band, who did double-takes at each other in approval and possibly even in dismay.
The staccato, opening guitar riff to "Up The Down Escalator" (one of the band's most popular and enduring tunes) sent shivers of delight through the crowd. This tune again became a good time sing-along, inciting smiles all around, for audience and band alike.
The band then hit their Strange Times LP hard, playing three songs in a row off the album. "Seriocity," which segued directly into "In Answer," just as it does on the LP, was followed by perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening, the lush, tranquil tones of, "I'll Remember," a soothing instrumental.
The group hit their stride with an absolutely pummeling, "Soul in Isolation," complete with its delicate percussive midsection, and echoed guitar harmonics; hauntingly Pink Floyd-ian in its shimmering reverie.
"Singing Rule Brittania (While the Walls Close In)," brought the show to a crescendo, staggering in its intensity. Reinforced during this show was the fact when music this melodic and hypnotic is combined with concert lighting and the positive energy of an appreciative audience, the results are truly awe-inspiring.
"Second Skin," one of the Chameleons' best tracks, closed the set proper with panache, the ending of which was extended to include shards of feedback and added guitar harmonics. Vocalist Burgess channelled the ghost of Ian Curtis and fellow Mancunians, Joy Division, by borrowing the chorus to their tune, "Transmission," and bellowing it out over the chords of "Second Skin" and its final, relentless refrain, it was somehow fitting.
For an encore, I was expecting "Splitting in Two," the band's traditional, if not obligatory cover of Alternative TV, but they instead threw out a gentle curve ball. "View From a Hill," the choice of which seemed designed to bring the Mothership back down to Earth after the previous hour and 45 minutes of cruising through the stratosphere.
It worked, too, sending the drained and damp Dallas crowd, ears ringing happily, into the appropriately humid November night.