ChameleonsVox - Garcia Lorca, Brussels, May 20th
By: Brett Spaceman
ChameleonsVox + Perverted By Language – Garcia Lorca, Brussels, May 20th
My mind is always struck by the sheer love that people have for The Chameleons and their music. All bands have their hardcore following of course but there seems something extra special at work within Chameleon aficionados. They are all such lovely people. Rock up at any venue in the world and you’ll likely to meet twenty or so new friends and acquaintances. Brussels tonight is no exception. Mark Burgess brings his ChameleonsVox project to town and the town seems to like it very much indeed.
ChameleonsVox is exactly what it says it is, the voice of The Chameleons. Aka Mark Burgess and friends. I get the feeling Vox will be a loose, amorphous line-up, dependent upon logistics and practicality as much as anything else. Tonight Burgess is joined by long time sidekick John Lever on drums and the rest of Vox is augmented by Levers latest band, Bushart. No rustiness is apparent as they open their set with an assured Swamp Thing. These guitarists are relatively new to this material but have obviously been working hard to smooth any edges out.
The surprise of the evening has to be the host/supporting act Perverted By Language, a Brussels band amusingly with no Belgian membership whatsoever. Mining a similar vein of dark, 80’s new wave I suppose PBL were bound to win the hearts of many Chameleons fans. They won mine.
The material is there. Surprisingly for a band named after a record by The Fall, tracks like Mothers Favourite Nightmares, Elephantine and Perverted By Language will appeal to fans of Joy Division and The Cure. They even cover New Dawn Fades at one point, poignantly marking the recent 30th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death. Not only the material though, the performance is there too. Remarkably so given the absence of their main guitarist. The stand-in does them proud.
Bassist Elise strikes some classic poses and the stick man (Francesco?) displays a languid bonhomie. Yet it is singer, Jez Thomas who grabs the attention. Lost in reverie on stage, Thomas invariable loses the stage altogether, floating around the venue like a disembodied spirit, microphone still in hand. Their set was slightly too short for my tastes as I could have enjoyed more of these wistful, gossamer daydreams.
Unfortunately there isn’t time for a Bushart set. The Garcia Lorca being a kind of cultural centre it probably has one of those, ‘finish by midnight or else’ policies. Instead it’s ChamsVox all the way and as Swamp Thing gives way to a vitriolic Mad Jack it is clear that tonight’s setlist will bare scant resemblance to anything the previously reformed Chameleons performed. There’s nary a track from comeback album Why Call It Anything and it seems like a deliberate policy. All tonight’s songs will be culled from the bands three most beloved first albums. There’s even an outing for the previously frowned upon Nostalgia, a song that actually really suits a live setting, and so perfectly suits tonight.
Battles sure do rage within Burgess on this showing. Physically, the man looks in great shape but mentally, emotionally he looks troubled. Relieved of bass duties the frontman is liberated to employ the full range of his stagecraft. This he throws himself into, literally at some moments. But for the most part he embellishes his songs with wild facial expressions and twitchy, mime-like poses. You might say a man possessed but I see a man dispossessed, unsure of what the future will bring. Few others witness anything beyond a damn good show.
But what a show. ChamsVox pile on the old favourites. Monkeyland is there, Pleasure & Pain and I can’t even remember the last time I heard the adolescent rush of In Answer live. Fantastic stuff.
I mentioned a radically altered set-list. Of course this doesn’t apply to the ubiquitous Soul In Isolation and Second Skin. Watching the aforementioned Soul In Isolation I realise that John Lever is probably the unsung hero of The Chameleons. With a forearm sprain and broken knuckles to contend with, the man still gives a typical muscular, propulsive performance behind the drums. As to Second Skin, over the years, Burgess has built the classic track into a cathartic live experience. Already a crowd-pleaser it now comes augmented by snippets of The Beatles and other cover versions, a trick Burgess is becoming almost as good as Greg Dulli at pulling.
The finale Don’t Fall is probably the single most incendiary moment of the night and the crowd won’t let them go. The evening is a success on an artistic level but if there were any justice in the world we’d be in the Forest National, not here. Tonight’s crowd don’t care. Nor do they see the cracks that Burgess’ over-theatrical performance has papered over. In many ways he is the Kevin Keegan of post-punk. On stage the man cuts a Messianic figure. His arrival on any musical project is the signal for wild hope and optimism amongst bandmates and followers alike. Yet privately he harbours the same doubts and fears as anyone. He bruises just like you or me and right now he’s at a crossroads – more than one crossroad, if truth be told. Life decisions are required. There is little or no hope of his band The Chameleons re-uniting and whatever Mark does outside of his main group, however appreciated, there’s always an expectation of playing Chameleons songs. The guy is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t and here’s where oversensitivity rears its ugly head again. Because I think Burgess is giving far too much credence to a lopsided view held by a minority of Chameleons absolutists, that these songs should never be played in the absence of the full, classic Chameleons line-up. It is a viewpoint borne out of misguided loyalty but, however well intended, it simply does not hold water. These songs should be played – must be played. Period.
Tonight is a cause for celebration and a cause for concern, differing concerns, dependant on your standpoint. Burgess’s compulsion to prove that his latest troupe are anything but ropey may lead to he, himself, fraying at the edges. Let’s hope my fears are as unfounded as his. But just in case, my parting message is no different to that of the ChameleonsVox himself;
Mark, above everything else, don’t fall my friend.
[sic] Magazine wishes to thank Jeremy Thomas and the Garcia Lorcas. Photography with kind permission George Ternent and may be subject to copyright. George Ternant is a regular contributor to Music Brussels. Links below.
For more from George, please visit the George Ternent Blog