The Chameleons, Atari Doll: Middlesbrough: Feb 2022: Live Review
Middlesbrough Westgarth Club
February 13, 2022
Something is happening here.
After decades of being on the fringes of the Great Escape and often catching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Chameleons have decided to pull themselves together. Not that they were ever hit or miss musically. Business and bankruptcies and the millions of other factors that conspire against bands have always been in the mix, but the music has survived.
They had arrived fully formed with a distinctive sound and vibe in the very early post-punk area of Manchester. The then-twin guitar weave of Reg Smithies and Davie Fielding created a unique new psychedelia for Mark Burgess to tie together with his bass and soulful vocals. They had a unique sound that captured the era perfectly and were on the fast track to success in U2-style stadiums.
The group has always been a Mancunian institution. They could sell 2,000 tickets to the Manchester Free Hall in 1985, when most indie bands were lucky enough to get 300 tickets to a gig. They had the sounds, the songs, that great interaction between two guitars and the anthems, and their idiosyncratic logo and artwork was on an army of leather jackets around town.
Somehow even then they were out of the story and the Hacienda was offering them fifty pounds for a place in the local band party even though they were selling the venue when no one no one else could. The more pretentious end of town didn’t seem to even know they existed and they were beyond the narrative for most pen pals who weren’t part of the concert bustle in town. Despite this, they were soon on Geffen Records and somehow, despite a string of great and highly regarded albums, they became the stadium band that would never play stadiums. The great lost post punk band whose influence is all over the bands that embrace the form of the early Roses, Verve, Flaming Lips, The Killers, Interpol, The Charlatans and many more bands including the multitude of new young moody groups that appear around the world. They were seen as the next group to break through and then everything imploded and resurrected again and again.
They lost limbs, lost direction but the heart and soul were still there and these songs full of sensitivity and sonic sensuality were secret treasures.
In 2022, after various incarnations and name changes, they are on a roll and a sold-out tour playing their second classic album, the released 1985 What does something mean? Fundamentally. The band became the finest of fine wine bands – bands that somehow kept the intensity that made their music urgent in the first place, kept the melodic flavor, kept the emotional raw power and formulated it. with a tight group that embellishes these beloved ones. hymns with their own flourishes.
Nowadays, only vocalist/bassist Mark Burgess and guitarist Reg Smithies remain of the unstable first line-up, but the whole band brings those songs to life and fills halls with guitarist Neil Dwerryhouse helping bring the guitar back to life. with Reg. Burgess is still the charismatic shamanic leader with a voice closer to the West Coast melodies of contemporary Liverpool post punk bands than his hometown droogs.
The songs are always engulfed in a rush of emotion and that great yearning that makes them more than just independent anthems. These are great songs waiting for the chance to find their full audience. Everyone in the room knows that and the deeply personal connection to the band and its music is vital. You can feel the power of the music and the intensity of the devotion – this is a show like no other. The packed house is immersed in their beautiful muse – the audience knows they’re onto something special and they want the band to get what they deserve. This music is too powerful and too emotional to be shared among a few connoisseurs and when delivered like this, it rises to another stage.
The album is played in its entirety and in an order that is always interesting because many albums are not built like live sets, but the ebb and flow of sacred labor and the audience’s devotion to an album that has meant so much for their lives make for a mesmerizing evening.
Sure Tattered always captivates than classic cuts like Home is where the heart is and Second Skin are the live stars with exquisite chord changes and waves of heartache and pools of melody lines of joy that draw you deep into the songs. Second Skin brings home at the end of the set with Mark handing over bass to keyboardist Danny Ashberry to thrill uninhabited like a wild-eyed preacher driving the symphony of emotion around the room in a stark and powerful reminder of not only how devotional and the music powerful live is after the 18 months of plague time, but also how rare bands like the Chameleons are raising the bar for something truly extraordinary.
It is less of a rollback of years, less of a warm embrace of a glorious past, but of a platform for a new future. Curiously, post punk never dated. So many modern bands have made careers out of this sound – from the Killers to a whole plethora of moody modern melancholy indie who have often been described as having a Joy Division influence when the Chameleons have also been heavily in the mix.
The band’s next step is fascinating – a new album? A step up to even bigger venues, the future is theirs, all bets are off and the rulebook never existed in post punk anyway.
Support comes from Atari Doll – a young local band with an alternative rock sound, great dynamics and a powerful vocalist who can really sing. They have aching choruses and a bold sound that sets them apart from the crowded genre. Their bold sound promises a big future and these local gigs and supports prepare them for their own big future.