Mark Burgess (aka Chameleons Vox) at the Crocodile, Seattle | 21 September 2010

I don’t know if Chameleons stock has recently risen or if Seattle just knows what’s up. Back in 2002 when I saw the Chameleons in San Diego on the tour they did after getting back together (and releasing their fourth album Why Call It Anything) the attendance was anemic.  There were no such problems Tuesday night at the Crocodile.  The place was packed and the anticipation to hear (cult) classic songs was palpable.  In their day, the Chameleons created a stadium sized sound and intensity with their music, but were able to balance their big sound with an innate spirituality that was lacking in  contemporaries like U2 and Simple Minds.  Unfortunately internal frictions caused the band to implode as they were just beginning to record their 4th album. Creatively they seemed to be peaking, and the heights they were about to scale can be heard in the 4 song Tony Fletcher Walked on Water EP.  It took 16 years for the Mark Burgess, Dave Fielding, Reg Smithies and John Lever to bury the hatchet and finally record a fourth album.  They got back together in the early 00’s and Why Call It Anything was born. It was a short-lived reunion, as the internal frictions reared their ugly heads again and the Chameleons self-destructed for a final time after that record and a tour of the United States.

Burgess has never shied away from rehashing his Chameleons days.  He toured with his band the Sons of God in the mid 90’s and even though he had solo material to play, the sets were mostly Chameleons songs. This time he’s making no bones about it, touring as Chamleons Vox, this is a full on nostalgia tour.  Eschewing the 4th album entirely Burgess and his band roared through the Chameleons 80’s catalog pulling from Script of the Bridge, What Does Anything Mean? Basically and Strange Times..  The night did not leaving anyone disappointed, though the crowd seemed intent on getting him to come back out for a third encore.

Burgess, is no young lad anymore like you see on the back of Strange Times.  He still has a big mop of hair and eyebrows that make me think he’s related to Joe Pesci’s in Goodfellas.  As the distinctive guitar intro to Swamp Thing warbled through the Crocodile and the bass began to thunder, Burgess appeared with big smile, dressed in all black with his pants tucked into his combat boots.  Everyone in the room was feeling the hairs stand on the back of their necks, and Burgess himself seemed to chuffed to playing these songs he’s been singing for 25 years one more time.  His gregariousness is infectious and you can tell he’s totally into playing these songs even though they are 25 years old. Certainly his booming baritone has not lost an ounce of power.  His band replicated the Chameleons’ sound with seeming ease and affection.  Burgess was freed from his bass guitar to concentrate on being the front man.  He seemed to have a vortex of energy surrounding him, during the first encore he leaped off the stage into the audience during Splitting In Two and a suddenly the audience became a sea of pogoing bodies and as he returned to the stage he left a mosh pit in his wake.

The band ended up doing two encores, due to the zealous cheers from the audience.  As they returned to the stage for the first encore Burgess  mentioned that he only did encores if they were really wanted.  He then spied a Wedding Present Poster on the wall and started talking about David Gedge and how they’re buddies and how the Wedding Present never do encores.  He gave a pause and then said, he’s a miserable bastard isn’t he. Lucky for us that Burgess is no Gedge, because the encores were maybe the best part of the show, pulling out aces like Don’t Fall and The Fan and the Bellows.  It was that kind of night where long time Chameleons fans showed up to hear their favorite songs and were not disappointing.  Well, not quite.  After the first encore a woman place a note on stage for Burgess  saying that she couldn’t believe that Tears had not been played.  Burgess, kind of surprised,  turned to his band, showed them the note and began singing Tears a capella.  Everyone in the room joined in for rousing rendition of it which ended with Burgess giving the woman a kiss.

Set List: Swamp Thing | A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days | Monkeyland | Pleasure & Pain | Up the Down Escalator | Perfume Garden | In Answer | I’ll Remember | Soul In Isolation | Singing Rule of Britannia | In Shreds | Second Skin |
Encore 1: The Fan and the Bellows | Don’t Fall | Splitting In Two (Alternative TV cover)
Encore 2: Tears (a capella) | View From a Hill

I shot video for The Fan and the Bellows. I wish I would have gotten Perfumed Garden, because that was my favorite of the night.

mp3: The Chameleons – Perfume Garden (from What Does Anything Mean? Basically)


  1. bill pearis · September 23, 2010

    when they played the big takeover anniversary earlier this year, i forgot how big of a fan i was till they started playing. some nostalgia trips are worth taking.

    • Toby · September 24, 2010

      Well said. Chameleons songs have aged very well & Burgess’ voice still booms. That’s the kind of nostalgia i’m down with.

  2. Kevin Williams · September 24, 2010

    Strange Times was an album that completely changed the way I listened to and loved music. I was a senior in high school, and I wore the tape out. Literally. The tape disintegrated. I forgot about the album until one of the dudes from Japandroids said it was his favorite. For the last 1 1/2 year I’ve been a Chameleons junkie. My daughters especially love “Tears” (I would have loved to hear the acapella version!)

    • Toby · September 25, 2010

      Tears was touching. It’s kind of uncanny how Mark Burgess transcends the goth label that his music so often gets labeled with by just being a regular dude. By the way, you were much cooler than me in high school.

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