The Chameleons are a band whose music has been closely woven in and out of my life since I started uni and first heard them, back in the mid-80’s. I’m not a fan that can get every single song title right, but I am one that can instantly recognise and sing along, one that leans back and let the sounds and words wash over and through me. I never got to see them back then, and until now, haven’t been able to get to the new lot of gigs. A trip to Leeds is always a pleasure, I’d never managed to get to the legendary Cockpit (after a swift date/venue change) before, and some much loved people were to be hugged in person at long last.
Thanks to travel on a Friday night from Norwich, we missed Vendemmian and Berlin Black who had both been and done by the time we arrived, sadly. But hey – time for a drink and hugs and finding a space to stand. The place is packed to the gills, hot, and ready to get sweaty. You could taste the anticipation. This is a crowd that really loves the band in a personal way, if not uncritically. It’s also Mark Burgess’ birthday, and the end of the tour. Party mode, from the start!
The good things began with no fanfare, but with authority and confidence. There are no new fans to win over, no suits to impress – just a time to play good music well, enjoy, celebrate the then and now. It’s not a retro retail reformation thing going on. It’s for real, and it’s a family atmosphere thing. The crowd is passionate but polite, of an age not to be selfish in its enjoyment. Naturally I cashed in a few of my nice lady brownie points and ended up easily at the front to be able to see. The Chameleons (now with added Vox) always seemed to me to be a band that held up to scrutiny, that deserved critical acclaim, and were solidly sure and true. Somewhat in awe, I watched, and wasn’t disappointed.
The songs sound less written than allowed to flow to the stage where sounds perfectly synergise and the current is strong enough to carry any emotion, any point of view (indeed, it carried the energetic mosh pit without any effort). When you’ve got a back catalogue as good as theirs, it does give you a head start, but really, they don’t need it. They don’t (actually) really need the love of the crowd to carry them through, either. They are simply GOOD. Very good. No faff, no gimmick, no nothing except excellent playing and a few comments from Mark.
A few songs later, an excursion into and through the moshpit, and I’m back where I started to stand and listen in stillness. I can’t see, so I’m not distracted. That’s when the brilliance of the writing is evident. It’s almost possible to listen in stillness AND silence, to let it touch you. It’s emotional musically and lyrically. Anger, despair, sadness, acceptance, defiance are odd bedfellows to produce a kind of rapture, but they do. When finally they get to my favourite (it’s a whole life favourite, not just of theirs) In Shreds, then it’s as though I’m the only one there. It’s a bleak, soulless picture that it paints to me, a deep cry against crushing loneliness and struggling to keep a sense of self worth (in my opinion, natch). The vocals sound lost, like shouting through a thick fog with little hope of being heard. It just catches me every damn time, and on that day, with all that’s gone on in recent times, it crashed in with force. Can you ask much more of a song than to make you cry with upset whilst filling you with elation? Beautiful but deadly.
Gigs come, and they go, but I’m glad I didn’t miss this one. It really was one for the memoirs.