Kudos to bands who open a show with their biggest hit. They spare us a predictable encore and make the rest of the show an exciting mystery. Such was the case Monday night when ChameleonsVox, hit the Club at Water Street with “Swamp Thing,” a tune more typically signaling curfew at the goth club than rousing a crowd. But this is an anthem after all, a shoe gazer’s Rocky’s Theme: “Stop staring at the ground!” We can’t say they didn’t warn us.
It was impossible not to be transfixed as the animated Mark Burgess (“VOX”) and the current iteration of whom we remember as Manchester’s pivotal Chameleons UK kept us in a steady spell of dreamy jangly reverb with, among others, “A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days,” “Thursday’s Child,” the upbeat “Perfume Garden,” “As High as You Can Go,” and the gorgeous “Tears.” Burgess is so expressive he doesn’t have to break out any big moves, his face is enough. And while a guy near me was studying guitarist Chris Oliver’s effects pedal arrangement, I admit doing the same with Burgess’s impressive eyebrows – surely the thickest in all Manchester – heavily obscured by his moppy shag. But we were both fools to think we could capture the elusive.
Not all the hits were rolled out. No sign of “In Shreds,” even though one dude was screaming for it. Instead, they took out deep tracks like “Seriocity,” “Soul in Isolation” and “Caution,” which ended the set. Somewhere in there Burgess even transmitted the Joy Division refrain, “Dance dance dance dance dance to the radio,” a reminder that a part of everyone in that room was made in Manchester.
The band’s three albums received equal attention, but the three-song encore belonged to their 1983 debut, “Script of the Bridge,” perhaps coinciding with the recent two-disc re-master at Abbey Road. “Second Skin” and “Don’t Fall” spanned their spectrum from so-tender-it-hurts to minor-chord rocker, finishing the night with the halting “View from a Hill.”
Lakeshore Record Exchange brought the whole show to town, supplying each audience member with a souvenir badge at the door. Those who came on time could hang with the affable Burgess himself in the audience watching opener Black Swan Lane. Formed by Burgess and two ex-Messengers, they were more or less Chameleons UK VOX II, continuing the lineage but with deep baritone vocals for the new crop of young Americans.
This show brought out some familiar faces with unknown names spanning decades of Rochester dance club days, harkening times before Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, and the nineties Manchester explosion (influenced so heavily by the Chameleons) altered the scene entirely. Babies born at that time were in equal attendance.