Thursday, March 3rd, 2005

Up The Down Escalator

There’s been a lot of chatter on the Big Takeover mailing list of late about The Chameleons (UK) and their influence on the current crop of early 80s-influenced bands and their general under-appreciatedness in the grand scheme of things. If they paid royalties for copping styles, then the biggest cheques would be coming from Interpol – there’s parts of Turn On The Bright Lights that are just uncanny and are probably why I prefer the debut to Antics. You can also hear their influence on obvious acts like hometown followers The Stone Roses and not-so-obvious ones like Pernice Brothers (Joe Pernice is an avowed fanatic of 80s UK indie stuff – they did an excellent cover of the Chameleons’ “Up The Down Escalator” which I posted a couple years ago). Anyway, since sometimes all you have to do is mention the name of a band to get me on a jag, I’ve been listening to a lot of Chameleons lately…

Coming out of Manchester in the early 1980s, it could be argued they laid the groundwork for almost every guitar band to come out of the UK for the next twenty years… but of course they never get the respect they deserve for it. The chiming, intertwined guitar lines of Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies still sound incredibly fresh and innovative today, and Mark Burgess’ vocals might sound a little over-dramatic in their earnestness, but they fit the huge, dreamy, anthemic sound of the Chameleons perfectly. The production on their first three studio albums is unforunately rather dated by today’s standards (hey, it was the Eighties), but the songs are still amazing. The band split in 1986 after releasing their major-label debut, Strange Times, though the releases kept coming post-mortem in the form of live records and sundry compilations.

Then, proving they were yet again ahead of the curve, they announced their reunion in January of 2000 for a handful of low-key gigs in England that drew fans from all around the world. Building on the enthusiastic response, they turned it into a full-on reunion and world tour, even releasing a new album – Why Call It Anything? – that featured their trademark sound and trademark awful cover artwork. While not their best work, it was far from an embaressment and showed that some of the old magic still remained. Unfortunately, so did some of the old acrimony and the band split again in 2003 after a few productive years. I wouldn’t say I was surprised to hear it – while their show at the Phoenix in October of 2002 was excellent, there was definitely some tension apparent onstage between the band members. While Burgess was obviously loving being the frontman again, Reg and Dave looked pretty grumpy. Since the second split, all have gone back to their solo projects and while saying they’re done for good is obviously overly final, the nastiness of the schism was pretty public (god bless the internet) and there’d have to be some pretty major reconciliations to get the boys back together again.

While their first two albums, Script Of The Bridge and What Does Anything Mean? Basically are technically out of print, they’re not impossible to find if you look. If any records were crying out for a deluxe reissue, it’s these. On the other hand, their third album, Strange Times, is incredibly easy to find – I think HMV sells it for like $6 or something. If you come across it and are at all curious, you won’t regret it, it’s a glorious record. The quality of the various live records varies. I have Tripping Dogs, which is basically a recording of a rehearsal, and while it’s interesting, it’s not especially revelatory or of exceptional sound quality. The Live In Toronto disc, recorded by Big Takeover editor Jack Rabid from a radio broadcast of a show at the old RPM club in 1987, sounds decent and I’m fond of it for obvious reasons. Ain’t many live albums recorded in our fair city. Here’s a track from that record:

MP3: The Chameleons – “Swamp Thing” (live in Toronto, 1987)

MTV lays slavish praise at the feet of some other legendary Mancunians, New Order. Via Whatevs.

And Torr reports that the current kings of Manchester, Doves, are releasing a live album on April 26. Live at Eden will present the same 2002 show that was featured on the Where We’re Calling From DVD… That’s the only portion of the DVD that I haven’t watched yet. Torr also points to this live acoustic performance video of the next single from Some Cities, “Snowden”.

A Girl Called Eddy is this week’s NOW cover story as they preview her show on Sunday at the Horseshoe with Keren Ann as well as her in-store at Soundscapes that afternoon at 4PM. And yes, there’s the requisite Joanie Loves Chachi joke. I’m sure she’s punched someone out for that before.

It’s Canadian Music Week. If you want to get out and partake in the festivities, NOW has their picks of all the showcases. eye is a little more expansive in their coverage, including a cover story on Great Lake Swimmers, but they would be – they’re a sponsor.

And anyone who can’t make it to see the A Northern Chorus/Raising The Fawn/Damon & Naomi showcase at the El Mocambo tonight will get another chance as the same bill will be touring together next month and will play The Drake on April 7.

Catbirdseat seems to think that the “Special guests” slot at the end of the Merge SxSW showcase (March 17 @ The Parish) will be going to a certain freshly-reformed Jurrasic-ally named band… I hadn’t even thought about that. Hmmmm. HOORAY FOR RUMOUR-MONGERING! Note – this is pure speculation and is based in no hard fact whatsoever.

Did a little archive-checking yesterday… I know that I had a pretty good consecutive-day posting streak going, but shee-it. Check it out – last time I missed a post was January 25 and 26 of last year, when I was in Vegas. Then before that, August 16 2003 which was the big-ass blackout. Then before that, May 10, 2003 (for no particular reason I can recall). But besides that, I’ve been rock-solid since around December 1, 2002. Four days out of twenty-seven months. I feel like I should have one of those workplace safety signs up proclaiming, “400 days without having anything better to do”. I think that’s worthy of equal parts awe and pity. No two ways about it, I have got to get a life.

np – Pernice Brothers / Nobody’s Listening

By : Frank Yang at 9:22 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. toddx says:

    This is why I love your blog. The 80’s resets are the best. I saw the Chameleons touring with the Mighty Lemon Drops, promting Strange Times. Best double bill I’ve with the exception of Ride/Lush.

  2. Andrew says:

    re: Toronto live albums…I can think ofa few off the top of my head: obviously, John Lennon’s "Live Peace in Toronto", but also the Elvis Costello at the El Mocambo disc that came with that box set; Victoria Williams did one here; Neko Case’s latest; Sloan’s "4 Nights at the Palais Royale"…those last two don’t count as much, since they’re both Canadian acts, but still. Any others that I’m forgetting?

  3. Frank says:

    Todd – well I figure there’s enough folks blogging about Britney…

    Andrew – very true. I have the Sloan, Elvis Costello and Neko ones. Hell, I was at the recording of the Neko one. I was mostly musing in a rhetorical sense, but okay, a proper run-down can be good too.

  4. Michael says:

    Don’t forget:

    Hayden – Live at Convocation Hall

    Rolling Stones – Love You Live (a couple sides)

    Cowboy Junkies – Live in Toronto

  5. sean says:

    I have a feeling the Merge Special Guest will be Arcade Fire. Just a hunch…

  6. Karen says:

    Have you read interviews with Mark Burgess about the first break up in back issues of BTO? Heartfelt and very insightful.

    You won’t believe how many times I’ve been asked "Interpol?" when playing the Chameleons!

    Hey, I disagree with your take on the trademark "awful" cover art…

  7. lazlo says:

    "special guest" at merge showcase hint:

    1. they have a highly anticipated new album coming out

    2. they don’t have to schlep their gear very far to the venue

    got it?

  8. Frank says:

    Lazlo – you know this as fact? It makes sense, though the cutlery-named band in question also has a showcase on the Friday night…

    Karen – yeah, I think I read those. Mark Burgess was obviously the most into the band – it was obvious from the show I saw, at least – that he was having the time of his life being back onstage with the Chameleons. The other guys, not so much, and even during the show I figured the reunion wasn’t much longer for this world.

  9. lazlo says:

    frank-let’s just say, "i’ve got the skinny"


  10. El Guapo says:

    austin chronicle reports the merge guest will be both spoon and arcade fire.

  11. Andrew says:

    Just thought Toronto live albums would make an interesting list! There’s also that classic jazz one from Massey Hall, aka "the greatest jazz concert ever" with Dizzie Gillespie, Hal Roach and a slew of others…I suppose most live shows on CBC radio or television would count too.

  12. bozairzere says:

    love me some chameleons, and reg’s art isn’t bad per se, though the last record’s

    was kinda weak. have you got the acoustic ep that came out before the last record? good reworks of some old fave’s!

  13. mike says:

    I have a Killjoys live disc, if I remember correctly was recorded at the Rivoli in Toronto.

    There’s also The Zoobombs live CD recorded at the El Mocambo…I don’t have that one, but I hope to see the real thing during one of The Zoobombs 3 shows during Canadian Music Week.

  14. Contristo says:

    I’ve been a Chameleons fan for several years… and they remain one of the most underrated bands in musical history, in my opinion, in terms of sheer brilliance and influence on other bands.