by Maria Joanna Bohemia
If you love post-punk, post-post-punk (or post-post-post-punk even), but have never heard The Chameleons’ 1983 debut Script of the Bridge, you’ve made a glaring omission in your gallery of taste. From the urgent clamor of “Don’t Fall” to the atmospheric introspection of “View From A Hill,” the 12-song album is a near-flawless hour of darkly tuneful rock that paved the way for Interpol, the Horrors, and myriad others. The FAQ on The Chameleons’ official site even makes a case for Slowdive being “the Chameleons at half speed, and not pissed off.”
Script of the Bridge has accurately been described by Nedd Raggett of AllMusic as “practically a greatest hits record on its own,” so it is easy to see why bassist / singer Mark Burgess (the sole remaining member of the original line up) would opt to dust those songs off for the Chameleons’ (or ChameleonsVox’s, as they are now known) final tour. Goths of every stripe congregated at The Wick, which carried just as much of an empty barn vibe as renovated brewery (which is what it actually is). The brick-walled sparseness of the venue worked in emphasizing the atmospheric guitar washes of songs like “Less Than Human” and the menace found in songs like “A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days.”
Being lost amid of thicket of tall dudes mattered little, as the songs on Script of the Bridge carry enough evocation and drama to conjure visions just as thrilling as the scene on stage -- which is to say that Burgess and his mates played with an energy and ire that made classics burn anew. To the jugular songs like “Up the Down Escalator” and “Don’t Fall” came at us with as much relevance and dissatisfaction as any present-day tune that addresses society’s ills. Others are masterworks in drama-building. A song like “Monkeyland” starts out sparse and paranoid, the drumbeat like a dreadful clock ticking, before blowing all manner of gaskets at the two minute mark. Live, this was like a bomb going off, with Burgess’ astonishingly bold delivery stupifying the meeker members of the audience and inciting the more aggressive souls in attendance (multiple fights broke out at this show).
A personal highlight came early in the set: “Second Skin” is the fourth track on Script, an innocuous placement for such a transcendent song. It’s another slow build which goes through two blissful changes, imparting wisdom with each progression and culminating in the beautiful coda of “When you fail to make the connection, you know vital it is
/ Oh when something slips through your fingers you know precious it is / And you reach the point when you know / It's only your second skin.” For six minutes I was transported out of my sweaty surroundings, my mind empty and receptive to the beauty that can be found even among strangers in cramped surroundings. Besides being a really great song, “Second Skin” carries special connotations for me, as I had included it on a mix I gave James Veda Rays when we were courting one another. Over three years later, I was so happy to share this moment with JVR.
After finishing Script, the band returned for a four-song encore, treating us to some of the greatest anthems you’ve never heard, like “Swamp Thing” from third album Strange Times and “Nostalgia” from sophomore release What Does Anything Mean? Basically, two albums as tremendous as Script of the Bridge. At the beginning of ChameleonsVox’s set, Burgess expressed genuine gratitude for the amount of fans present, and followed this with the confession that the show almost never happened, due to rhythm guitarist Chris Oliver having to drop off the tour due to a family emergency. The “never was” can be easy to contemplate in just about any situation, but on a night this powerful all that is left is the memory of endlessly formidable music and a justifiably incited audience. The touring life of ChameleonsVox may have reached its end, but at least it went out on a vibrant note.