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The Irish Centre, Leeds
The Guardian, 3rd August 2001
Irish Centre, Leeds - Rating: **** (four stars out of five)
There's a wonderful - if apocryphal - story about the major-label A&R team that was dispatched to Manchester in the 1980s with instructions to sign the band that was making enormous waves in the north-west. The industry bods took one listen to the sounds at the Hacienda, and Geffen signed the Chameleons. The story goes that it wasn't until much later that someone told them they'd actually been sent to secure the Stone Roses.
The tale underlines the peculiar seductiveness of four lads from Middleton, Manchester, who should have shook the world. Sadly, just when they were on the verge of massive US success, they split in 1987 after the death of manager Tony Fletcher.
The oddest thing about the Chameleons' comeback is that they've carried on exactly where they left off, with their devoted fanbase still intact (the Verve and the Gallaghers reputedly among its members) and new album Why Call It Anything? picking up their trademark sound as if it were something they'd left in the garage.
In the old days, their elemental anthems came from somewhere deeper than a record company balance sheet, and this hasn't changed. When singer Mark Burgess loses himself in the still awesome Soul in Isolation, you wonder what on earth went on in those mysterious lost years.
The gig has an eeriness that makes for an untypical but thoroughly hypnotic two hours. In a low-key warm-up for their Manchester homecoming, the band mostly ditch the rockier numbers in favour of a stream of introspective songs. Of the old, the heroin-haunted Caution (from 1987's Strange Times, their sole work for Geffen) is particularly stunning. But the newer songs, with Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding's interlocking guitars at their telepathic best, have a positivity to match their melodies. Anyone Alive? stands defiant in the face of Dubya Bush, while Miracles and Wonders sees toaster/ percussionist Kwasi Asante step on stage for a beautiful and optimistic reggae lilt.
The Chameleons may have missed the commercial boat in 1987, but they have still made a fascinating voyage.
The Chameleons play Manchester Academy (0870-534 4444 ) tonight, then tour.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001