MARK BURGESS – HENNESSEY’S (BOSTON, MA) – JULY 21, 2009
by Tim Bugbee
24 July 2009
Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time, to witness something singular. Fifteen years ago by happenstance I saw JOHN VALENTIN of the Boston Red Sox turn the tenth unassisted triple play ever in major league baseball. Three days ago I was part of a select few to see a wholly unexpected gig, with an additional jaw-dropper thrown in at the end (more on that later). Most readers of The Big Takeover are more than familiar with THE CHAMELEONS, and with good reason. Of the dark, moody, guitar-driven bands which came from the UK in the late ’70s and early ’80s, they are easily near or at the top (in a self-deprecating manner, Mark rated his band as barely being in the top ten best bands of Manchester). Strong songwriting, passionate performances, intricate soundscapes…they excelled at all of these. Only cruel twists of fate prevented them to reach the full potential of their listeners. Such is the roadside litter of the recording industry, as fickle and cruel a taskmaster there is.
Fast forward to last Thursday (July 16th), when I learned of an improbable and one-off appearance of MARK BURGESS, with THE CURTAIN SOCIETY filling the role of his band. This was like hearing that JAMIE OLIVER just nipped off to the grocer and would be by my house in an hour to cook dinner while NIGELLA gives me a back massage. Incredible! Without question my wife and I purchase advance tickets within minutes of hearing the news.
Without as much as a soundcheck or practice session, the band launches straight into “Swamp Thing,” a signature track if there ever was one. The ante was high, and the band delivered straight out of the gate, with Mark on sole vocal duties (he would play a 12 string guitar for “Less Than Human”). Aside from some early jitters, the band played a most solid backdrop to Mark’s moving vocals, which found him reaching deep within to release the inner demons. Guitarist ROGER LAVALLEE in particular had a difficult job to recreate the sound of both Reg and Dave, and did so quite well, deftly using a delay pedal when needed and ripping off leads with abandon.
Perhaps also playing into that decision was the sculpting of the set list, which was heavy towards the early, nervy, post-punk material. “The Fan and the Bellows” and “In Shreds” were magnificent beasts, jaws red and shiny from a fresh kill. And on the slower numbers, like the aforementioned “Less Than Human” and especially on “Soul In Isolation,” Mark’s lyrics are nothing short of brilliant…quoting snippets is a bit of an overdone approach to rock criticism and wouldn’t yield an entirely accurate picture, so please check out the absolute poetry of it, it’s staggering.
As the crowded room was basking in the collective glow of a rock show with real energy and emotion, it took a marked uptick when Mark introduced an old friend of his to the stage, none other than MARTY WILLSON-PIPER of THE CHURCH. Having seen their excellent show less than three weeks ago, I was delighted to see him again as he tore into the cover of “Splitting In Two” by ALTERNATIVE TV, a live staple from Chameleon shows in the past. The night has now edged from incredible to deliciously surreal in its excellence.
Seemingly spent, the crowd rallied Mark and the band to finish the evening with a reading of THE BEATLES‘ most psychedelic song, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I’ve seen a lot of shows in my ~25 years of active gig-going, and this was among the most fun, heartfelt and satisfying. I’m still buzzing about it.
photos and video here http://www.bigtakeover.com/reviews/mark-burgess-hennessey-s-boston-ma-july-21-2009