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An Elaborate Private Joke

An Elaborate Private Joke?

by Roger Young / 22.09.2009

It was when the two big men in Springbok jerseys stopped and stroked the fake rondavel, one of them turning to the other saying: “Jissie, hierdie plek is mooi, bok,” and then kissed that I realised I should’ve bought some mushrooms with me. No really I should have, because for all the novelty involved in watching the former astute camp showman perform some of his well known songs accompanied by strings and dolphins, it ended being fairly boring.  Seeing Chris Chameleon in this guise, pandering to Kyknet families with “risqué” naughty “jokes” left me with a feeling of sadness. If this is what happens to some of our most vocally interesting and special singers; if there is no audience but this (not that there is anything wrong with these people, just y’know, not exactly open minded or anywhere near the cutting edge) to support him, then what hope does a lesser musican have?

Having lost touch with the former Boo frontman’s activities over the years, I was surprised when I saw this event. Classiek Chameleon, advertised – Chris Chameleon performs with dolphins at uShaka. The last time I saw the man live, years ago, he was wearing makeup and a dress. I missed him at Splashy but heard he was awesome. Was this an elaborate hoax? Was he in fact having a laugh with the readers of Rapport and watchers of Kyknet? Sadly no, he was entirely genuine in his white dinner jacket and endless patter about Die Taal and how we must be nice to vagrants. He was a consummate middle-aged showman and seemed quite comfortable with this. The real question though is what is Chris Chameleon doing in front of this crowd? Is this the result of the slow “selling out” that began with that soap opera (Chris appeared on 7de Laan, repeatedly) or has he merely found his level? What I’m saying is, were Boo really that good for this to be considered selling out? And what exactly do we define as selling out anyway?

There was an element of crazy to Boo that was equal parts Chameleon’s voice to Ampie Omo’s trombone/trumpet & percussion and Princess Leonie’s drums. It was a fine veering balance that through all the members’ talents genius exploded into vigourous gestalt. But even Boo was an elaborate cabaret. So if it’s less that Chameleon is selling out and more that he’s directing his quirks towards a niche, it could easily be argued that he is doing good, bringing these sentiments and his vocal skills to a different audience, making them think outside of their normal range.

Chris Chameleon

It was the dolphins however that really illustrated what Chameleon was doing. He was performing tricks.  His vocal range is, like the dolphins, rolled out as a trick to wow the crowd. His songs in funny voices come off sounding more like, “Ag please daddy won’t you take me to the drive-in” than anything he was doing in the days of Boo. And that is pitch perfect for this crowd. If it was anyone else it would be easy to call him a sell out, but Chameleon has a strange sense of playfulness that makes one wonder if this is not all some elaborate private joke. It doesn’t make the show with dolphins less boring, but it doesn’t make one think he’s lost it either.

On uShaka’s stage he spoke about girls he had been with, making me wonder about the whereabouts of the genderless creature of ten years ago who defiantly challenged sexuality? Maybe he just got tired of sleeping on couches and washing socks in basins? He wanted a pay cheque, he got comfortable, he got boring, he grew up. We, as audiences, are to blame for the fact that we couldn’t support him in his struggle with himself, with his making of Art as opposed to this skilful entertainment. But at the same time, for becoming this person, I hope
he is struggling with himself because if there is any one artist that can survive this sojourn into mediocrity it’ll be Chris Chameleon. And I, for one, want that prancing pixie back.

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  1. DB says:

    Surely that’s Mark Gillman??

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  2. James says:

    Have you ever been to a live concert and actually enjoyed it, if so please write about those rather.

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  3. T. says:

    Against Me! – Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners

    Everyone’s a critic, but hey they really respect your talent.
    Have your manager call my manager, and we’ll make records together.
    At this level of success in entertainment, there are certain connotations.
    It’s a “you give we take” relationship.
    The kids just wouldn’t understand it.
    Come on now, how long do think this is really gonna last?
    How long can you hold their attention before they move on to the next band

    On the inside.
    Do you wanna know how it feels on the inside?

    Coordinate the marketing, label, publicity, touring.
    Consult on, timing and presentation.
    Go ahead put this in context.
    It’s 3 points on production, 15% to management,
    10% to the agent, 5% to legal representation.
    We call it our insurance plan to stretch the inevitable as far as we can.
    Gotta make your money while you got the chance,
    do whatever it takes to sell this.

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  4. lw says:

    i sadly agree with the reviewer. i saw boo twice in London, bought their album with the egg on the cover and loved their whole package. they were fast, furious and totally engaging. i want chris chameleon to be as exciting as boo was but every time i look him up i find the slide into slushy MOR continuing.

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  5. Roger Young says:

    James. I go to gigs I love all the time, I even write about them. Sometimes on this very website.

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  6. Eskom_Ceo says:

    So What did he sound like at the show?

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  7. Carol Reed says:

    White dinner jacket and strings pretty much sums it up.

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  8. Wordwallah says:

    I also wondered how tongue-in-cheek this was going to be… in the end I’m glad you went here so I could get the low-down and still rather be at the Hilton.

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  9. djf says:

    Bodies grow old, bones creak, patience dwindles, the allure of fame on your terms only will surely fade and the need to “settle down” becomes a very real proposition. There a families to raise, bonds to pay and retirements that must be planned. These are realities that will dawn on any mortal no matter how talented they may be.

    Perhaps we should be thankful that in their youth Boo! kicked it on their own terms far better than the vast majority of local bands ever have (or will). Our disappointment and indignation is probably better reserved for the ambitious twentysomething bands who are not stepping outside of the mould enough to deserve our admiration. They are the ones blessed with the energy and flexibility to take the risks and establish a sound that could be the signiature of their generation.

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  10. Timmy Tinnitus says:

    Bring back the goddamn multi-octave pixie in a black patent halter-corset!

    BOO! outshone anything that the likes of Prime Circle, Watershed, Parlotones or any other whitebread halfnaai Yank-mimicking acts can throw up.

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  11. Jason says:

    There’s a storm pulling in over Joburg.
    Coincidence? I think not.

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  12. Marcel D says:

    The guy’s a genius.
    You know what loot he’s making.
    Boo never would of made so much bank.

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  13. Major label says:

    Woh, did someone just quote Against Me! in a selling out argument?

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  14. Major label says:

    And Boo! were amazing! One of SA’s finest.

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  15. steve says:

    the asnwer is in his name crhis camelion

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