Tonight, I approach The Damned with wary anticipation. I’m not adverse to legacy acts as readers of some of my previous reviews will be aware. Positively some of the best gig nights for me have been had when watching reformed bands from my youth. The last time I saw them was possibly 15 years ago with Patricia Morrison on bass duties, and found them to be moderately lack-lustre at best. Don’t get me wrong, the first three albums were packed full of bangers, as the youth would say. “New Rose”, “Neat Neat Neat”, “Love Song” and “Smash It Up” hold proud places in my singles collection and to underestimate the musical importance of 7” “New Rose” would be criminal. [Look that one up kids, it was that important]. All that said, I’ve never seen them as a great live band. A great singles band, yes, with the Buzzcocks hanging on their coat tails, but never a great live band.
So, here we are awaiting Vanian, the good Captain, et al, with wariness in my case. Real world work commitments mean that I very sadly miss support from Slim Jim Phantom and so it is straight to the main course for me. The crowd appear to be a dedicated bunch of Damned fans judging by the presence of several red berets, a smattering of mohicans and spikes but mostly of middle aged folk wearing sensible coats or weekend Punk leather jackets.
Taking the stage to part of Holst’s Planet Suite, they are greeted warmly. The Captain begins by giving a nod to the city’s musical heritage, “home to Black Sabbath and…. GBH…. And they’re here tonight. This one is dedicated to them” and then straight into a bouncing opener of “Wait For The Blackout”, that most melodic of Punk songs. Okay, hold the negative expectations because this is the stuff I’d like to see and it looks promising.
Sticking mainly with 80s, The Black Album throws out “Lively Arts”, “Silly Kids Games” and “Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde” none of which move me. I apologise to all those people that thought that album was a high point for the band but, that, with a few exceptions was where I diverged from the band. They don’t move me and sound muddled and too thick with musical baggage. Thinking that it may not be helping the sound where I am currently standing I move around the venue to a more central position.
This is where I surprise those reading this thinking that I like only the very early albums, because, new single, “Standing at The Edge of Tomorrow” does actually grab my interest. It’s an interesting mix of horror surf music and darkly crooned warm vocals; think of The Misfits with Scott Walker providing the chorus. Not being too familiar with the last three or four albums I can’t tell if this is the current sound of The Damned but it does make me think some investigation of the new long player may be an idea.
The Damned always had a stylistic elegance that most other bands at the earliest days of Punk didn’t. I’ve always liked my bands to have that gang mentality in their dress sense ref. The Clash, but the Damned seemed to lose that, opting for an individualism within and without the band. The Victorian gentleman grave digger that is Dave Vanian being the only constant, but now with Captain Sensible and Paul Gray back in the fold they look ever so slightly more visually balanced. To be fair to them, they were the reason for me wearing PVC drainpipes and, thanks to The Captain, a mohair Dennis the Menace jumper, for several years. I Guess thirty-five year ago I was more enamoured stylistically than musically because tonight they just can’t lift my spirits.
In we go to the real meat and muscle of this beast. “Anti-pope” is the breakneck speed demon from 1979s “Machine Gun Etiquette” and then they come thick and fast. “New Rose” and “Love Song” boost me somewhat but do little to get the crowd moving beyond a pedestrian pace.
The next block of songs come predominantly from the “Strawberries” albm and whilst warmly received further fail to lift the flat audience. Hit song “Eloise”, possibly their biggest hit I think, does elicit a response that you would expect for a band of this historically musical importance, with a bit of a singalong from the crowd. Old school banger, “Neat Neat Neat” wakes everyone up.
The keyboards of Monty Oxymoron give a sound to some of the later offerings that showcase how well written some of the Damned songs are. The keys add big stabbing and swirling sounds that makes me think that you could drop some of the songs into a big brass section led band and they’d carry wonderfully. That’s the sign of a well written song to me.
The encores include another new song “Evil Spirits” and once again I’m left wanting to investigate that new album. Then finally the swirling keyboard gives way to the raucous sound of the teenage angst led vandalism soundtrack to part of many a Punk’s youth – “Smash It Up” and finally onto the joyous bouncer of a song, “Jet Boy, Jet Girl” to end the night.
Looking back in the cold light of day I don’t know what happened here. Did the band not feed the crowd, did the crowd not feedback to the band? Is it just me that was never a massive fan beyond the classic singles? What I do know is that tonight was in complete contrast to the gig I attended exactly one week earlier. Tonight’s gig was in a too large a venue for a vaudeville legacy Punk act with an audience that never fed back to the band, whereas L.A. band, Sextile playing to 80 people at the Sunflower Lounge was edgy, dangerous, tension filled rawness that drew the punters in tight and out-punked the Punks.
The Damned Set List
Wait For The Blackout
Silly Kids Games
Standing On the Edge of Tomorrow
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Under The Floor Again
So Messed Up
Stranger On The Town
Street Of Dreams
Devil In Disguise
Neat Neat Neat
Smash It Up
Jet Boy, Jet Girl
Review: Mark Veitch
Photographs: Ian Dunn