The Damned

The Damned @ o2 Academy, 5th November 2022

The Damned

Tonight is the long awaited, final night of the last ever tour featuring the original line up of The Damned; rescheduled from July 2021. Not only is it the last show of the tour, it’s also the last show they’ll ever do, I thought someone would say, but as punk rewrote the rule book, there was no time for looking backwards. The Damned were always about being fast, loud, doing the least expected thing and leaving with no goodbyes… and this they do. What I did not expect is how utterly brilliant the four musicians would be.

The Damned have always been an underrated band and sometimes written off due to their habit of stage antics bordering on the vaudevillian and breaking up every once in a while, so it is easy to forget how proficient each of them were on their respective instruments back in ’76 – and this has not changed. If anything, after almost five decades in the music business they all have improved immeasurably.

The Damned

It is clear that time has taken its toll on Brian James as he is helped on and off stage; Rat and Captain look older but still sprightly; but Dave must be drinking the blood of children as he looks magnificent; practically youthful, and leaner and hungrier than ever.

Captain Sensible alludes to the Dr Who theme that welcomes the band on stage, saying we have entered a time machine and as soon as they burst into the first song, a Stooges cover, you know what he means; Birmingham immediately feels like it has been transported back to Oxford Street’s 100 Club in 1976.

The songs come thick and fast, and as they are all from the band’s first two albums are under the 3 minute mark. I feel for our photographer who is only allowed to shoot during the first three songs – that’s not much time to get the perfect shot.

The Damned

The Damned’s style of punk was always rock n roll with more energy and attitude, and this is clear from the guitar licks and drum fills that echo around the Academy – it is just faster and louder than most of their contemporaries. It is also more direct and although influenced by the American predecessors (Stooges, MC5, Ramones etc), their sound is quintessentially English.

Dave Vanian is still a stunning front man after all these years, pacing the stage like a black panther and working the crowd into a frenzy. At times he shakes his ass like Elvis during his 1968 comeback special, other times he extends his gloved hands towards the audience like Alvin Stardust – he is less vampire than he used to be, but still wears trademark make up and dark glasses… full on rock n roll and glam, morphing into punk and goth. And that is what is priceless about The Damned, they wear their influences proudly but have always added their own style to the music they produced.

Captain Sensible and Rat Scabies appear to have put any differences firmly behind them for this tour and are clearly loving playing together again – the rhythm section is an absolute force with Captain’s overdriven bass lines and Rat’s blindingly fast drum rolls. Captain is using a Hofner violin bass that he used early in his career and gives a nod to the bass’s more famous owner before playing their cranked up version of ‘Help’. You could not have two more different bass players and Captain makes that Hofner sound more aggressive than I believed possible – maybe some of that is to do with the two giant Ampeg speakers behind him, but he is such a great player and his technique is so hard, the tiny instrument has no choice but to roar.

The Damned

It is heart-warming to hear the band give full credit to Brian James for writing the songs that make up so much of the set and for his ferocious guitar sound that is the foundation on which these performances are built. Although he is statuesque the whole night, his hands are as dextrous as ever and with his SG and double Marshall set up, his sound tears through the venue, standing up easily next to the barrage of lower frequencies from his bandmates.

The set is only about an hour and a quarter long but they manage to fit in 21 songs – all of their debut album ‘Damned Damned Damned’; 6 from their much maligned follow up and 3 more covers, ending as they do with The Rolling Stones’ ‘The Last Time’. After which Captain smashes his bass to bits – it is a well made instrument and takes some doing. Had I not known he did this on previous nights, I might have thought it is some sort of signifier that this is really the last time these four will play together, but it is just part of the Damned’s rock n roll show. I am slightly gutted that Rat didn’t repeat his actions from last night when he set fire to his drums – maybe Birmingham’s health and safety officer is more strict than Manchester’s.

The Damned

There is a reason why music by the Damned remains so important to the band and its audience; it is because it was written and performed by people who meant every word and note they played when they first played it. And because it meant so much to the band, that energy and honesty translated through the grooves of the records and across the airwaves to our radios, until it meant everything to the ears it reached. Things like that don’t stop having a meaning or become diluted by time. The blinding performance by the Damned 46 years after many of these songs were written and the rapturous reaction from the Birmingham audience is proof this music loses none of its power.

It is clear from the moment this tour was first agreed that it was for a certain type of Damned fan only. The sort of fan that tapped into the raw Stooges-esque noise of their 1976 debut, and followed them through line up changes through the late 70’s. It was for the fan who wants to collect mementos and be a part of Damned history… people who wanted to be there when the original line up left the stage for the very last time. The kind of person who tried to collect all of the four ‘Love Song’ singles covers and were forever annoyed that they could never find the Dave Vanian version (I only could get the Captain and Algy’s covers, my brother just had Rat’s – let us know in the comments below which covers you collected).

Normally at this point in a review I try and excite the reader enough for them to buy a ticket for the remainder of the tour, but that’s it folks – there is no more – The Damned have left the building leaving just splinters of an old Hofner bass on the stage. Good night and thank you Dave, Rat, Brian and Captain for the years of joy you have given us and the ringing in our ears.

The Damned Setlist:

I Feel Alright (1970 Stooges cover)
You Take My Money
Help! (The Beatles cover)
Born to Kill
Stretcher Case
Feel the Pain
I Fall
Fan Club
Alone
Fish
1 of the 2
Problem Child
Neat Neat Neat
Stab Yor Back
Sick of Being Sick
See Her Tonite
You Know
So Messed Up

Encore:
New Rose
Pills (Bo Diddley cover)
The Last Time (The Rolling Stones cover)

 

Review: Alan Neilson

Photographs: Ian Dunn

 

 

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